BIOTECH INDUSTRY IN SPAIN: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Encontraréis aquí un amplio diagnóstico sobre la situación actual del sector de la biotecnología en España, con los principales desafíos, las oportunidades más relevantes y finalmente varias propuestas y líneas de acción.

 

Challenges:

In Spain, Biotechnology industry is still on a fledgling stage and some challenges question the Spanish ability to catching up with the leading countries.

Despite constant growth in the last decade, the Spanish Biotechnology industry still suffers from several handicaps that might jeopardise its definitive take-off.

First, Spain shows both a patenting output much lower than the EU average and a very unfavourable technology balance of payments. Less than 1 % of the Biotechnology patents granted by the EPO (European Patents Office) and less than 0,5 % of USPTO patents were Spanish.

The prevalence of business models based on research services, diagnoses and medical devices, keeps Spain well behind in the core Bio segment: the Biopharmaceuticals. As a result, the amount of Product candidates remains low and the number of successful biopharma product releases is marginal.

On the side of funding, the shortage of venture and seed capital is burdening the creation of new Biotechnology Companies, as the investment furnished by Venture capitalists and other investors is insufficient to fuel the proper take off of this emerging industry. Less than 2 % of the total investment made by Venture Capitalist in Spain ends in biotechnology firms (ASCRI, 2016), with an amount of just 50 million Euros in 2015 in the area of Biotechnology and Genetics Engineering.

The proportion of Spanish DBFs participated to some extend by Venture Capital funds is less than one third. The rigid entry and exit investment strategies, largely unsolved, keeps potential investors too cautious towards this industry.

The preponderance of a business model entailing lower risk but also expectations of smaller returns, which moves away from the reference models in the leading countries, is largely justified by the shortage of capital to start up business projects requiring a long-term vision and heavy expensive investment in R&D. Main challenge for the proliferation of these discovery-based companies lies in the lack of investors eager to invest in companies which will only give a long-term return.

Although increasing, the R&D intensity by the private firms is still low compared to the leading countries. As said, this poorer intensity is largely explained by the short number of firms engaged in a discovery-driven Business model in the biopharmaceutical segment.

Finally, another handicap rests on the absence of successful stories of companies having already released new worldwide-impact drugs, and the few biotechnology firms quoted in the Spanish Stock Market, only three.

 

Opportunities:

However, on the side of the opportunities, it is worth noting the Spanish Biotechnology industry is rapidly catching up in several areas.

First, the number of companies is growing fast in the last few years. Data from ASEBIO (2015) reveal the number of Dedicated Biotechnology Firms has jumped from just 130 in 2002 to 628 by the end of 2014. Number of employees stays stable around 30.000 in the last 5 years.

Also remarkable is the growth in the foundation of Research spin-offs.

In addition, the biotechnology industry in Spain benefits from a considerable R&D investment by public bodies, and the overall R&D investment amounted 365 milion Euros in 2014.

The new MAB: Alternative Stock Market, starting operations in 2009, opens up new funding opportunities to the Biotechnology firms, as it is largely addressed to facilitate the growth and expansion in smaller companies. The Spanish DBFs hold great expectations in the MAB, as a new channel to raise funding. By the end of 2016, 9 of the 39 companies listed in the MAB pertain to the Pharmaceutical and Biotech sector.

But by far, the most outstanding opportunity for the Spanish Biotechnology industry lies in the promising position attained by two segments: the agrobiotechnology and the food biotechnology. Spain holds actual chances to reach a leadership position in these two small biotechnology sectors, largely overlooked by the leading countries within the global Biotechnology sector – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries. Definitively, Spanish biotechnology should focus even more on these two fields of specialisation, since it is a growing business sector and a market niche in which Spain, a large food producer, could be competitive.

In terms of number of firms, with 24,5 % of DBFs dedicated to the Agrobiotechnology, Food biotechnology, and Nutraceutical segments (named here as AFN sector), Spain holds the highest percentage of firms. According to data provided by Life Science Databases, for several countries, only Italy with 20 % of firms and Canada with 15 %, stay close to the proportion attained in Spain. The companies censed in the AFN sector represent only 3,7 % of the total number of DBFs in the USA, 2,8 % in the UK, 5,4 % in France, 9,3 % in Germany, 7,4 % in the Scandinavian countries and 4,3 % in Switzerland.

The AFN sector has flourished in Spain due to several factors including the lower R&D intensity, the Spain´s strength in the food industry and agriculture, the broad number of prestigious Research centres in these fields and the lower funding requirements

In addition, and linked to the success in the application of the CENIT programme, 30- 40 % of total public subsidies for innovative activities in Biotechnology are usually absorbed by the food biotechnology segment.

Finally, a remarkable 15 % of the total R&D public expenditure in the Biotechnology industry, and a similar percentage in the total turnover corresponded to the AFN sector. These figures are overwhelmingly higher than in the leading countries.

 

Priorities and proposals:

Despite some handicaps, this brief diagnose ascribes to Spain a remarkable potential in the Biotechnology industry. In the next lines, a set of proposals addressed to overcome weaknesses and consolidate strengths, will be stated:

To raise funding in larger amounts and better conditions is a first basic need for the Spanish DBFs. A more favourable tax framework for the funds addressed to Biotechnology and other knowledge-based industries, would for sure persuade more and more investors, disenchanted by the trouble caused in the last three years by other speculative figures, and eager to find new investment opportunities in those activities labelled as the “new economy”.

Still in the financial domain, the Spanish DBFs should be granted preference to entry in the new funding channel represented by the MAB.

. The setting up of fruitful alliances and collaborative agreements between firms themselves and with other agents, could be enhanced by a more dynamic and proactive attitude towards the transfer of knowledge from the Research and Technological Centres, and the celebration of events, symposiums, oriented to disseminate information, arouse synergies and pull together the Spanish Biotechnology system.

. Stronger efforts towards entrepreneurship through exploration of new bio-entrepreneurs in Science and Technology driven centres, coupled with the launch of new and effective incentives to more actively engage the researchers working in Research environments, towards the generation of spin-offs and the transfer of results to biotechnology companies.

. To put forward a nation-wide strategy to attract and captivate subsidiaries and affiliates of consolidated biotechnological corporations, with R&D capacity.

. Being Spain the home of a large number of profitable and consolidated corporations in the food industry, next proposal is to fuel them to invest and take over smaller biotechnology firms operating in technologies and R&D fields of their interest, the purpose being to take profit from the synergies and complementarities arising from these alliances, benefiting both the large corporations and the smaller R&D driven Biotechnology firms. So far, several large food companies, including Natra, Puleva, or CLAS, have already entered this collaborative path through acquisitions, joint ventures and minority take-overs.

. The previous proposal is also valid for companies in sectors placed as customers of the biotechnology technologies and products. Pharmaceutical, Chemical and even New Energies companies, are called to look up across the Spanish DBFs in search for acquisitions or strategic alliances. The large firms provide the smaller DBFs with funding, market experience and valuable networks, while in exchange, they gain preference to acquire the advances and innovations developed by their smaller counterparts.

. Finally, the AFN sector must be broadly recognised as a key target. In order to confirm its good prospects, more efforts and well oriented incentives are needed to place Spain in a leadership international position in the medium term.

AUTOR: Isidre MARCH-CHORDA

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