Brussels, 17 May 2005
While the US has historically been a dominant player in the field of biotechnology research, innovation and commercialisation, Europe is striving towards new levels of achievement, and succeeding.
Although Europe faces many challenges in its quest for biotech supremacy, one by one European countries are overcoming the hurdles of public and private funding issues, high manufacturing costs and product approval timelines, according to US Magazine, Expansion Management.
'US companies are striving to put Europe's intellectual assets, strategic location, logistical benefits and quality of life to work for their operations,' explains the magazine.
While traditionally it was the UK and Switzerland that attracted the most foreign investment in biotechnology, countries such as the Netherlands, France and Italy are increasingly popular.
The Netherlands, for example, thanks to a variety of business incentives, the availability of venture capital and proximity to international airports, is evolving into a favourite European location for US companies.
US start-up Biovec BV, a life science company focused on developing new gene therapy products began its basic research in the US but is conducting its clinical trials in the Netherlands, specifically for regulatory reasons.
'It is often less cumbersome to obtain regulatory approval in the EU [compared to] the US FDA [Food and Drug Administration],'explains David Wolf, CEO of Biovec. 'You can normally get a product to market with approval faster in Europe than in the US. For us to get to Phase I human trials is probably two and a half years from now. To get all the way through Phase III could be six years from now. In the U.S., it could be longer,' Expansion Management reports him as saying.
'Those extra years can either make or break a company,' he added, 'especially when you are only spending money, not receiving income.'
In choosing the University of Groningen, the company found a European location with much experience in cardiovascular therapy and bypass surgery, as well as with English-speaking researchers. Biovec currently employs five people in Groningen but plans to increase that number to ten by December as research expands.
France is also popular with US healthcare companies because 'like the US, France has one of the most advanced health care systems in the world,' explains Mark Owen from McKesson Corp, a San-Francisco based company which also has facilities near Bordeaux and Poitiers. 'Second, also like the US, there is a significant opportunity to improve the existing system. Third, the French government and the marketplace in general have been highly receptive to working with McKesson. The combination of these factors made France a natural fit for us,' he told the magazine.
Italy has started to attract a number of US companies as it has developed into the third largest life science industry in Europe in terms of turnover and number of employees.
As Expansion Management explains, spending on research and development is on the rise, and the number of new biotechnology ventures continues to grow, frequently as spin-offs from academic work or from a foreign industrial presence in Italy. These changes, aided by the existence of research centres with a track record in health care research and stronger ties between the academic and the business community, have already given life to several biotechnology clusters, including some specialised in the fields of diagnostic and therapeutic trials.
'Recent applications in the biomedical, bioinformatics, biomechanics and nanobiotechnology fields, in particular, are drawing the interest of investors,' states Expansion Management.
Despite these promising developments, however, the biotechnology industry in Europe remains behind the US in terms of its maturity. As competition with US biotech companies start to intensify, the European biotech industry is seeking to prove that it is robust enough to be both sustainable and profitable.