Dissecting the Current Landscape of Biotechnology in Europe

Life science includes a wide range of medical fields, such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, biomedical research, cell and gene therapy (CGT), and genomics. Since life science is a research and development-intensive sector, technological advancements have substantially enhanced its progression and opened innovative avenues to improve human health. In Europe, biotech companies are growing at a rapid pace, which is helping transform academic innovations into effective commercial products.

Biotechnology

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At present, biotechnology-based companies have entered the next S-curve of growth. These companies predominantly focus on transforming academic innovations related to gene therapies, antisense DNA, Small interfering RNA (siRNA), stem-cell treatments, and Chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T) into powerful therapeutic tools. In the future, more scientific breakthroughs are expected to be in the pipeline, which biotech firms could commercialize, thereby benefiting the world at large.

The Role of Biotechnology in Changing the Current Landscape of Life Science

As the name suggests, biotechnology uses biology to solve various types of global problems, such as the enhancement of food production, the development of novel medicines, and the creation of many other useful products. Genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology has been the most prominent area of biotechnology, which has helped formulate effective solutions to malnutrition and disease management.

Gene sequencing has enabled the study of various biological functions at the molecular level. Theoretically, the cells of all organisms, such as algae, bacteria, fungi, plants, and mice, can be genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms have been used in various types of scientific research; for example, microorganisms are used for antibiotic production.

Recombinant DNA technology involves gene modifications through splicing to produce useful proteins in mammalian cells, yeasts, or bacteria. In 1982, the first product of genetic engineering that received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was insulin. Since then, several genetically engineered protein medications, such as clotting factors, growth hormones, interferons, proteins for stimulating the production of red and white blood cells, and clot-dissolving agents, have been commercialized globally. Besides medicine and agricultural products, biotechnology has been used to manufacture beer and other improved edible products as well.

Medical advancements have enabled people to live longer and lead a healthier life. In the 21st century, life science, particularly biotechnology, has become one of the most important tools in combating the problems associated with hunger and malnutrition by increasing agricultural production with reduced environmental effects.

Why have Biotech Companies Flourished in European Countries?

Key factors that make the European biotech market more attractive to investors are the abundance of high-caliber talent, powerful research centers, industry expertise to support basic science and innovations, and strong hot spots across geographies and modalities.

The current landscape of life science in Europe differs significantly from the rest of the world because of. The existence of hundreds of biotech companies, multiple financing opportunities, and potential paths to innovation. 

To understand the present scenario and the future of the life science industry, scientists categorized and mapped one thousand biotech companies based on country, therapeutic area, and modality. This biotech map can help indicate hot spots and analyze the shifting trend over a region. Additionally, the future direction of biotech companies can be determined using the cluster map.

European biotech companies were grouped into eight clusters. The three largest clusters of biotech companies are associated with immunotherapies of the brain and neuronal therapies. Interestingly, these companies constitute half of the biotech companies in Europe. In contrast, the majority of biotech companies in the US have focussed on advanced therapy-based medicinal products. Interestingly, the European biotech market has focused on producing vaccines as a key product.

European biotech companies are currently focused on several modalities, including disease diagnostics, drug-discovery tools and services, and personalized care. Immunotherapies and cell and gene therapies (CGTs) are among the fastest-growing areas of biotech firms claiming around 40% of the total investment funding. Also, 42% of European biotech companies are focused on therapeutics, particularly in oncology and the central nervous system (CNS).

Europe has world-class medical centers, research institutions, and hospitals that strongly support scientific and clinical innovations. More than 50% of the world’s top 50 life science universities are in Europe. 

Interestingly, although the number of original research pieces published in Europe is comparable to the number of publications in the US and China, the total number of patents acquired by European companies is less than their American and Chinese counterparts. 

Europe

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Current Landscape of European Biotech Companies

Most European biotech companies are based in France, Germany, and the UK. Interestingly, according to a survey UK harbors 35 percent of all European biotech start-ups since 2012. Although the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland are currently at a lower base, an increasing number of biotech start-ups are being recorded from these countries. 

It was noted that European biotech companies developed 13 percent of the new drugs that received approval from the global regulatory bodies in 2017 and 2018. However, US-based biotech companies significantly exceeded the number, i.e., these companies were responsible for developing 78 percent of new medicines that received approval from the FDA.

Importantly, Europe has shown great promise in developing new treatments, as 32 percent of all European projects are currently in Phase III clinical trials or the registration phase. The majority of these products are based on technologies related to antisense, viral vectors, and small interfering RNA (siRNA).

Biotech experts have scored Europe highly on its overall research and development and innovation quality. It is marginally behind the US and well ahead of China. However, experts think that European biotech companies lack a sufficient entrepreneurial mindset. Additionally, it has been observed that many of these companies tend to obtain innovation outside Europe and often ignore potential opportunities in their own region.

Even though investment in European biotech is increasing, it lags behind the US by a large margin. Recently, European biotech firms have started attracting a larger pool of investors worldwide, including China. 

Leading and Start-up Biotech Companies in Europe

Globally, the stock market soared in 2020 due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and many European biotech companies experienced a noticeable drop in stock prices, i.e., by 10 percent or more. For instance, Belgian biotech Galapagos experienced a drop in market capitalization of around 50 percent within a year. This is not only due to the erratic stock market but also to their clinical trial failure, loss of key US investors, experiencing rejection by the FDA, and gene therapy trial pause due to safety reasons. Similarly, MorphoSys also suffered uncertainties in 2021, with a market capitalization drop of almost 66 percent in a year.

Some European life science companies, such as Evotec (Germany), remained unharmed and became even stronger than before. Unsurprisingly, BioNTech, one of the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, experienced a significant increase in market capitalization of about 160 percent in a year.

BioMerieux, Novozymes, Abcam, and Qiagen are leading biotech companies in Europe. SOPHiA Genetics (Switzerland) and Affimed (Germany) are two companies on the brink of reaching the billion-euro club. 

Some of the key European life science companies are discussed below:

Genmab: This biotech company was founded in 1999 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and focussed on manufacturing antibody therapies for cancer. Jannsen’s Darzalex and GSK’s Arzerra are two commercially available antibody therapies created by the company. In 2021, Tivdak (antibody-drug conjugate) received approval from the FDA for the treatment of metastatic cervical cancer. This drug was designed in collaboration with Seagen (US).

BioNTech: This German-based company became extremely well known in 2020 after commercializing the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine for COVID-19. This vaccine was developed in collaboration with Pfizer, a prominent pharma company. BioNTech utilizes a wide range of technologies, such as antibodies and CAR-T cell therapy, for their formulations.

Horizon Therapeutics: This life science company was founded in 2005 in Dublin, Ireland. Horizon Therapeutics developed Tepezza, the first antibody drug used to treat Graves’ ophthalmopathy, a rare autoimmune condition of thyroid eye disease.

Argenx: This biotech company was founded in 2008 in Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and focuses on developing antibodies inspired by llamas’ antibodies. Currently, Argenx has a pipeline of antibody drugs for cancer, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases.

EvotecThis German-based life science company, founded in 1993, designed new drugs against many diseases, such as diabetes, oncology, infectious diseases, inflammation, and neurological disorders. This company adopted a fluid business model by collaborating with other major pharma companies for different drug development services.

Oxford NanoporeThis company was founded in 2005 in Oxford, UK, that offers DNA sequence services. Currently, they are working on developing a smaller device that can fit into smartphones to sequence DNA anywhere. Oxford Nanopore developed a portable test that can detect seasonal flu and COVID-19 much faster than the standard PCR test.

CRISPR Therapeutics: This Swiss biotech company was founded in 2013 that utilizes the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) gene editing technique. The company has been developing suitable treatments for cancer, diabetes, and blood disorders. 

Idorsia: This European life science company is located in Allschwil (Switzerland) and focuses on many target diseases, such as rare autoimmune diseases and hypertension. 

ValnevaThis company was founded in 2013 in Saint-Herblain (France) and has recently designed a novel COVID-19 vaccine that showed promising results in a phase III trial. Additionally, Valneva is also currently developing vaccines for Zika, Clostridium difficile, and Lyme disease.

UniQureThis Amsterdam (Netherlands) based life science company was founded in 1998 and develops adeno-associated virus (AAV) based gene therapies that offer disease-modifying treatment to patients.

Continue Reading: How Important is Funding to Biotechnology?

Sources:

  • Donati, S. et al. (2022) Synthetic biology in Europe: current community landscape and future perspectives. Biotechnology Notes, 3, pp. 54-61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biotno.2022.07.003
  • Making Europe a life sciences leader. (2022) [Online] Available at: https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/news/article/making-europe-a-life-sciences-leader
  • 2022 Global Life Sciences Outlook. (2022) [Online] Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/life-sciences-and-healthcare/articles/global-life-sciences-sector-outlook.html
  • Warneck-Silvestrin, L. (2021) The Billion-Euro European Biotech Companies in 2022. [Online] Available at: https://www.labiotech.eu/best-biotech/billion-euro-european-biotech-companies/
  • European Life Sciences. (2021) Savills Research. [Online] Available at: https://pdf.euro.savills.co.uk/portugal/european-life-sciences-2021.pdf
  • Le Deu, F. and da Silva. J.S. (2019) Biotech in Europe: A strong foundation for growth and innovation. Mckinsey and Company. [Online] Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/life-sciences/our-insights/biotech-in-europe-a-strong-foundation-for-growth-and-innovation

Further Reading

Last Updated: Dec 16, 2022

Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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