Minister of Economy Sinkevičius: Lithuania has to focus on the biotechnology sector

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2017 12 21

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Minister of Economy Virginijus Sinkevičius met Prof. Dr. Virginijus Šikšnys and the Vilnius-Lithuania iGEM team from Vilnius University, which he congratulated on winning the grand prize in the most prestigious iGEM international synthetic biology competition hosted in the USA.

‘Lithuania‘s achievements are increasingly visible and acknowledged in today’s world, the young generation shows great results that make us proud. Lithuania’s strong biotechnology sector makes it possible for Lithuanian students and scientists to compete in the international arena with countries that have been deepening their know-how in these technologies for many years. Thus, with so much untapped potential, it is important for Lithuania to continue to focus on the biotechnology, laser and fintech sectors, where we already have a solid foundation and can achieve even more’, says Virginijus Sinkevičius, Minister of Economy.

According to the Minister, today, the Lithuanian life sciences industry has grown into one of the most advanced in Central and Eastern Europe. The growth of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical research and manufacturing sector makes approximately 14 percent annually. Lithuania has also accumulated a considerable human resources potential; based on the number of students per 1000 inhabitants who have completed study programmes in the fields of biomedicine, physics, technology, our country is leading in the European Union.

In order to strengthen this sector, the Ministry of Economy together with the Research Council of Lithuania has created a new instrument called Industrial PhD. Under this instrument, a company can receive 50-percent co-financing of its expenses related to the CEO’s salary, PhD student’s salary or expenses for materials required for research. This year, the first call for the selection of ideas for doctoral thesis topics was announced. Following the evaluation, 2 topics of Baltic Orthoservice UAB were selected for financing. In Q1 2018,  another call for the topic selection by companies is scheduled.

The Science, Innovation and Technology Agency (MITA) is implementing a project called InoSpurtas, by which companies receive services that promote R&D&I, companies receive advice on starting innovative entrepreneurship and participating in international R&D&I programmes and other issues. The budget of the project is EUR 3.8 million.

Also, there are plans to draft the guidelines for the development of the Lithuanian life sciences sector to analyse its status quo, potential and opportunities and identify priorities as well as to develop an action plan for the clustering of the sector and introduce means for its implementation.

On 9–13 November 2017, the Vilnius-Lithuania iGEM team participated in the prestigious iGEM international synthetic biology competition for the third time and won the grand prize, leaving behind more than 300 teams from the strongest universities in the world. Apart from the grand prize and a gold medal, the team won three additional prizes out of eight categories in which it was nominated.

The Lithuanian team created a flexible system called SynORI for controlling the amount of separate plasmid group copies. Plasmids are circular DNA structures which transfer various genetic types of information to microorganisms and which change cell functions, therefore; plasmids are very widely used in biotechnology. The system created by the VU students can be applied in the pharmaceutical industry, in the creation of complex metabolic pathways or the production of biotechnological products, like composite proteins.

Vilnius University Prof. Dr. Virginijus Šikšnys and his team have significantly contributed to the creation of a mechanism for cutting the Cas9 protein DNA; as a result the professor became one of the candidates for the Nobel prize.