The Netherlands: Innovation through Collaboration - Pharmaceutical Executive


The Netherlands: Innovation through Collaboration

Pharmaceutical Executive


The Netherlands drew global headlines across the pharmaceutical community in the summer of 2010 with the announcement of the closure of two large-scale R&D centers. In June, Merck announced the closure of Organon's R&D facilities in southern Holland. Operations will be shifted to the US as part of a corporate strategy to streamline global activities. Previously a homegrown Dutch success story before being acquired by Schering-Plough, Organon's closure and the expected layoff of 2,200 jobs dealt a major blow to the local industry. Last September, Abbott similarly announced the closure of its Weesp-based R&D facility (near Amsterdam), resulting in the loss of 510 local jobs. Dr. Dutrée of Nefarma called the Organon announcement a symptom of "what happens if the government does not have a proper strategy for innovation." The renowned Dutch research culture and knowledge economy took a hit, according to some.

More positive views in the pharmaceutical and life sciences community look past Organon and Abbott to the richness of the country's science parks. Leiden Bio Science Park, approximately 30 minutes from Amsterdam, is the largest life sciences knowledge cluster in the Netherlands and home to more than 70 specialized life sciences companies.

The younger and rapidly growing Utrecht Science Park began in 2005 and has since successfully attracted more than 30 companies and knowledge institutes in the life sciences and sustainability sectors. In addition to three premier knowledge institutions—the University of Utrecht, the University Medical Center of Utrecht, and the University of Applied Science—and steadfast support from the City and Province of Utrecht, managing director Alie Tigchelhoff believes that much of the park's strengths lies in its ability to network with and leverage the creative industry resources of nearby cities Amersfoort and Hilversum. We want to attract companies in the life sciences and sustainability side, but we do that in combination with the cities around us," she explains. "We are the motor of the science industry and we link to larger networks that extend beyond just the city of Utrecht." To Tigchelhoff, Utrecht Science Park's value offer means sharpening its core focus area rather than stretching them thin. "As sustainability is a broad field, we have had to target a core focus which is coming to be bio-based sciences and water. In life sciences we have a focus on public health, which involves everything from infectious diseases, immunology, and zoonosis." She adds that in addition to those core life sciences fields, "we are also working on stem cells and cancer. Hubrecht Institute, an institute of the Royal Academy of Sciences that is globally renowned for its work on stem cells, works in close cooperation with the Utrecht Medical Center."


2011 and 2012 will be pivotal years for shaping the future of the Dutch pharmaceutical industry. Against soaring costs, a new government will be tasked with ensuring accessible, affordable healthcare while still promoting a continuous supply of high-quality pharmaceutical treatments. Industry is collectively urging the authorities to keep a long-term perspective with regards to the healthcare system and not jeopardize long-run sustainability for short-term cost gains.

Underpinning the continued success of healthcare and pharmaceuticals in the Netherlands is the long-term viability of innovation—for so long a defining trademark of the country. Innovation that comes through to the market on all fronts—technological, patient care, and marketing—benefits all stakeholders, from government, to patients, to healthcare providers, and companies as economic players. To meet the challenges that come with ensuring innovation government of course cannot act alone. Greater communication and collaboration amongst all industry stakeholders is necessary in order to frame and achieve common needs. Perhaps no culture is as historically well versed in collaborating to innovate as the Netherlands. An American pharmaceutical executive recently assigned to the Netherlands best sums up the Dutch ability to overcome the odds: "A word that I use to describe my colleagues quite often is pragmatic. It is not fancy, it is not fluffy, it is just all about getting it done."


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