Does science really always win?
In his keynote speech, Prof. Dr. Giulio Superti-Furga, Scientific Director of CeMM and Professor of Medical Systems Biology at the Medical University of Vienna, took up the ball in a way as inspiring as it was witty. For entrepreneurial success, he said, you need not only good science, but above all a good team and the right timing. In addition, he said, you have to believe in yourself: “It’s not a sin to want to get rich as a scientist!” He also took aim at the framework conditions in Austria and the EU, for example with regard to CRISPR/Cas: “The cruelest gene experiment is the dog!” Thousands of traits were manipulated without any oversight until the wolf became a lap dog. Today, we want to generate a single mutation, for example in a crop plant, in a targeted way and with precise knowledge of what we are doing, and that is “no-no”. In general, Superti-Furga objected to the widespread antiscientific sentiment: “We have to resist when we’re governed by technology dumb people!” The panel discussion that followed also focused on framework conditions, for example tax law, investments and the incentives to attract leading scientists to Austria. Dr. Walter Stockinger, Managing Partner at Hadean Ventures, said science has to face reality. An investor’s “no” is not necessarily a judgment on the technology, but it must fit into the real world, he said. That Austria is a good location but needs to do better was the view of Dr. Nikolaus Krall, Vice President Precision Medicine of Exscientia plc. “Is life sciences a foreign word in government?” asked Dr. Henrietta Egerth, Managing Director of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency FGG. “To some extent it is,” was her answer, and she called for improved funding conditions, for example by opening up to pension funds. Moderator Llewellyn-Davies took up the banner for Austria, saying that as an investment location for start-ups, the country is already very attractive. However more needs to be done for scale-ups and growth models.
In the final round, the talk returned to the question: Science always wins?! “No,” said investor Stockinger. “Yes, even if the company goes out of business,” said entrepreneur Krall. “No, but there is no alternative,” said sponsor Egerth. The discussion among the audience opened with these positions.