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Jelena Begović, Minister Of Science, Technological Development And Innovation

Human Capital Is The Foundation Of Development

We believe that the future BIO4 ecosystem will help with the growth of GDP, the reducing of unemployment and the attracting of experts from all over the world, but that it will also improve our cooperation with domestic and foreign companies as well as contributing to the development of new sectors and start-ups

Construction of the BIO4 Campus, which is a multidisciplinary project that’s unique in the wider region, represents the central element of national investments in bioeconomic development. Apart from advancing domestic science and the innovation ecosystem, the operations of the BIO4 Campus will also significantly advance our economy.

“Our future depends on the development of science and technology,” says Jelena Begović, Serbian Minister of Science, Technological Development and Innovation. “Human capital is the foundation for the sustainable economic development of every society, and this kind of campus will enable research and development in the fields of biotechnology, biomedicine, biodiversity and bioinformatics, but also agriculture, pharmaceuticals and other industries that depend on biological resources. Scientists and innovators from these fields will be concentrated in one place, which will entice foreign investors.”

It is planned for the BIO4 Campus to start operating at the end of 2025, when the Ministry also expects the first visible results when it comes to attracting foreign companies. Certain companies have already expressed their interest in participating in this project. They are primarily companies from the biopharma field, such as Takeda, MSD, Roche and Swiss Rockets, but also BGI, the largest genomics centre.

The pilot project “Using artificial intelligence in the early diagnosis of rare diseases” was recently launched at three major health centres in Serbia – University Clinical Centre (UKC) Serbia, University Children’s Clinic in Tiršova and Clinical Hospital Centre (KBC) Zemun – in collaboration with the Institute for Artificial Intelligence of Serbia. This is one of the activities being conducted within the scope of the BIO4 initiative. Could you tell us more about this project?

This project, which our experts are working on in cooperation with company Takeda, represents a significant step towards improving diagnosis and treatment for patients suffering from rare diseases in Serbia. Diagnosis is crucial to the treatment of rare diseases, but a lack of data and experience means that this process is capable of lasting an extremely long time, resulting in delays in the applying of an adequate therapy, provided one exists.

New technologies have huge potential to contribute to improving patients’ quality of life, but also to advancing the healthcare system as a whole

Thanks to the application of artificial intelligence, this project has significantly eased and accelerated the process of identifying potential cases of Fabry disease, thereby providing a chance to make an early diagnosis and apply treatment in a timely manner.

New technologies have huge potential to contribute to improving patients’ quality of life, but also to advancing the healthcare system as a whole. The Institute for Artificial Intelligence of Serbia will be among the future tenants of the BIO4 campus and will continue developing biomedicine applications for this technology.

Speaking in one interview, you stated that science proved itself to be exceptionally important during the pandemic. Has that momentum been maintained and is there an increase in the number of examples of cooperation between science and business?

The scientific community demonstrated exceptional solidarity and its agility during very difficult times. It showed that the future of society depends on the development of science and technology. The momentum and awareness of that remain present, and cooperation between science and business is strengthening continuously.

The Ministry of Science, Technological Development and Innovation provides strong support to start-ups that emerge at colleges and institutes, but also beyond them, via – among other things – science and technology parks, the Innovation Fund and the Science Fund. Thanks to those efforts, but also to the unrelenting energy of our innovators, we are recording significant increases in the number of start-ups. Through the work of the BIO4 Campus, the number of start-ups in the field of biotechnology, including biomedicine, we will increase even further.

What is your Ministry doing to overcome obstacles hampering both the horizontal and vertical transferring of technology?

It is important for scientists to pose themselves a question as to whether there are applications for what they are researching, and for the answer to generally be yes. Of course, the technology transfer process requires new knowhow and skills that must be formalised in the education system.

We are working to create an environment favourable to horizontal and vertical transfers of technology and stronger cooperation between scientific institutions, universities, innovation system participants and the private sector

We are working on the creation of an environment favourable to both horizontal and vertical transfers of technology and stronger cooperation between scientific institutions, universities, innovation system participants and the private sector, through programmes that ease the transferring of knowledge and technologies through the development of science and technology parks and networking them with start-ups and Smart City centres nationwide across Serbia.

The Katapult Accelerator programme of the Innovation Fund is developing an innovative ecosystem in Serbia and improving cooperation between science and business, which helps innovators to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and encourages them to market their ideas in the best possible way.

Could Serbia impact positively on the more balanced technological development of the region with the construction of science and technology parks?

In addition to the four science and technology parks that currently exist, in Belgrade, Niš, Novi Sad and Čačak, the launch of construction of another such park, in Kruševac, is also planned. There are also 21 innovative start-up and Smart City centres that have opened to date and are now operating, and by the end of this year there will be 26. The opening of new such centres is planned in Bajina Bašta and Loznica. We will next January open one of the country’s largest innovation centres, in Novi Pazar, which we can say with certainty will be like a mini science and technology park.

Science and technology parks, as well as these kinds of centres, provide local researchers and innovators with better possibilities to access infrastructure and finances, and establish cooperation with business, universities and research institutions.

To what extent does our existing economic ecosystem value entrepreneurship and innovation and how much does FDI in this area contribute to the creation of this kind of ecosystem?

The establishment of the Ministry of Science, Technological Development and Innovation, within the framework of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, was born from recognition of the need to devote more attention and commitment in these areas.

The institutional support that the Republic of Serbia provides to exceptional minds is certainly proof that we are enduring in this process, but also that we have something to work on.

I am convinced that the scientific and innovation community in Serbia is yet to experience its full flourishing, thanks to the joint efforts of all of us, and efforts aimed at creating a better future for future generations. The Republic of Serbia is on track to no longer being merely an observer, but rather one of the important participants and creators in the processes of resolving global problems

POTENTIAL

We expect the BIO4 Campus to show the full potential of this long-term project within five to 10 years of the launch of operations

VISION

The Republic of Serbia is on track to no longer being merely an observer, but rather one of the important participants and creators in the processes of resolving global problems

FUTURE

The scientific and innovation community in Serbia is yet to experience its full flourishing, thanks to the