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The pharmaceutical industry in Flanders: a tale of world-class production and top-notch R&D
Flanders is one of the foremost (bio)pharmaceutical regions in Europe and the world. Below are some impressive statistics to support this claim.
- 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, Sep. 2022).
- Belgium and Flanders rank 2nd worldwide for (bio)pharma exports, representing a total value of EUR 84.6 billion in 2021 and a 50% increase compared to 2020 (source: pharma.be, 2021 key figures). The strong growth of export activities is strongly linked to the crucial role Flanders played in the production and global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
- With EUR 5.2 billion invested in 2021, biopharma companies channeled around EUR 14 million per day into R&D activities in Belgium and Flanders as a region, ranking number 2 for pharma R&D investments in Europe (source: pharma.be, 2021 key figures).
- Belgium and Flanders rank 2nd 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 – 6,342 in 2021, which is 36.8% more than in 2016 (source: pharma.be, 2021 key figures).
- In 2021, an average of over one biopharma patent application per day was submitted in Belgium, which is more than twice as much compared to EU average (source: pharma.be, 2021 key figures).
- 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).
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), Organon (US), MSD (US), Novartis (Switzerland), Nipro (Japan), Sanofi (France) and many others.
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Because of its focus on open innovation, Flanders is a place where small, agile pharma start-ups 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.