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Scientist calls for lift in support by government

Dr Tan said the best scientific results were achieved when there was cross fertilisation.

This could involve interaction between universities, government agencies such as the Health Department, research bodies such as the WA Institute of Medical Research, and the private sector.

Dr Tan said government agencies and universities could assist researchers by providing testing and other facilities, although this could be counterproductive if they charged for these services.

Government could provide financial assistance so that user pays fees were not needed, Dr Tan said.

He also suggested an annual science and technology conference, at which the government should primarily be a listener.

Dr Tan acknowledged government efforts to promote science in schools, but said young people needed to see the career opportunities.

He believes there are many good reasons for government to support the biotech sector.

“Whether we like it or not, we have to engage in the biotechnology sector. In its own right, it will influence and touch every aspect of our lives,” Dr Tan said.

Another reason was that biotechnology production was labour intensive and therefore would provide significant employment opportunities.

He said industry watchers needed to recognise that biotechnology was still in its infancy.

“We cracked the genetic code only two years ago but already world-class companies have emerged,” Dr Tan said.

He does not expect the biotech sector will experience the same kind of investment bubble as the IT sector during the late 1990s.

While particular companies may experience sharp price rises, Dr Tan expects the long time frames will insulate the sector as a whole.

Many biotech developments would take 10 to 15 years to reach maturity, he said.

Symbion had so far successfully invested in three ventures that were about three years from maturity.

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