The Biotech RusFrance 2016 conference kicked off Wednesday at the Skolkovo innovation centre with the aim of identifying new opportunities for cooperation in biotech.

Alexis Michel, science and technology counsellor at the French Embassy, shows the conference a slide depicting President Charles de Gaulle's extensive visit to the Soviet Union in July 1966. Photo:

Russian startups seeking to enter international markets, representatives of major companies, investors, and experts from both countries gathered at Skolkovo’s Hypercube for a day of sessions devoted to topics ranging from creating new medicines, breaking onto the European market, support systems for Russian companies in France and innovative approaches to treating genetic diseases.

“Biotechnology is a sphere that affects every living person on the planet,” said Kristina Khodova, a project manager within the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomed cluster.

“It’s one of the fastest growing  areas right now, one of the most interesting and one that has the most effect on our lifestyles, quality of life and life expectancy,” she said, adding that France and Russia have a long history of cooperating in the sphere of biotechnology.

The two countries are this year celebrating 50 years of cooperation in the field of science and technology with a programme of 40 events.

“Fifty years ago, President [Charles] de Gaulle came to the Soviet Union for a two-week visit,” Alexis Michel, science and technology counsellor at the French Embassy in Russia, told the conference.

The French leader visited many science centres, becoming the first foreign head of state to be admitted to Zvezdograd, as the Baikonur space launch facility was then known. He also visited Moscow State University and Akademgorodok, the purpose-built science town in the city of Novosibirsk, which Michel said deeply impressed de Gaulle.

“Several cooperation agreements were signed in science and technology and space, and are still in place today,” said Michel.

In fact, cooperation began much earlier – three centuries ago – with the visit of Peter the Great to Paris in 1717, said the diplomat.

The reformist tsar visited the French Academy of Sciences, and on his return to Russia ordered the creation of an equivalent institution in St. Petersburg based on what he had seen in France, said Michel.

Today, the two countries produce 1,700 joint scientific publications every year – a 55-percent increase on the last 10 years, according to French Embassy statistics. At the beginning of this year, French Tech Moscow was launched, which aims to open the door to French startups that want to expand onto the Russian market.

Last year, the French and Russian governments signed an agreement to recognise each other’s diplomas, and the countries also have what Michel described as a de facto “zero rejection” visa policy for scientists.

“On average, there are 50 French researchers on any given day in Russia, who are here for an average of 10 days,” said Michel.

While Russia has a strong foundation of scientific knowledge, that expertise is not always turned into technology, Kirill Kaem, head of Skolkovo’s biomed cluster, told the conference.

“We [Skolkovo] are an instrument of disruption,” he said. “We are trying to change the existing system of scientific research and its transformation into applied technology.”