Country Report: Belgium

Apr 01, 2013
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

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by Ben Heine © 2013 —
Despite its small size and lack of natural resources, Belgium is among the most prosperous and competitive countries in the world. The country holds many assets required for the development of a strong knowledge-based economy including an open economy dominated by international functions, the presence of decisive multinational enterprises, the availability of a highly productive and skilled work-force as well as an enviable geostrategic location in Europe.

Among Belgium's hallmarks is its indulgent frothy beverage, beer, which appears to be limitless in variety and taste ranging from pale lager to Lambic or Flemish red. Simultaneously, Belgium has achieved remarkable success in a loosely related industry that also requires a seemingly magical mixture of ingredients under highly controlled and complex environments to produce a product many also view as indispensable: pharmaceuticals.

With an economy defined by international trade, Belgium exports roughly 60% of both its barley pop and pharmaceutical drugs production. However, the pharmaceutical industry directly employs in excess of 30,000 people and represented 10.4% of Belgium's total exports in 2011. Belgium is in fact still the world's second largest exporter of pharmaceuticals. As such, the pharmaceutical industry is a significant positive contributor to the country's trade balance.

Today, the Belgian pharmaceutical market is valued at approximately €4.5 billion (USD 6.1 billion) and is supported by "a highly commendable healthcare system which provides a high standard of services to patients," declares Laurette Onkelinx, minister of Social Affairs and Public Health. Belgium's life sciences industry has evolved into a world-class contender. The country is regarded as a hub for clinical trials, a leader in the biopharmaceutical industry and a hub for pharmaceutical production and distribution. Belgium has been the driving force behind a number of global giants such as Janssen Pharmaceutica, GSK Biologics, UCB and Solvay Pharmaceuticals.

Janssen Beerse I Site Aerial Photo
In part, Belgium's excellence in pharmaceutical R&D is supported by the government's attractive R&D patent and tax incentives that have served to nurture and attract innumerable life science companies. Yet in terms of market access and reimbursement, Belgium is found to be lacking due to sub-optimal market authorization and reimbursement processes and pressure to balance healthcare budgets.

Nonetheless, Belgium remains an attractive destination for investment by the pharmaceutical industry. This is illustrated by numerous investments made over the recent past, including UCB's new biotech pilot plant, Janssen Pharmaceutica's new distribution center and Pfizer's new production unit, to name a few.

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