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Wolf protection in Europe has become deeply political – Spain’s experience tells us why

Some European countries view wolf protection differently to others. A look at Spain’s experience may explain why.

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Wolves are making a comeback throughout Europe – but not everyone's happy. Ramon Carretero/Shutterstock

Wolves are staging a comeback in many areas of Europe after centuries of persecution. Over the past decade alone, they have expanded their range on the continent by more than 25%.

This resurgence was brought into sharp focus in September 2023 following a controversial statement by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. She said: “The concentration of wolf packs in some European regions has become a real danger for livestock and potentially also for humans. I urge local and national authorities to take action where necessary.”

But what is the right action to take? Recent decisions by EU member states do not reflect a consensus on the matter.

The Swiss senate has voted to ease restrictions on culling their roughly 200 wolves to safeguard livestock that roam freely in the Alps. Spain, which is home to more than 2,000 wolves and boasts extensive livestock grazing systems, has adopted a contrasting stance.

In 2021, the Spanish government declared wolves strictly protected. It aims to increase the wolf population by 18% and encourage farmers to implement livestock protection measures like installing fences or keeping guard dogs.

An examination of Spain’s motivations for protection may provide some insight into what motivates countries to adopt such different approaches to coexistence.

Ursula von der Leyen giving a statement to the press.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

What does coexistence mean?

In new research that I carried out with several colleagues, we investigated how people in Spain interpret and experience coexistence with wolves. Our findings revealed three distinct and, to some extent, conflicting views of what coexistence means and how it should be achieved.


Read more: How to live with large predators – lessons from Spanish wolf country


“Traditionalists” cared deeply about the landscapes, livelihoods and biodiversity that evolved together throughout millennia of free-range pastoralism. They saw people as a part of nature and interpreted coexistence as a state where the wolf was controlled to not disrupt pastoral activities.

“Protectionists” wanted to restore “wild” nature (with minimal human influence) and believed that the wolf would catalyse this process. They saw coexistence as a state where human activities were controlled so that wolves could roam free.

“Pragmatists” were less fixated on a certain type of nature and more on the relationships and context within each location. They regarded coexistence as a state where the needs of different groups (including wolves) were balanced.

Relaxing or increasing wolf protection has come to represent these different visions of the future. Each of these visions offers advantages to some people and wildlife and presents challenges for others. As a result, the topic has become deeply political.

The politics of wolf conservation

In Spain, the proposal to protect wolves was put forward by protectionists, and aligned with the agenda of the incumbent left-wing government. Podemos, one of the left coalition parties, submitted a proposition for strict wolf protection in 2016 (when they were in opposition) in collaboration with pro-wolf advocacy groups.

By contrast, Spain’s right-wing political parties were firmly opposed. These parties tend to target rural voters, for whom the return of carnivores has come to symbolise the demise of pastoral cultures.

The proposal was ultimately endorsed by the government based on wolves’ “scientific, ecological and cultural value” – largely subjective criteria. For instance, one could argue that the fox, which is not protected, possesses similar values. These criteria do not consider how stringent wolf protection measures might affect other cultural or ecological values, like pastoral farming systems.

Spain’s decision was also influenced by the protectionists’ view of the wolf’s conservation status. A species that is classified as having a “favourable” status (adequate to guarantee its long-term survival) in the EU Habitats Directive can, in some instances, be hunted. However, conservationists disagree about the criteria and data on which this status is based.

For example, an assessment submitted to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List in 2018 indicates that the Iberian wolf population is large, stable and slowly expanding. By contrast, a report published by a pro-wolf advocacy group in 2017 claimed that more wolves were killed than born in Spain during that year.

The latter has been accused of being biased and unscientific. However, it did not stop the Spanish Environment Ministry from using the report to reclassify the conservation status of wolves from “favourable” (as it was in previous reports) to “unfavourable”. In other words, information was interpreted, selected and presented in a way that justified increased protection.

The Swedish government, which has been led by a right-wing coalition since 2022, seeks to achieve the opposite. It has ordered the Environment Protection Agency to review if the established threshold for favourable status, set to a minimum of 300 in 2019, can be lowered to enable increased culling.

Free-roaming sheep in Spain.
Free-roaming sheep in the Picos de Europa National Park, Asturias, Spain. Hanna Pettersson, CC BY-NC-SA

This nature or that nature?

To bridge the political divide between protection and persecution, as well as between the restoration of “wild” versus pastoral landscapes, a reevaluation of how decisions are made and what evidence is considered is needed.

Science plays a crucial role in evaluating various policy options and their consequences, such as the effect of an increased wolf population on sheep or deer behaviour. But it cannot determine the “correct” course of action. That choice depends on what people, livestock and wildlife in a particular place need to live well. In other words: context matters.

In most cases, the question is not a matter of choosing between “this or that”, but rather, how we get “a little bit of everything”. Reconciling different interests and finding a way forward requires public participation and, usually, professional mediation. These are the actions that the European Commission should encourage among member states.

With this in mind, it is concerning that the pragmatic interpretation is largely overlooked in the debate. Ultimately, the sustainable coexistence of humans and wolves does not hinge on whether wolves are hunted or protected, or even on the size of the wolf population. Rather, it hinges on how these decisions are made.

Hanna Pettersson received funding from Leeds-York Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) SPHERES under grant NE/L002574/.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.

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Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 

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This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

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With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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