13 Muharram 1444 - 10 August 2022
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Eye of Riyadh
Healthcare | Wednesday 15 September, 2021 8:55 am |

Belgium’s “Pharma Valley” - Wallonia

Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium situated in the heart of Europe, is definitely an export champion! 


In the small Belgian market, exports account for a staggering 85% of the GDP. Out of which the ratio exported products/services is about 70/30. What’s more, the majority of exporting companies are SMEs (which account for 95% of Wallonia's economy); these companies are dynamic, flexible, and innovative and rely on multi-lingual sales teams and a highly qualified workforce. 


Therefore, in view of the competition against low-cost manufactured products from export giants such as China, the government has set a priority on helping businesses that are focused on high-added-value sectors. These benefit from a favorable tax environment, the support of private and university research centers and intense R&D activities. Wallonia's central position within Europe and its multi-channel communication infrastructures also ensure speedy delivery times and just-in-time services. 


This range of advantages has enabled Wallonia to become a key player in Life Sciences. Numerous businesses in this sector have achieved a truly international reputation, with some of them now ranking as world leaders. If Wallonia counts a number of well-known names such as GSK, UCB, IBA or Baxter, some smaller innovative companies whose success is multiplying (Bone Therapeutics, Celyad, Univercells, MaSTherCell SA, Belgian Volition,...)  have also demonstrated expertise that has rendered the region unmissable for the life sciences sector.


Strategic sector – Life Sciences


Overall, 357 Life Sciences entities are registered in Wallonia, a higher density than Germany or France. And the contribution of pharma to Wallonia’s economy is 10x higher than its closest neighbors. What’s more, biomanufacturing is the most prevalent activity in Wallonia with over 50 000 direct and indirect jobs. 


Today, products from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are by far Wallonia’s leading export sector, with more than 35% of the Walloon total while it accounts for 1/5 of the trade with Saudi Arabia. This sector is continually growing, and certainly the only one which will not be caught up in the economic slump caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Research & Development


The Belgian chemicals and pharma sector is by far the largest investor in research and development (R&D) in the European Union. With an R&D intensity of 17.7% (the ratio between R&D expenditure and added value), Belgian chemicals and pharma lead the rankings, ahead of countries including Germany, Sweden and France. The chemicals and pharma sector in Belgium accounts for two thirds of all industrial R&D investment, and one third of patents granted.  


At a time when a vaccine against the coronavirus and solutions to climate change are actively pursued, the importance of innovative companies and government support for innovation is all the more evident. 


€4.5 billion: that was the record amount invested by companies in the chemicals and life sciences sector in 2019 in research and development in Belgium (intra- & extra-muros). That equates to more than €12 million per day, a rise of almost 50% in ten years. 


In order to attract investment in R&D, Wallonia offers a series of aids which aim to help companies reinforce their innovation potential, acquire external knowledge for a project's implementation, conduct a research project, carry out a development project, create a spin-out from technologies mastered by the company but not exploited, protect innovation or even prepare a European intervention application or acquire the Eureka label. For example, under the “Innovation Income Deduction” companies can deduct up to 85% of their net innovation income from the taxable base, resulting in an effective corporate taxation as low as 4,44%.


Within Europe, Belgium has the second highest level of pharma R&D performed in the business sector per inhabitant and also in R&D investment per capita! Especially in the field of immunotherapy where the number of companies engaged in R&D is far greater than in the Netherlands or Germany (among which are Imcyse, Immuxperts, PDC line Pharma, etc.). Not to mention that Belgium is #2 in the world for clinical trials and #1 in Europe for approval time!


As a whole, innovation rate is 14% higher than neighboring countries.


BIOWIN, the Health Cluster of Wallonia 


The sector is a typical example of the combined dynamic between multinationals, local SMEs and start-ups. Together with government funding, Wallonia has brought together in the beginning of the 2000’s the academic world and the business community with one goal: foster innovation. Five “competitivity clusters” were created and BioWin is the Health Cluster of Wallonia, Belgium. Biowin is the regional reference holder for all stakeholders in innovative R&I projects in health biotechnology and medical technologies, whether they are companies, research centers or universities. Biowin also aims to promote Wallonia internationally as a world-class life sciences environment for academic, clinical and industrial research.


Its mission is to accelerate innovation to meet tomorrow’s public health challenges and develop the knowledge, employment and competitiveness of all players in the health sector ecosystem in Wallonia.


2019, the FDI boost


In one year, three American companies (Catalent Pharma, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Hologic) as well as a Canadian company (Nexelis) paid 1,174 million euros to take over five Walloon companies (MaSTherCell, Delphi Genetics, ImmunXperts, Henogen and Diagenode) as well as a subsidiary (Bone Therapeutics) in the life sciences sector. 


Americans come to buy expertise and technology that they do not have or that they do not have at the same level in Europe.


The history of life sciences over the past two decades in Wallonia seems to prove Wallonia’s focus on supporting R&D right. The examples of GSK, a British group, and Eurogentec, bought by the Japanese Kaneka fifteen years ago, show that one of the keys to the pursuit of development within a large entity is to maintain the research and innovation locally.


COVID-19 Elite fighter


What’s more, with several Covid-19 vaccines being now mass produced in the Kingdom, the country is at the frontline of the fight against coronavirus:


  • Walloon company Novasep will produce the active substance of the AstraZeneca vaccine in its Seneffe facilities;
  • America's Pfizer has chosen its biggest European manufacture of Puurs in Belgium to produce the vaccine created with Germany's BioNTech;
  • The American biotech Inovio announced on that it had selected Eurogentec (Liège, Wallonia), a subsidiary of the Japanese group Kaneka, to produce the active ingredient of its candidate DNA-plasmid vaccine;
  • GSK (Rixensart, Wallonia) has joined forces with the French Sanofi to combine a vaccine candidate thanks to its our adjuvant technology to develop an adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine.

The Life-Science sector in Wallonia is set to remain attractive and lucrative for years to come.


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