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August Newsletter: BIOTechNZ a guest of ‘The Peasants’

Hi Readers

An influential group of biotechnology entrepreneurs, investors, analysts and service providers from both sides of the Tasman attend the Bioshares Biotech Summit last week, a three-day biotech investment conference held every July in Queenstown.

Since 2014, on the opening night of the Summit, there has been an unofficial event called ‘The Peasants’ Dinner’ which is attended by around 100 people. The name of the event derives from the fact that none of the attendees are CEOs, because they are all at an official CEO dinner held as part of the Summit.  The Peasants’ Dinner gives the Australian and New Zealand Life Sciences communities a chance to acknowledge some of their rock stars through the annual Red Hat Awards, which represents significant contributions to the growth of the sector by the rank and file. Stuart Roberts ofPitt Street Research, who is chief organiser of The Peasants’ Dinner, sponsored me to attend and I was thrilled to join the list of honoured Peasants.  I was Peasant No. 4,259,444’, in honour of the formative years of the biotech industry, when one US patent invented by an obscure academic made billions of dollars of investment possible.

The Bioshares Biotech Summit was of huge value for the New Zealand companies who attended it as it allowed them to engage with the Australian and international biotech sector. What resonated with me is that in New Zealand we have a small number of great companies, built by amazing individuals growing their businesses on the global stage in an environment that lacks coordination. Aroa Biosurgery is a great example of this.

Why Melbourne is out-performing New Zealand
The lack of a biotech strategy in New Zealand is, sadly, glaring obvious. I liken it to a bake-off with Melbourne, as Melbourne’s population is comparable to New Zealand. “This is what I prepared earlier,” says Melbourne as they have produced one of the world’s largest life science clusters, and boast a vibrant biotechnology commercial sector, key R&D infrastructure, and advanced manufacturing expertise, making it a highly sought after destination by global companies. 

However, if we look back to 1999, an Australian federal government briefing paper on biotechnology concluded that the sector “hardly rates as an economic force” because of its small size and the financial challenges that it faced in getting products to market. 

So, what did Melbourne do to achieve this success two decades later? They have a clear Biotechnology Government Strategy  that they have been implementing since 2000.  In addition to this, their consistent Government funding coupled with substantial tax breaks for companies investing in research and development has played a significant role in the growth of the sector.

Australia is also seen as an emerging global player in agricultural, environmental and industrial biotechnology. This should be New Zealand’s sweet spot.  However, Sir Peter Gluckman says New Zealand risks becoming a backwater if it continued to refuse to revisit its laws around genetic modification.  Gluckman’s statement came in the same week as Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said New Zealand “needs to have a sensible, mature conversation about genetic engineering.”

All the media releases from BIOTechNZ have the same message, that New Zealand urgently needs a biotech strategy and this is because it is critical to the future of the country’s economy.  We need a strategy that has a long-term sustainable vision, and to do this, building our R&D capability in New Zealand is key.   

Provide feedback on the Government’s draft agritech strategy
For companies and research organisations in the agricultural, environmental and industrial sector, we have an opportunity to voice our views through a series of consultation workshops to provide feedback to the recently released Government strategy document supporting the growth of the New Zealand agritech sector. Please register your interest.

Have a great August and I look forward to hearing from members who have content to share in next month’s newsletter.

Kia Kaha, 



An independent survey of over 700 healthcare professionals reveals genuine concern that New Zealand’s health sector would struggle to cope if ‘specialist sign-off’ is required before a GP can prescribe medicinal cannabis.

Help AgResearch understand how digital technologies are being adopted and used within New Zealand’s primary sector by completing this survey.

VISION, a leadership course uniquely tailored for the bioindustry to capture the synergies between bioscience, technology and business practice, is being held in Brisbane, 25-28 February 2020.

Provide feedback on the Government’s Agritech strategy at consultation workshops in Auckland, Hamilton, Lincoln and Tauranga.

NZTech is seeking your feedback on improvements to the R&D Tax Incentive.

Attend AusBiotech2019 in Melbourne, 30 October – 1 November.

Register now for the Canterbury Tech Summit happening on 12 September.

If you’re a student interested in connecting with companies in the STEM industry, attend the Chiasma Auckland Synapse 2019 on 14 August.

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BioTechNZ Our aim is to raise awareness and increase the understanding to enable our nation to embrace the best opportunities biotech offers to us daily, helping us live better, healthier and more productive lives.