The BioRegion of Catalonia, the Catalan healthcare and life sciences sector, has more than 1,000 companies and 89 research organizations. This sector generates €31.087 billion each year, makes up 7.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 7% of all employment in Catalonia, with more than 223,000 workers. In terms of GDP and population, Catalonia is comparable to EU countries like Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Ireland, and the BioRegion's even surpasses these countries in some of the indicators of research success. Over the past five years, the number of foreign investors in the BioRegion of Catalonia has grown tenfold, and the Financial Times considers it one of the best European regions to invest in for 2018 and 2019.
A strategic sector for Catalonia
The BioRegion of Catalonia, the Catalan healthcare and life sciences sector, generates €31.087 billion each year and makes up 7.2% of the Catalan gross domestic product (GDP). In total, more than 223,000 people are employed in the sector, roughly 7% of all those working in Catalonia.
The BioRegion of Catalonia has more than 1,000 companies and 89 research organizations.
Catalonia is the leading Spanish autonomous community in internal R&D spending in biotechnology, with €454.7 million in 2015 (29.5% of the national total and well above its share of the GDP, which is 20%).
In 2016, the turnover of companies in the BioRegion of Catalonia was €17.802 billion, with an average year-on-year growth of 2.4% between 2020 and 2016.
Of the 1,060 companies in the BioRegion of Catalonia, the largest group is the 280 businesses in the biotechnology sector, 50 of which focus on new therapeutics and diagnostic tools, 125 on R&D services and 105 on applications in other fields (like veterinary, industrial biotechnology, food, agriculture and the environment). Plus, the BioRegion has 176 medical technology companies (108 as their main activity and 68 specialized suppliers and distributors), 125 companies in the pharmaceutical sector (64 pharmaceutical corporations and 61 specialized suppliers and distributors), and 128 companies offering healthtech products or services.
Catalonia is the birthplace and headquarters of large companies like Almirall, Esteve, Ferrer, Grífols, Bioibèrica, Lacer, Reig Jofré and Uriach. Global leaders in the sector are also present in Catalonia, including Amgen, Novartis, Sanofi, Roche, Bayer, B.Braun, Boehringer Ingelheim, Chiesi, Hartmann, Lundbeck and Menarini.
91% of companies are SMEs. Microenterprises with fewer than 10 employees make up half of all companies (49.8%).
In terms of location, companies are concentrated in the province of Barcelona, which is home to 93.8% of the total. Furthermore, more than half of the companies are based in the city of Barcelona: 51.9%.
Destination of international investment
Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, investment in companies in the healthcare and life sciences sector in Catalonia has increased twelve-fold. In the 2015-2018 period alone, more than 300 investment operations were carried out, with start-ups in the sector raising nearly €450 million.
The investment ecosystem in the BioRegion of Catalonia is increasingly solid. In addition to specialized local investors operating in Catalonia like Ysios Capital, Caixa Capital Risc, HealthEquity, Inveready and Alta Partners, the BioRegion of Catalonia has shown spectacular growth in foreign investors committing to Catalan companies in the healthcare and life sciences arena. In just 10 years, the number of foreign investors participating in these companies has gone from 0 to 50 and over the past five years alone, the figure has increased tenfold. Most are from North America. 72% of all venture capital attracted by Catalan start-ups in the sector in 2018 was through rounds of funding with international participants.
In early 2018, the Financial Times group called Catalonia one of the best European regions to invest in for 2018 and 2019.
As a result of the sector's evolution, in terms of social impact, Biocat estimates at least 10 products and advanced technologies developed in the BioRegion of Catalonia will reach patients by 2025.
International benchmark in scientific excellence
The BioRegion of Catalonia has 89 research bodies and facilities: 40 research centers (32 CERCA), 18 university hospitals, 12 universities with healthcare and life sciences degrees, 3 large science facilities (ALBA synchrotron, Barcelona Supercomputing Center and Centre Nacional d’Anàlisi Genòmica), 2 technology centersand 14 science and technology parks working in the healthcare and life sciences.
One in five companies created since 2005 was a spin-off of a research institution.
There are nearly 800 research groups working in the biosciences and related subjects, which employ some 13,000 workers, including over 6,500 researchers.
Of the 12 Catalan universities that offer degrees in the healthcare and life sciences, 3 (UAB, UPF and UB) are among the 250 best in the world (2019 Times Higher Education ranking).
Companies and research bodies in Catalonia are also leaders in attracting H2020 funds. Despite making up only 1.2% of the population in the European Research Area (ERA), Catalonia has attracted 4.6% of H2020 funds under the FET Flagship program.
In terms of GDP and population, Catalonia is comparable to EU countries like Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Ireland. The BioRegion even surpasses these countries in terms of some of the indicators of research success. It is awarded 3.2% of all grants from the European Research Council (ERC), nearly half of which (47%) go to the life sciences.
Since 2001, ICREA (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies) has been hiring top-notch scientists and academics in order to be competitive with other research systems. There are currently 254 ICREA researchers from 26 countries, and 29% are working in the life sciences arena. In 2017, ICREA researchers attracted €90 million in competitive funding, 40% in the life sciences. Since the beginning of the program, ICREA researchers have created a total of 24 spin-offs (5 in 2017) that have attracted €90 million. Most ICREA spin-offs (20) are working in the life sciences sector.
The Catalan hospital system has 103 hospitals (including 18 university hospitals) and 199 community health and mental health centers. All together, the centers employ nearly 93,000 workers. The scientific prestige of these hospitals, along with quality accommodations, make Catalonia a booming destination for what is known as medical tourism. The Catalan healthcare sector participates in one in four papers published.
Areas of excellence
Catalonia has unique capacities in genomics and structural biology and stands out in areas like medical chemistry, nanomedicine, omic sciences, bioinformatics and big data. The BioRegion's capacities in oncology research are particularly noteworthy, covering the whole value chain from basic research, through highly specialized companies, to hospitals, which play a key role in clinical and translational research.
The healthcare system in Catalonia and the excellence of its hospitals are world renowned in the fields of oncology, thoracic and cardiac surgery, kidney transplants and opthalmologic surgery.
The main therapeutic areas Catalan biotech and pharma companies specialize in are: cancer (often rare diseases) and neoplasms, dermatology, infectious diseases, diseases of the nervous and respiratory systems, and digestive and genitourinary diseases.
Regarding medical technology, the main areas of activity are electromechanical medical devices, single-use disposable devices, dental devices and reusable instruments. Among healthtech companies, there is a noteworthy presence of those working on mobile apps for health and fitness, telemedicine and electronic medical records.
Quality, safety, speed of recruitment and costs much lower than other areas of Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States make the BioRegion of Catalonia a noteworthy destination for clinical trials. The main Catalan research centers have an average of 5,000 participations in 3,400 unique trials each year. One in three clinical trials (37.6%) are in oncology, followed by the circulatory system (8.8%), blood and immune system diseases (8%), and infectious diseases (6.3%). 60% of the clinical trials are phase III (41%) or phase IV (19%).