Biotechnology is rapidly expanding as it modernises industries and transforms sectors—supporting growth and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly. Further biotechnology will have a profound impact on our health, productivity and the environment. It is catapulting advancements in many industries, particularly in the medical, agricultural and industrial sectors
In partnership with the World Economic Forum, the Government of Serbia hosted the first Biotech Future Forum conference in Belgrade this October. The conference was opened jointly by Serbian PM Ana Brnabić and WEF President Børge Brende, who speaks exclusively for CorD Magazine about the importance of the biotechnology market and its development, but also ways that smaller countries like Serbia can find their place and perspective in that market, and where can they find their role in global trends.
The global biotechnology market had an estimated value of $1,023.92 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.9% from 2022 to 2030. Where does biotechnology stand compared to some other technologies when it comes to shaping future GDP growth?
Biotechnology is rapidly expanding as it modernises industries and transforms sectors— supporting growth and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly. Further biotechnology will have a profound impact on our health, productivity and the environment. It is catapulting advancements in many industries, particularly in the medical, agricultural and industrial sectors.
The unique aspect of biotechnology is that a whole ‘economy’ is being developed around the technology and its applications. The ‘bioeconomy’ is enabling the generation of products and materials that both transform traditional goods and services and create new ones. It’s difficult, and potentially misleading, to compare biotechnology to other emerging technologies. These technologies are complimentary. For example, artificial intelligence is important for digesting and interpreting the large amount of genetic and biodata that is being generated by biotechnologies. It will be the combination of frontier technologies that will generate the largest benefits for economic growth.
Breakthroughs in biotechnology were for many years reserved for large companies and advanced economies. How can smaller countries like Serbia fit into that perspective and where can they find their role in global trends?
The cost of biotechnological development and research has reduced drastically over past decades. For example, the cost of sequencing the human genome has decreased from billions of dollars to less than $1,000. This has opened up significant opportunities for smaller economies and companies to start innovating and experimenting with biotechnology.
For a country like Serbia, there is a great opportunity to establish itself as a leading nation for biotechnology research, development, commercialisation and treatments. Serbia can indeed be more agile than larger countries in its policies and systems. This will help Serbia better support local biotechnology activities, while remaining responsive to any risks that emerge.
The unique aspect of biotechnology is that a whole ‘economy’ is being developed around the technology and its applications. The ‘bioeconomy’ is enabling the generation of products and materials that both transform traditional goods and services and create new ones
Serbia can differentiate itself from other nations by building a stable, integrated and advanced environment. This will instil biotechnology experts with long-term confidence that they will be able to develop and test biotechnology applications within the country, have access to international research and leading infrastructure, such as Serbia’s NVIDIA supercomputer, and be able to experiment and learn in a flexible, ethical and internationallyconnected environment.
The Biotech Future Forum is the first of its kind in Serbia. What are your expectations of the event and how was WEF involved in the Forum?
The Biotech Future Forum marks the official launch of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Serbia (C4IR Serbia), a collaboration between the Government of Serbia and the World Economic Forum. This Centre is leading, within a network of 16 Centres, when it comes to establishing critical policies and collaborations for the advancement of biotechnology and artificial intelligence for healthcare.
Foundational to the Centre’s mission is being a platform for public-private partnership— bringing together stakeholders from government, business and academia to accelerate the deployment of emerging technologies. There are experts from over 20 countries at the Biotech Future Forum, including representatives of several other Fourth Industrial Revolution Centres, as well as business figures and experts from the World Economic Forum’s communities. The Biotech Future Forum is a great opportunity to show C4IR Serbia’s power in bringing together experts from across the world to advance the transformative potential that biotechnology offers society.
The Biotech Future Forum covers many topics, including bioinformatics, bioengineering, the use of data in the development of healthcare and biotechnological development, the promotion of public policies and scientific achievements and the possibility of their application. We hope that those attending will deepen their knowledge and collaboration in their current area of expertise, while gaining a better appreciation of how this expertise interacts with innovation, governance, policies and investment for biotechnology.
How does this conference fit into the broader perspective of your engagement in Serbia, and in general?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution Centre in Serbia is the primary vehicle through which the World Economic Forum supports Serbia’s advancing frontier and emerging technologies. The aim is to help the country establish itself as a nation of new technologies, knowledge and innovation. The Biotech Future Forum is an opportunity for the Government of Serbia and the World Economic Forum to catalyse this process and build a strong, internationally connected biotech community in Serbia.
As you may know, the Forum has deeprooted relations with Serbia and the Western Balkans. We have a structured and ongoing Strategic Dialogue on the Western Balkans, where we bring leaders together with their key allies and CEOs to progress on a future-oriented agenda, upholding stability and economic transformation.
As in previous years, we look forward to welcoming President Vučić at our Annual Meeting in Davos in January, to further strengthen our collaboration.
The conference aims to bring together the public and private sectors and the academic community in order to encourage cooperation and exchange of knowledge and experiences. This cooperation between triple helix partners remains at a relatively low level in Serbia. Could you share some good practices pertaining to how this cooperation might be improved?
What we see time and time again is that when business, government and academia coordinate efforts, progress follows. But when self-interest is pursued, our global challenges accumulate. The World Economic Forum has over 50 years’ experience bringing together public-private communities for fruitful col laboration. As I shared as part of our recent Sustainable Development Impact Meeting, this collaboration tends to be characterised by three factors: the need is urgent; the area for collaboration is specific; and the benefits are clear. Climate change is just such an area where, despite geopolitical tensions, diverse groups can work to advance an area of mutual interest. Frontier technologies represents another area in which the unlocking of the benefits of new technology at scale can bolster the global economy.
This will instil biotechnology experts with long-term confidence that they will be able to develop and test biotechnology applications within the country, have access to international research and leading infrastructure, such as Serbia’s NVIDIA supercomputer, and be able to experiment and learn in a flexible, ethical and internationally-connected environment
A common difficulty with cooperation, which the Biotech Future Forum helps address, is that multistakeholder partnerships often work in isolation. This can create small examples of impactful collaboration that often struggle to find relevance and scale beyond their immediate environment. The World Economic Forum takes a systemic approach to building its communities and initiatives, as opposed to targeting a single problem area without consideration of its broader context. Initiatives like the EDISON alliance, Future of the Connected World and the First Movers Coalition bring together a range of actors and actions to ensure shared learnings, synergies, and scale.
COVID-19 itself was a crisis, but also provided inspiration for innovation in this field. We are now dealing with a new crisis, on one side fuelled by the war in Ukraine and on the other side complicated by rising fuel prices and supply change disruptions. How do these events shape the pace, focus and timing of innovation?
With adversity, there is always opportunity to influence positive change. The response to COVID-19 was a testament to how collaboration between business and government can rapidly deliver crisis support through innovation. The context of current disruptions may be different, but the principle of cooperation for innovation remains true. In order to manage the outlined crises, we will need cross-sector, cross-country cooperation on an unprecedented scale.
With the economic downturn, we would expect to see cuts to investment that could impact the capacity of business and government to drive innovation in several fields. At the same time, there is increased awareness of the value of biotechnology to manage our current economic and environmental disruptions. We must continue to invest in innovation through technologies, including biotechnology, that can transform industry productivity, improve social health and increase sustainability.
In that respect, could advancements in biotechnology resolve some of the issues we are facing today, for example in green transition, or will biotechnology become less important at the expense of some other scientific field; which of them will be more sought after by governments and businesses?
Biotechnology will play an increasingly prominent and transformative role in our lives. Healthcare, agriculture, industry and the environment are already experiencing shifts that are driven by biotechnology. The generation of new materials through synthetic biology, such as chemicals, fuels, alternative proteins and packaging, support the transition away from materials that harm the planet, like fossil fuels and plastics. Scientists are producing new treatments through stem cell therapy, designing new medicines to treat infectious diseases and even manufacturing organs for transplants.
Biotechnology will play a cross-cutting role, enhancing other scientific fields rather than competing with them. Climate change, energy security, food security, disease and ageing societies will all benefit from increased investment in biotechnology. In combination with other technologies, such as artificial intelligence—which enhances data capture, analysis and prediction—biotechnology will help us manage many growing issues. At the same time, there are potential risks from the development of biotechnology, such as misuse, ethical considerations and biosecurity. A major role of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, both here in Serbia and globally, is to ensure that the opportunities of these emerging technologies are realised and the potentially harmful impacts mitigated.
How does the WEF address different challenges arising from the current juncture in which we live?
The World Economic Forum is increasingly positioning itself as the impact-driven International Organisation for Public-Private Cooperation. We are bringing business, government, civil society, expert voices and young people together for purpose-driven dialogue – meaning dialogue that generates impact.
This is increasingly important in a context where international cooperation is increasingly under pressure. The World Economic Forum responded immediately and decisively following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We convened a special CEO dialogue to identify steps that business can take to address the humanitarian crisis, while we brought together leaders of global humanitarian agencies to share key priorities.
There are potential risks from the development of biotechnology, such as misuse, ethical considerations and biosecurity. A major role of the C4IR, both here in Serbia and globally, is to ensure that the opportunities of these emerging technologies are realised and the potentially harmful impacts mitigated
Through our coalitions and alliances, we generate momentum and commitments that advance effective, sustainable outcomes to societal and global priorities. For example, over 160 partner companies have committed to universally comparable ESG metrics and disclosure to align corporate values and strategies with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Our initiatives help business, government and civil society navigate an increasingly complex environment in areas including regional and global cooperation, industry transformation, nature and climate, new economies and society, and the fourth industrial revolution.
Topics discussed at Davos over the last several years have all included something historic. Given the current developments, will one Davos meeting a year be enough?
The Annual Meetings in Davos provide an excellent opportunity for leaders from all walks of life to discuss and shape the agenda for the year ahead and reinforce a systemic observing of various issues. I believe it is more important for leaders to maintain this systemic view when being buffeted by current developments. This year, more than 2,500 leaders will gather for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos under the theme ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World’. This meeting will reaffirm the value and imperative of dialogue and public-private cooperation, not only to navigate the current cascading crises, but – more importantly – to drive tangible, system-positive change over the long term. Having said that, given that the Forum is an impact-oriented organisation, we continue our engagement with leaders and other high-level stakeholders throughout the year.
For a country like Serbia, there is a great opportunity to establish itself as a leading nation for biotechnology research, development, commercialisation and medical treatments
It will be the combination of frontier technologies that will generate the largest benefits for economic growth
More than 2,500 leaders will this year gather for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos under the theme ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World’