Country Report: Belgium - Pharmaceutical Executive


Country Report: Belgium

Pharmaceutical Executive


The Good: A Mecca for Biotechs

Belgium's biopharmaceutical sector enjoys a leading position on a global level. The biotechnology industry is an increasingly important player in Europe and has been playing a central role in supporting Belgium's economy.

From left: Laurette Onkelinx, Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health; Leo Neels, CEO of (The General Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry)
Historically, Belgium boasts an impressive track record in biopharmaceutical innovations. Some of the breakthroughs made in the country include the first unraveling of the DNA sequence of a gene, the discovery of tPA (for dissolving coronary clots) and the discovery of the HIV drug Tenofivir.

Today, there are over 140 biotechnology companies operating in Belgium (7% of all such companies in Europe) that accounted for 16% of Europe's turnover and almost 10% of European R&D expenditures. Patrik De Haes, CEO of ThromboGenics, a successful biotech spin-off from the Katholiek Universiteit Van Leuven (KUL), stated that although Belgium is a small country, "in terms of biotechnology we are right on top."

Eduardo Bravo, CEO of TiGenix, the first and only company with an approved cell-based product in Europe and also a spin-off of KUL and Universiteit Gent (UG), agrees that Belgium offers unique opportunities in biotech. "Belgium finds itself in a privileged position for cell therapy due to the concentration of cell therapy companies located in the Benelux region, particularly in Belgium."

Yet Omer Saka, director at Deloitte submits that there is still room for improvement. "With the right policies and incentives in place, Belgium could very easily become the European leader in the biopharmaceutical sector. I consider the biotech sector to be the jewel in the economic and financial crown of the country." More specifically, Saka notes that "Belgium would benefit significantly by setting this as a major objective for her industrial policy. The government therefore has to put the vision out there to be the leading country, not just in R&D, but also in manufacturing biopharmaceuticals."

In part, Belgium's success in biotechnology can be traced to its excellent academic network, abundance of expertise and the trend towards cooperation and clusterization in the industry. Belgium boasts an academic network of 16 universities within a 60 mile radius and a high concentration of university hospitals. A 2008 study by The Scientist found that four out of the top 10 universities in life science research, as measured by citations, are located in Belgium. This is the greatest academic concentration of any country outside of the US.

De Haes notes that "in Belgium, the number of drugs in development per million inhabitants is the highest in the world, ahead of the UK or the United States." Likewise, Bravo goes on to say that Belgium maintains a "favorable position that obviously derives from the quality of its universities, especially with regard to the quality of the spin-offs they produce. With the highest concentration of life science employees in the world, the country has become the birthplace of several world R&D centers for the biopharma industry."


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Source: Pharmaceutical Executive,
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