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The pharmaceutical industry in Flanders: a tale of world-class production and top-notch R&D

Flanders – Belgium’s northern region – is ahead of the game when it comes to pharmaceutical production and innovation. Big names in the global pharma industry have a number of R&D and production facilities in the region, but Flanders also has a lot to offer in the form of university spin-offs, pharma talent and more – forming the perfect environment for sustainable growth.

Quick facts about Flanders’ pharmaceutical industry

  • As Belgium’s northern region, Flanders ranks number 1 in Europe for clinical trial procedure speed and number 2 for clinical trial applications per capita (source: pharma.be, December 2019).  
  • Belgium and Flanders come in at 3rd place worldwide for (bio)pharma exports, representing a total value of EUR 49.8 billion in 2019 and a 12.5% increase compared to 2015 (source: pharma.be, 2019 key figures).
  • With EUR 3.8 billion invested in 2019, which is 50% more than in 2015, biopharma companies channeled around EUR 10 million per day into R&D activities in Belgium and Flanders as a region, which holds number 1 position for pharma R&D investments in Europe (source: pharma.be, 2019 key figures).
  • Belgium and Flanders rank number 3 in Europe for pharma and biotech patent applications per capita as well as for number of (bio)pharma researchers per capita. The total number of biopharma researchers in Belgium is at 5,400, which is 26.7% more than in 2015 (source: pharma.be, 2019 key figures).
  • Belgium is the Europe’s 2nd largest pharmaceutical production hub in absolute figures.
  • In 2019, one biopharma patent application was submitted every day on average in Belgium, representing an increase of 48.3% compared to 2015 (source: pharma.be, 2019 key figures).
  • With a total market capitalization of EUR 21.5 billion in 2016, listed biopharma companies from Belgium represent no less than 18% of the European biotech market capitalization).
  • Over 1.800 medicines are currently in development in Belgium, including 400+ for cancer treatment and 200+ for immunological disorders, making Belgium one of the world’s most productive medicine development hubs (source: Springer, AdisInsight).

A match made in pharma investment

Flanders’ track record in pharmaceutical innovation and production hasn’t gone unnoticed abroad. In fact, numerous pharma companies from around the world have invested in production bases, distribution centers and R&D activities across Flanders. Some of the most telling success stories in the region include those of Pfizer (US), Johnson & Johnson (US), Galapagos, MSD (US), Novartis (Switzerland), Nipro (Japan), Sanofi (France) and many others.

Why Pfizer chooses Flanders
Why Novartis chooses Flanders

Flanders’ Life Sciences Welcome Team at your pharma firm’s service
Want to reap the rewards of Flanders’ pharmaceutical innovation and production ecosystem? Call on the tailored support of the region’s dedicated Welcome Team for Life Sciences. Composed of experts from Flanders Investment & Trade, VIB, flanders.bio and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the team is happy to help you:

  • internationalize your business;
  • investigate whether Flanders is the perfect match;
  • determine the best business approach in the region;
  • find the right spot in Flanders’ business ecosystem.

Get in touch with the Welcome Team via invest@fitagency.be.

A tightly meshed human health and pharma ecosystem

Because of its focus on open innovation, Flanders is a place where small, agile pharma startups can easily collaborate closely with huge industry players. The region’s human health, pharma science and tech landscape doesn’t just include top universities, academic hospitals, research centers and incubators; there are also numerous multinational enterprises that partner up with spinoffs, startups and SMEs active across many life sciences disciplines.

The result is an incredibly rich, versatile ecosystem that’s ideal for any pharma company looking to start up in, relocate to or establish a subsidiary in Flanders.

Pharmaceutical R&D: partner up with universities, university hospitals, research centers, incubators and more

In addition to five universities with internationally renowned pharmaceutical science and technology departments and research teams, Flanders is also home to four academic hospitals for pharma research collaboration. Various research centers and institutes with a focus on pharmaceuticals are also present in the region. Below are some of the most prominent examples:

  • VIB is Flanders’ strategic research center for biotechnology and life sciences and performs basic research with a strong focus on turning scientific results into viable pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications.
  • VITO, another one of Flanders’ four strategic research centers, is a multidisciplinary research institute that focuses on developing sustainable technology, including sustainable health solutions and diagnostics.
  • PharmAbs is a KU Leuven-founded platform for antibody research that enables collaboration between academics, research centers and industry.
  • The Rega Insitute for Medical Research is one of the world’s leading biomedical research institutes, part of KU Leuven. With its fully automated lab, it was chosen to carry out a large-scale study, funded by American business magnate Bill Gates, to find a potential COVID-19 cure in 2020.
  • The Leuven University Vaccinology Center (LUVAC) is an interdepartmental initiative that strives to combine KU Leuven’s vast knowledge and expertise in the domain of vaccines and vaccinology.

Furthermore, your pharmaceutical company can tap into the hand-on support of Flanders’ various biotech and life sciences incubator and accelerators. These include the likes of Bioscape, BioVille, VIB Core Facilities, Bio-accelerator Gent, Bio-incubator Leuven, JLABS and many more.

Europe’s first-ever vaccinopolis

Belgium started up a revolutionary project in its northern region of Flanders, with the federal government investing EUR 20 million in a cutting-edge ‘vaccinopolis’: an anti-infection unit that is unique in Europe. The aim is to test the efficacy of newly developed vaccines more rapidly than ever.

The project includes two main phases. Firstly, the city of Antwerp (Flanders) will accommodate a new quarantine facility for controlled human infection model (CHIM) studies. To date, CHIM studies were only possible in the US and the UK, but with this new project, European firms can perform these key studies close to home. For the second phase, a new immunology lab will be built in Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and Flanders.

Learn more about this vaccinopolis.

Sector and cluster organizations that have your back

Since so many pharmaceutical players are active in Flanders, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the region has several sector, cluster and other key organizations that represent the pharma industry’s interests. These include:

  • Pharma.be – the general association of the Belgium’s and Flanders’ pharmaceutical industry;
  • flanders.bio – a dedicated networking organization for the life sciences sector in Flanders;
  • essenscia vlaanderen – the federation for chemicals, plastics and life sciences in Flanders.

All the pharma talent you need

Flanders has a high concentration of human health talent and connects your pharma company with top managers, scientists and technicians. In addition to pharmaceutical sciences and technologies programs at its five universities, the region also enables access to the Flanders Training Network Life Sciences (ƒ-TALES) and a broad range of training programs at VIB for life sciences and pharma researchers that cover emerging research domains and technologies.

ViTalent, pharma and biotech training center

As the demand for highly trained talent in Flanders’ pharmaceutical and biotech industry continues to grow steadily, sector federation essenscia and various partner organizations decided to build a dedicated training center. ViTalent is the first of its kind in Flanders, situated in the Niel science park near Antwerp. It houses around 1,500 m² of new practice-oriented infrastructure, including a clean room and training zones with specialized equipment and packaging lines.

Financing your pharmaceutical business in Flanders

When deciding to establish activities or headquarters in Flanders, your pharmaceutical business can reap the rewards of:  

  • government subsidies and support for investments in R&D and innovation, strategic transformation, ecological efforts, growth and other domains. 
  • tax incentives to fund a broad range of business activities. 
  • fiscal options to help you cut labor costs.  
  • venture capitalist and bank funding experts that specialize in life sciences and biopharmaceuticals.

Request a free copy of our brochure to discover more about government support in Flanders.

Tax incentives for research-intensive activities

Flanders offers access to several tax incentives that are particularly relevant to research-intensive sectors like the life sciences industry. Examples include:  

  • the innovation income deduction – up to 85% of a company’s net innovation income can be exempt from corporate tax.  
  • the R&D investment deduction – 13.5% of the investment value (at once) or 20.5% of the annual depreciation (staggered).   
  • the R&D payroll tax exemption – 80% of the withholding tax on professional income for researchers and academic personnel. 

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