Lithuania is well-known for its local knowledge – and one of the key fields is biotechnology! Prof. Vladas Bumelis, one of the founders and leaders of Lithuania’s biotechnology industry has now ambitious plans for establishing the country as a bio-economy. Central to these plans will be three state-of-the-art facilities who will together receive €200 million in investment. Mr. Bumelis is coordinating the construction of these facilities, one of which will be used to print cells and organs using 3D printers.
Invest Lithuania has led an interview with Mr. Bumelius to find out more about the plans.
1. Prof. Bumelis, is it possible that this is only a futuristic project, and that we will have to wait decades for it to be implemented?
If one does not have vision or a futuristic approach, then there would be no ideas or wishes to do something that has never been done before. I believe that we, Lithuanians, should be leaders, and that we should move forward instead of complaining that someone has overtaken us.
This project was not dreamed up overnight and then announced to the public. It is a result of my current activity. I am inventing technologies for various large pharmaceutical companies. I invent a medicine, then they perform toxicological tests on animals and receive permission to perform clinical trials. After approximately 5-10 years of work, if everything runs smoothly, it is possible to start production of that medicine so that people can be cured.
I currently have many projects like this, and people are asking whether I could produce medicines in larger amounts, those which have already been proven to have positive effects. At present that’s not possible. I have around 130 people working in my company, but the equipment we work with isn’t suitable for producing large amounts of proteins – either from microorganisms by genetic engineering or from the cells of mammals.
Hence these new facilities. One will produce large amounts of protein medicine from microbial cells through genetic engineering, another one – medicine from the cells of mammals. The third factory will be for performing cell therapy. After all, the twenty-first century is the century of cell therapy. The nineteenth century was the century of primitive, chemical medicine, such as paracetamol. The twentieth century was the century of protein medicine, large molecules, and the twenty-first century is and will be the century of curing using cells, not proteins.”
2. Will Lithuania have enough experts to staff these facilities?
I do believe that the Lithuanian nation is most intelligent. We have enough of everything here. I believe every human being has one per cent of talent, and they can use it as they like. But sometimes they are lacking that remaining ninety nine per cent, which is work. But there are plenty of talented and hard-working Lithuanians. Currently, there are 130 employees in my company Biotechfarma – their average age is 25-27 years.
In general, the biotechnology sector very is suitable for Lithuania as it does not require large resources, except for knowledge, technologies – which you can invent yourself – and experts.
3. Is it possible that you are starting something that could become a huge part of the Lithuanian economy, or will it remain just a small segment of it?
Currently, I am working to promote the bio-economy very intensively. This term – the bio-economy – covers not only what I am doing, but also those industries that are related to the use and application of biological objects. So this is a huge field, which includes bioconversion and the production of biofuel.
My field of biotechnology is called “red biotechnology”. There are at least seven biotechnology colors representing different fields. There is green, which is everything related to agriculture. There is blue, related to the sea and water. By the way, we have a great sea, and it is strange that we take only herrings from it. The sea hides plenty of ‘gold pieces’ that can be taken and used as value-added. Then there is white. This is the use of various biological objects in the chemical industry for the production of biopolymers. And so on.
So biotechnology is a huge field of activity, and it could be a substantial part of industry in Lithuania. Currently, 70% of our GDP comes from the service sector, and only 30% from production. But this proportion should be 60%-40%. And of that 40%, at least 10% could be from the bio-economy, life sciences and the creation of life technologies.
Both Lithuania’s Ministry of Economy, which is responsible for creating the country’s economic strategy, and the Office of the President say that we could be one of the leading countries in Europe for biology and life sciences. So, in the future everyone will talk about Lithuania as a country with a bio-economy, just as Switzerland is the country of the best quality watches and banks. We need to build our country according to what we are able to do and what we can do, and to concentrate on that, and not rush about in different fields of activity.