After the success of the "comeback" edition in June 2022, Wallonia Export & Investment (AWEX) is once again setting up a group of companies, universities and other operators from the life sciences sector at the "BIO International Convention" in Boston. A good opportunity to highlight the strong health of the sector in Belgium.
Bio International Convention is a must-attend event for life science companies, organised by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the world's largest biotech industry trade association, from 5 to 8 June 2023 in Boston. Just like every year, the Belgian pavilion will be prepared in collaboration with the BioWin cluster, Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT) and Flanders Bio. The 2022 fair (post-Covid-19) brought together more than 1,900 exhibitors, some 14,000 participants from all over the world (65 different countries) and generated 44,000 meetings via partnering. The Belgian delegation was among the ten largest foreign delegations, boasting 105 people representing 51 different companies and operators, including 26 from Wallonia. For the 2023 fair, 30 Walloon companies will travel to Boston.
Belgium, the health and biotech valley of the future
Belgium has no reason to be ashamed of its position in the health and biotech sector. The country is a world leader in the biopharmaceutical industry, thanks to a unique combination of a well-developed ecosystem, a highly skilled workforce and solid collaboration with government and research centres. In terms of figures, we should mention the 40,000 direct jobs created by the sector and the €5.2 billion investment in R&D, which puts the country in first place per capita in the EU. According to the European Innovation Scoreboard, Belgium is also in the top 5 countries for its performance in innovation. The country is also #2 per capita in the EU for clinical trials: Belgium has the highest density of domestic clinical trials on aggregate in its peer group carried out over the last 20 years.
Wallonia, a complete value chain in (bio)pharma
Wallonia has managed to build an ecosystem that is now a benchmark in Europe, despite a difficult context (notably the invasion of Ukraine, energy prices, inflation and rising interest rates). In spite of this context, no less than 44 million euros has been injected by WE Life Sciences, the financial arm of the Walloon Region, into companies in the life sciences sector. Wallonia's dynamism in the sector is due, among other things, to its collaborative ecosystem of clusters, incubators, universities, research centres, hospitals, federal and regional organisations and public and private investors. Moreover, the remarkable presence of biomanufacturing in the Region, its qualified talent pool, its strategic central location and a thriving biotech scene all contribute to the growing success of biopharmaceuticals in Wallonia. In figures, the pharma-biotech sector currently accounts for 6.2% of the Walloon economy, a higher share than in Switzerland or Ireland, for example. In 2022, pharmaceutical products were by far the Region's leading export item, reaching €18.8 billion, which accounts for 31.4% of the total in Wallonia. In terms of jobs created, the ongoing annual growth of 4.5% has increased the 11,325 FTEs to 19,977 in the sector over the last 17 years.
Wallonia no longer needs to prove its reputation for excellence in biomanufacturing - it can be confirmed by the presence of world leaders (Catalent, Takeda, GSK, UCB, Eurogentec, Exothera, Xpress Biologics, etc.) who manufacture their own innovative products or produce for third parties. Thanks to the long-standing presence of local niche companies and international powerhouses, Wallonia has become an undisputed hub for biotechnology. One of the region's most competitive factors is its speed in approving clinical trials, acknowledged as the fastest in Europe.
The American market is a major player for Wallonia. In 2022, pharmaceutical products exported in the EU Zone accounted for 61.6% of the total, while 38.4% of the total went to the non-EU Zone, of which 24.7% was for the United States.
Walloon participation in the BIO Convention
During the BIO fair in Boston, Wallonia Export & Investment (AWEX), in addition to supporting the Walloon companies present on the collective stand, will be organising networking events on the sidelines of the convention. The Belgian Café in particular will aim to set up networking between international participants and to make our Belgian companies better known. An investment seminar will also be held, involving the presentation of the Walloon Life Sciences ecosystem and the EU Biotech School.
There are various different kinds of Walloon companies enrolled this year.
First, there are the biotechs developing an R&D pipeline of innovative therapies and diagnostics for use in oncology, vaccines, respiratory diseases and tissue regeneration (such as Novadip, Belgian Volition, KIOMed Pharma, InhaTarget Therapeutics, OncoDNA and Mithra Pharmaceuticals).
Novadip Biosciences, for example, based in Mont-Saint-Guibert, is a company that develops tissue regeneration therapies to raise the standard of care for critical bone defects, common orthopaedic conditions and cancer. "We have started up a clinical study in the US and Europe for a rare paediatric condition with our autologous tissue engineering product. We are also positioning our allogeneic product (bioactive bone matrix) for the US market. Novadip's presence in Boston is focused on finding investors and also strategic partners to help establish the company's position in this key market," says Denis Dufrane, the CEO at Novadip.
Also present will be companies providing cutting-edge solutions and services (e.g. Allyfe and IDDI for clinical trials, Univercells for disruptive technologies in biomolecule production, and Spectralys BioTech for specialised services). The recent growth of the biotech industry is attracting additional investment and is mainly being driven by the expansion of biomanufacturing companies in Wallonia. We see numerous innovative projects in the industrial production of biomedicines, the digitisation of production processes and the secondary use of health data for research purposes.
HEDERA-22, for example, is positioned as a partner for industries active in the research and development of innovative products based on the use of new natural molecules with agronomic (fungicide, herbicide, pesticide), therapeutic (antibacterial, anti-infectious, anticancer) and other interests. "Hedera-22 needs to gain in visibility in the US biotech and pharmaceuticals markets. We are looking for potential partners in the development of novel active compounds for oncology, antimicrobial and biofilm uses. We are also looking to raise funds in the coming months and will be happy to meet potential investors. This will be the first time we have been in the US; we are really excited about it!" says Valérie Renard, CEO.
Quantoom Biosciences, one of the Univercells Group companies specializing in technology delivery, wants to "make itself more visible at the BIO Convention for our highly innovative technology in the field of messenger RNA vaccine. Quantoom has just made a team available in the North American market, which will allow it to bring resources to the world's largest market for biotech”, explains Régis Léonard, VP Global Sales Quantoom.
The presence of the academic world should also be noted, particularly the LIEU Network. This network brings together the knowledge of 6 different universities in Wallonia so that researchers and public and private partners can promote collaboration.