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Outlook: Wrong way to regulate biotech

RATHER LIKE British Biotech's drugs pipeline, yesterday's report by the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology does not quite live up to its advance billing.

Evidently the MPs had planned to recommend the creation of an independent watchdog to vet the claims made by biotech companies about clinical trials on their drugs. However, since holiday arrangements kept half the committee away when the report was signed off, it was not possible to include the recommendation. Instead, we had to make do with the suggestion, volunteered at yesterday's press conference, that the Government set up a regulatory system for the biotech industry akin to that in water and electricity.

Perhaps it is just as well the idea was never committed to print, as it is silly and doomed to failure. There is already a plethora of organisations charged with approving drugs, as the MPs note, and a regulator in the shape of the Stock Exchange responsible for ensuring that companies do not mislead investors.

Admittedly, the issue of drug development in general and the significance placed on clinical trials in particular, is a complex one. But if everything a biotech company says is to be vetted and regulated, then why stop there? Why not regulate every claim made by every high tech company? Perhaps what the MPs are really saying is that public listings are not appropriate for biotech companies. But that is another matter.