Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the strong Belgian biotech and biopharmaceutical sector has played a key role in the global fight against this pandemic. Let’s count on this mature industry to help the country’s economic recovery. Companies in the sector have already invested 5.5 billion in production facilities over the past 10 years. Let’s provide the right conditions for them to further develop their biomanufacturing capabilities, becoming sustainable and digitalized industries of the future, able to find the scientific and technical talent needed for their development. These were the key messages at the annual event of the Belgian life sciences and biotechnology federation bio.be/essenscia, where one of the speakers was Thomas Dermine, Secretary of State for Recovery and Strategic Investments, responsible for Science Policy.
International interest in Belgian biotech has increased with the coronavirus pandemic. However, our country has a long history in this field and the ecosystem, made up of universities, research centres, hospitals, spin-offs and start-ups, SMEs, and large international companies, continues to develop. The ten largest (bio)pharmaceutical companies in the world all have sites in Belgium – some of them for over 50 years – involved in at least one activity within the value chain, either in research, production, or logistics.
10 000 additional jobs in 10 years
In 2020, the sector employed over 35,000 people, 10,000 more than ten years ago. Last year, exports of biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology products reached more than €53 billion and sectoral spending on research and development amounted to more than €5 billion. These last two figures have almost doubled in the past decade.
This growth is reflected in many investment projects that generate additional jobs. The investments range from capacity expansions for vaccines, including coronavirus vaccines, innovative cell and gene therapies, new biotech production techniques, as well as advances in digitalization and sustainability, such as the reuse of purified waste water, and increased energy efficiency. In 10 years, companies in the sector have invested €5.5 billion in the biotech and biopharma production of tomorrow.
The key moment for tomorrow’s Belgian biotech
We are now at a tipping point, poised to anchor in our country, firmly and permanently, tomorrow’s biotechnology production techniques. This is crucial to strengthen the international position of Belgian biotech, not only in the health sphere, but also in biotechnological and bio-based applications in agriculture and industry. It will allow the sector to confirm its position as a pillar of our economy and a driver of recovery. An attractive investment climate is required – from venture capital for innovation, to funding for pioneering pilot projects – and more STEM talent to meet the challenges of digitalization and sustainability in business.
“We need to support partnerships between small organizations and large groups so that innovations are also produced on our territory.”
Frédéric Druck, Secretary General of bio.be/essenscia
Frédéric Druck, Secretary General of bio.be/essenscia: “It is vital to anchor companies in the sector in order to maintain the competitiveness of the Belgian biotech ecosystem. Belgium eagerly welcomes start-ups and spin-offs involved in research and development, yet fails to encourage these young companies enough to grow and manufacture here. Let’s shift from ‘invented in Belgium’ to ‘invented and made in Belgium’! For this to happen, we need to support partnerships between small organizations and large groups so that innovations are also produced on our territory. Let’s encourage the search for risk capital by, for example, creating platforms that go beyond the regional level and that can provide more substantial funds.”
“Talent is another challenge facing biopharma and biotech companies in their growth and quest to become sustainable and digitalized ‘factories of the future’.”
Geoffrey Pot, President of bio.be/essenscia
Geoffrey Pot, President of bio.be/essenscia: “Talent is another challenge facing biopharma and biotech companies in their growth and quest to become sustainable and digitalized ‘factories of the future’. Initiatives such as ViTalent in Flanders, a training centre dedicated to life sciences, Cefochim’s increased training capacity in Wallonia and the EU Biotech School & Health Hub project, supported by the recovery plan, will allow us to train more talent to meet companies’ needs. School education must also play a role in encouraging more young people to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses.”
“The EU Biotech Campus is one of the structural projects in the recovery plan. It will provide lots of training opportunities in a sector of the future, in a region that is redeploying and creating jobs. The recovery plan will also fund research and innovation projects, such as the Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant and the CESPE innovation accelerator in Ghent, which will contribute to Belgian excellence in biological and pharmaceutical production,” says Thomas Dermine, State Secretary for Economic Recovery and Strategic Investments.
In the run-up to to European Biotech Week, the annual bio.be/essenscia event “Biomanufacturing: the future starts in Belgium” brought together 200 people in Brussels on Tuesday 21 September. It provided the opportunity for an inspiring exchange with Thomas Dermine, State Secretary for Recovery and Strategic Investments, in charge of Science Policy, and the chance to hear about the challenges and opportunities facing companies and players in the biopharmaceutical and biotechnological sector in Belgium, such as Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant, GSK, Euronext, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Takeda and Univercells.