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Despite the economic hardships felt in Spain during the recession, the national biotechnology sector continued to expand, with sector growth rates outperforming those of the previous years. In 2014, the Spanish biotech sector comprised 2,742 companies that carry out biotechnology activities and 628 companies focused primarily or exclusively on biotechnology (hereinafter biotech companies). A total of 177,973 professionals work in the sector, which generates revenue of € 107,788 billion. Biotech companies (those whose principal activity is biotechnology) invoiced € 7,591 million, according the National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE) 2014 Survey on Technological Innovation in Companies.
In terms of turnover, 51.55% is attributed to companies which consider biotechnology as a secondary line of business, while 41.4% of turnover is generated by companies where biotechnology is a necessary tool for production, and the remaining 7.04% is attributed to dedicated biotech companies.
This growth can be partially explained by the transversal nature of biotechnology: companies in different sectors are increasingly incorporating more biotech activities in their products and services. This type of growth naturally arises when new emerging technologies become regular features in the productive system.
Private domestic investment in biotechnology R&D has recovered after a three-year fall. This number grew by 3.75% in 2014, up to 533.8 million euros.
By sector distribution, food companies (62.7%) and human health (25%) feature prominently as biotech user companies, while in the case of dedicated biotechnology companies, the order is reversed: human health (61.9%) and food/nutrition (28.8%).
Catalonia reaffirmed its position as the autonomous community with the highest number of biotech user companies (21.21%) followed by Andalusia (11.83%) and the Community of Madrid (11.52%).
52 new biotech companies were created in 2015. Catalonia accounted for the majority, with a total of 19 new companies, followed by the Basque Country with 11 newly created companies, then Andalusia and Galicia, with 4 companies respectively.
According to ASEBIO data for 2015, 77 financing operations were initiated by private entities. The most notable developments were the round of capital expansion for Sanifit, worth a total of 36.6 million euros and the acquisition of Alkahest by Grifols for 33.5 million euros. In 2015, three Spanish companies, Sanifit, Minoryx and Palobiofarma, received investment commitments for a total of 71 million euros from international investors.
2015 saw a total of 182 alliances take place, of which 50% were between biotech companies, 25.27% involved biotech user companies and nearly 62.09% were between other types of organisations.
Internationalisation continues to be one of the most important factors for the growth of biotechnology companies. For 79% of companies, internationalisation is essential for their activities, in fact, 71% of companies decided to internationalise from the moment of their creation. In 2015, 86% of ASEBIO member companies carried out some form of international activity. Preferred markets included the European Union and North America, followed by Japan, Brazil, South Korea and Israel.
According to data from the Fundación Parque Científico de Madrid and Clarke Modet & Cº, in collaboration with ASEBIO, 905 patents were published in the biotechnology sector during 2015, a decrease of 7.27%. 64% of those were applications and 36% were patents granted. As of 2015, the business sector ceased to be the main agent for patent publications. In 2015, co-ownership became the leading option, accounting for 33% of patents published, followed by the business sector (31%) and universities (21%). Grifols, the Spanish pharmaceutical and chemical company, was the most prolific in 2015, with 9 applications and 13 granted patents, followed by Abengoa, a Spanish energy and technology company.
The biosciences sector has proven to be a smart bet, capable of contributing value to and generating wealth for the Basque Country, internationally recognised as a bio-region thanks to sustained strategic commitment leading to a science and technology network with high level capacities for backing economic diversification.
The biosciences sector in the Basque Country is, more than ever, a strategic sector. Proof of this is that the Basque Government has included the biosciences/health binomial as one of the 3 priorities of the RIS3 smart specialisation strategy, where human health is the main core of activity.
Industry based on biosciences is characterised by the close relationship between research, innovation and competitiveness, and largely rests on the appearance of a new type of companies whose objective is to exploit advanced technologies related to the sciences of life, in order to respond to myriad needs in various industrial spheres.
Basque bio businesses personify qualities thanks to which they have found their way round the crisis and made inroads to an economic model for the future: they have high rates of investment in R&D, offer highly qualified professional positions, enjoy very specialised demand and focus on global markets.
In 2000, the Basque Government decided to inject a decisive boost to the Basque economy, thereby permitting it to adapt to an increasingly changing and competitive world, and to back new strategic sectors based on knowledge and innovation. The result of this reflection was the birth of the first strategy specifically designed for the development of biosciences in Spain: the BioBasque Strategy.
BioBasque 2010 was launched with a global focus and actions structured into three areas: generation of knowledge, business development and activation of the biocluster with the ultimate objective of diversification and the creation of a new business sector.
Gradual development of the strategy has led to the beginning of profound change both in the field of science and technology and in the business sphere. This transformation, still underway, is nevertheless responsible for early international recognition of the Basque Country as a bio-region.
In today’s BAC, more than 75 entities are dedicated to biotechnology research, of which 51 had biotechnology as their main or exclusive activity, assigning more than half of their internal expenses to biotechnology R&D. Of these 75 entities, 66 are biotechnology companies.
The business biotechnology sector in the Basque Country is largely made up of small and medium-sized enterprises, intensive in qualified personnel and with constant commitment and effort as regards investment in research, which develop products and services mainly applied to human health, the agri-food sector and the industrial sphere.
According to Eustat data, the bio sector employs 1,183 people full time, or in other words, 6.4% of total R&D personnel in the Basque Country, with the outstanding presence of women, who represent more than 60% of all people working full time in biotechnology. Research personnel, for their part, stand at 903 people, 76% of the total.
We must point out that the sector has grown and created jobs in times of crisis. Since 2009, employment in the sector has risen by more than 28%, highlighting the increasing importance of its weight in the business world.
The Basque Country is the community that dedicates the greatest percentage of its GDP to R&D activities, ranking fifth in the autonomous community as regards highest expenditure in biotechnology R&D. According to the data compiled by Eustat, in 2013 the total amount came to €92 million, concentrating 7% of total domestic R&D expenditure.
59.5% of all domestic expenditure on biotechnology R&D activities is made by the business sector, representing around €54.8 million. This sum represents 11% of total company expenditure on biotechnology R&D activities in all of Spain.
Regarding the origin of the funds, although biotechnology R&D activities carried out by companies are largely funded by external financing (67.9%), Basque companies are becoming increasingly involved in these activities, using their own funds. Thus, R&D investment by bio businesses in the Basque Country has risen by more than 12.2% in the last 4 years.
The commitment undertaken by the Administration to promote a series of powerful R&D infrastructures in the Basque Autonomous Community can be considered a success translating into a significant increase in science and technology capacities and, therefore, the attraction of talent and the development of top level physical installations.
This wide-ranging research and development infrastructure has as its reference the CIC bioGUNE, a benchmark in the field of molecular, cellular and structural biology, the only one of its kind in Spain and a leader at European level. Along with this is the CIC biomaGUNE, pioneer in biomaterials, biofunctional nanomaterials and biosurfaces research, with its particularly interesting Molecular Imaging unit.
In turn, the powerful Basque Public Health system and its entities linked to the promotion of health research and innovation, with BIOEF as the main reference along with the health research institutes Biocruces and Biodonostia, represent important advantageous elements lending thrust and development to the bio sector in the Basque Country.
On the other hand, the Basque agri-food sector also has important institutions that favour the development and production of solutions based on biotechnology. Outstanding here are Hazi, which has the core mission to promote the competitiveness and sustainability of the primary and food sector, and the technology centres Azti, focused on marine and food research, and the Basque Institute for Technology Research and Development NEIKER-Tecnalia, dedicated to developing innovative and transferable knowledge and solutions bringing value to the agri-food sector.
The synergies produced by all of the above and the sustained commitment for many years of the Basque Administration, the provincial institutions and private initiatives clearly highlight the capacities and potentials of the biotechnology sector in the Basque Country.
Today the Basque Biocluster has 30 partner businesses, 58 including their subsidiaries, which in 2014 had a turnover of €268 million, 78.7% (€211 million) of which came from the export of their products and services to international markets. As a whole, the companies in the association contribute to the maintenance of 1,632 jobs.
Main figures of the Basque bio sector
· The business sector is made up of 66 biotechnology companies.
· The business sector generates the direct employment of more than 1,150 people.
· Annual turnover in the sector is more than €304 million.
· Exports represent almost 18% of turnover.
· These figures multiply by five when we include companies with strong interest in the sciences of life, but which are not particularly active in R&D (mainly biotechnology users).
· The Basque bio-region, in addition to being an incipient but dynamic business sector, has more than 20 research bodies: universities, research centres, technology centres and hospitals.
· The Basque science and biology community is made up of more than 900 researchers.
· The BAC has 6 main hospitals, 4 of which are university hospitals.
· The BAC has a centralised Public Health System with professional ability and a critical mass with potential to boost the biosciences sector and promote its development.
· In 2013 domestic expenditure on R&D in activities related to biotechnology came to €92 million, representing 7% of total domestic expenditure on R&D and 0.14% of the Basque Autonomous Community GDP.
· The sector constitutes a strategic commitment by the Public Administration to industrial diversification. The biosciences/health binomial represents one of the three priority spheres of the Basque Smart Specialisation Strategy, RIS3.
· The existence of an important tradition and culture of public/private collaboration favours the competitive improvement of business, and the availability of public seed capital and venture capital favours the creation of new initiatives in this sphere where resources play a decisive part.