Building a biotech in EU vs US: ‘It all boils does to the access of capital,’ says CEO

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/alfexe)
(Image: Getty/alfexe)

Related tags Biotech companies Europe funding

It is more difficult and time-intensive to develop a successful biotech in Europe than in the US, says CEO.

The European biotech industry is maturing, according to Mette Kristine Agger, managing partner of Lundbeckfonden Ventures.

“It seems like we’re getting to around $8bn (€9bn) by the end of this year, raised by European biotech, and…a lot of this is raised on the basis of good data, clinical progress, and drug approvals,” ​she told delegates at BIO Europe earlier this month.

“We continue to see new company formations and financing, and we see European venture funds raising additional cash and new funds – so, in total, what’s not to like about European biotech developments?” ​Agger added.

According to Onno van de Stolpe, CEO of Belgo-Dutch biotech Galapagos, the response to that question is simple: the lack of funding opportunities, compared to the US.

“Even though Galapagos has shown that it is possible to develop a world-leading biotech company, I think it is more difficult and it takes longer in Europe than it does in the US,” ​said van de Stolpe.

“It all boils down to the access of capital that is just so limited here [in Europe],” ​he continued.

As a result, growing a biotech business takes longer, and CEOs may be forced to partner earlier, which “might not be the best thing for your programme,” ​van de Stolpe told delegates.

In fact, van de Stolpe struggled to find an area in which Europe has an advantage over the US, with regard to biotech creation and growth: “I think that if Galapagos would have been in the US, it would have been much further along than we are today.”

Scientific quality

Harpal Kumar, head of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Innovation, EMEA, agreed that funding in Europe is limited compared the US, but placed greater emphases on the quality of science: “If the foundation is right, which is the science, then there is no reason that, in the long-term, European opportunities can’t be as effective as US ones.

“I would say that the quality of science in Europe is as good, if not better, than many places in the world. In certain areas, it is better than many other places, including the US.”

Kumar told delegates that while “completely agnostic”​ towards the provenance of its partnerships, J&J has collaborated with approximately 133 EMEA-based partners over the past six years: “So, I think that speaks to the quality of what is emerging in Europe, and we need to keep on that trajectory.”

Talent retention

For Evotec AG CEO, Werner Lanthaler, European biotechs also benefit from great access to, and retention of, highly-skilled employees: “The commitment and level of retention that we can bring to our partners is a clearly differentiating factor.”

According to Werner, staff retention enables long-term commitments to assets, which may not be found in other geographies.

“Going forward into the next 10 years, this will be a big thing, because you won’t want to have a [staff] turnover rate of 30% plus, if people just go next door [as they can in major US biotech hubs] because they can get a 1% [or more] salary increase,” ​Lanthaler added.

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