The Economic Climate Of Belgium's Biotech Industry In 2022

Published date16 November 2022
Subject MatterFood, Drugs, Healthcare, Life Sciences, Biotechnology & Nanotechnology
Law FirmInnovation Park
AuthorMs Julia Vorontsova

Belgium's biotech industry is well-established. The country has long supported advancements in life sciences and biotechnology. In the 1970s, Belgian scientists Jozef Schell and Marc Van Montagu developed the world's first genetically modified plant at a university in Ghent.

Fast forward to the present, and biotech in Belgium is a thriving industry at the forefront of innovation in life sciences, pharmaceuticals, medtech, healthcare, and more. According to the federal government, 7% of Europe's biotech companies are based in Belgium. They account for 16% of the continent's entire turnover and almost 10% of its R&D expenditure.

With robust research and development clusters and strong cross-sector collaboration, Belgium's diverse life sciences ecosystem continues to attract foreign investment. Startups, local firms, and multinational enterprises play an integral part in the sector, too.

Underpinned by a supportive government and a finance-friendly landscape, Belgium's biotechnology industry encompasses the entire value chain'from research, discovery, and development to production, commercialization, and global distribution.

The Belgian Federation for Life Sciences and Biotechnology says that sector-specific exports doubled in the last decade alone, reaching more than '83 billion in 2021. During the same period, R&D spending increased by 166%, and the number of workers in the industry rose by 41%.

Despite the unprecedented events of the pandemic, Belgium quickly established itself as a global leader in the development, production, and distribution of coronavirus treatments and vaccines. It's home to some of the biggest pharmaceutical giants, including Pfizer, Janssen Pharmaceutica, GSK, and Plasma Industries.

These factors, together with Belgium's strategic location, above-average patent approval rate, and attractive tax benefits, make the country a biotech hotspot.

But is the market oversaturated? Are investment opportunities dwindling? Or is Belgium's biotech industry booming amid post-pandemic challenges, ambitious sustainable development goals, and long-winded EU regulations?

Let's find out.

EU Biotech at a Glance

Biotechnology doesn't exist in a vacuum. Rather, it's relied upon across various sectors, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, textiles, and agriculture. It speeds up modernization while supporting public health, sustainable development, and environmental protection'three pillars of modern society.

According to the European Commission (EC), biotechnology contributes to the European Union economy with main applications in:

  • Healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals
  • Industrial processes and manufacturing
  • Agriculture, aquaculture, livestock, and veterinary products

The EU has implemented strategies, policies, and regulations to address many of these sector-specific differentiations. Still, the multifaceted nature of the biotech industry presents certain obstacles'particularly for foreign investors and multinational enterprises.

The European market is complex, fragmented, and underscored by an elaborate policy framework, resulting in a challenging environment for biotech and pharma companies.

Europe's biotech market comprises 31 markets (including Switzerland and the UK). Each has its own healthcare system, health tech assessments (HTA), legal framework, and market-specific reimbursement processes.

For instance, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are tasked with approving biopharma products. But some countries also require approval at the federal and regional levels.

Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission are jointly responsible for approving genetically engineered (GE) products.

Recent updates to EU regulations (such as the new Medical Device/IVD Regulation and the Clinical Trial Regulation) and the potential impact of cross-border collaborations on market access are also contributing factors.

Biotech and Biopharmaceuticals in the EU

Despite these obstacles, Europe's market is too significant to ignore. According to The Economic Intelligence Unit, the continent has a 20% share of the worldwide pharmaceutical market.

As such, Europe is simply the next logical step for non-EU biopharma companies looking to go global. The reasons are many but include the continent's:

  • Overall commercial potential
  • Robust R&D and innovation hotspots
  • Industry expertise
  • Highly-qualified talent pool
  • Strong focus on advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs)

In a 2022 Deloitte Insights Report, analysts found that...

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