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Future by quality: life sciences and research in Italy

Digital format, 28/09/2020, National Roundtable

Science and technology parks are an essential part of the innovation ecosystem. Their ability to link a variety of experiences and disciplines, thereby creating networks of research centers, spin-offs, start-ups, incubators, business angels and venture capitalists makes them a major factor in the country’s competitiveness, in addition to offering nation-wide opportunities. This important contribution is even more fundamental in the field of life sciences, where development timelines are very long and risks quite high. Science and technology parks are a fully material and immaterial infrastructure whose purpose is to circulate ideas and skills as well as to stimulate entrepreneurship and risk taking. This latter aspect is critical to the Italian context, where the education system produces excellent researchers but lags behind in the propensity to generate new businesses. Thus, it is equally important that universities flank the scientific disciplines they offer with courses that stimulate a culture of entrepreneurialism, and that researchers acquire a sense of responsibility to the society for making their discoveries pay off in the real world.

Although it is true that economic and professional incentives are missing at academic levels, the real obstacle is a legal one. The most innovative countries – where science and technology parks were born or enjoyed rapid success (mainly the Anglo-Saxon world, but Israel as well) – share a common law system. Italy’s civil law system with its rigid legal and regulatory separation of public and private systems could become an insurmountable obstacle to technological transformation.

Over recent years, political consensus has developed around the importance of innovative actors. It is now necessary to make those intentions concrete. There is a need for skilled legal minds capable of facilitating what is not explicitly forbidden by law and are not limited, in the case of innovation, to viewing everything not explicitly prescribed by law as risky.

This effort is indispensable at a time when the role of technological innovation is proving a crucial instrument in confronting threats against humanity. The dissemination of knowledge could become a factor in reducing inequality, while new life science technologies are capable of offering care and prevention to an increasingly broad segment of the population, not least in times of crisis and pandemic.

In this regard, science and technology parks are critical to a world become increasingly virtual; new technologies can be accelerated without losing the weight of ideas and their nature as a place of physical encounter and exchange, all essential elements for promoting the growth and prosperity of innovative ecosystems.