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The healthcare and life sciences sector in Catalonia has shown positive evolution in key indicators, with 734 companies, 89 research bodies and significant investment and large business operations
On Thursday, Biocat presented the 2015 Biocat Report, which reviews the situation of the healthcare and life sciences sector in Catalonia between 2013 and September 2015.
The event, presided over by President of the Government of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont, brought together more than 200 politicians, business people and figures from academia and science. "We should be proud, our commitment made all the sense in the world and still does. We still have a long way to go and we have to commit to research and innovation, but also to transfer. We will do everything in our power to make this one of the government’s top priorities," said the president in his speech. Biocat CEO Albert Barberà presented the main data and figures from the Report, and the event also featured Ella Korets-Smith, executive director of TO Health!, the Toronto life-sciences cluster.
The 2015 Biocat Report shows positive evolution of key indicators in the BioRegion of Catalonia, such as the 75 new companies created between 2013 and 2015. “In terms of business growth and entrepreneurship, these 2 years, and in fact the past 10 years, have been positive on balance," highlights Barberà. “The increase in the number of companies, their size and the investment attracted and large business operations is proof of the progressive consolidation of the ecosystem." However public and private R&D investment in the sector dropped nearly 11% between 2009 and 2014.
Regarding scientific excellence, the report shows that, "Catalonia is still among the top regions in Europe in terms of quality and quantity," stresses Barberà.
At the event, Ella Korets-Smith explained some of the factors that have made the Canadian model successful and shared best practices that could be useful if applied to the ecosystem of the BioRegion of Catalonia. According to Korets-Smith, a successful cluster needs the right context, interesting activities and good resources and skills. "Activities aligned with needs, resources and business-friendly conditions are key to the success of cluster initiatives," says Korets-Smith. The Canadian expert also highlighted the importance of all of the institutions involved being aligned in order to reach goals more quickly. As a conclusion, Korets-Smith reminded those in attendance that there is still room for strong clusters like Biocat.
New this year, the Biocat Report will also be available on the interactive website informe.biocat.cat. This platform also includes an infographic that gives a general overview of the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem in the BioRegion of Catalonia and sums up the trends in the sector.
The healthcare and life sciences sector in Catalonia has 734 companies, 222 more than those recorded in the 2013 Biocat Report. With these figures, despite being one of the smallest countries in Europe by population, Catalonia is among the top 4 European countries in terms of number of companies in the healthcare sector per inhabitant.
The companies in the sector post yearly turnover of €14.36 billions, 7% of the GDP of Catalonia, and employ 42,133 workers (2014 data). These figures are up 24% and 25% respectively from the 2013 Report, due to the increased number of companies.
Regarding size, 88% of companies in the BioRegion are SMEs. Over the past two years, the number of medium-sized companies (between 50 and 250 employees and annual revenue between €10 millions and €50 millions) has doubled and now makes up 22% of all companies in the BioRegion, a sign of the progressive consolidation of the sector.
In terms of investment, between 2013 and 2015, companies in the BioRegion attracted more than €100 millions in investment, more than half over the past year, with large operations like the Oryzon-Roche and Palobiofarma-Novartis deals or the Minoryx Therapeutics and Sanifit rounds of funding, led by the main Catalan venture capital funds Ysios and Caixa Capital Risc.
The main market for Catalan life sciences companies continues to be Spain. Europe is the focus of international exports or marketing along with the United States.
The BioRegion of Catalonia has 89 research bodies that together have put the number of publications in the healthcare and life sciences sector up 168% from 2000 to 2015, making up 3.15% of all scientific production in Europe, 0.99% in the world and 29% of publications in Spain. Catalonia is ranked second in the EU in number of grants received from the European Research Council (ERC) and it is awarded 53% of the grants from the ERC to go to scientists in Spain (180), 35% of which go to the life sciences.
Of the Catalan universities that offer degrees in the health and life sciences, one, the UB, is among the 49 most prolific universities in the world in terms of publications, 2 are among the top 200 in the world (UB, UAB) and 3 among the 50 best with less than 50 years of history (URV, UAB, UPF).
The Catalan hospital system has a total of 195 establishments that employ more than 89,000 workers. Furthermore, 11 of the top 20 Spanish hospitals are located in Catalonia, which is also the most active region in conducting clinical trials.
In 2014, a process of aggregating and integrating research entities began with the aim of gaining critical mass and boosting global competitiveness. Some examples are the creation of the BIST (Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, which brings together six large research centers) and EURECAT (the fusion of six large technology centers), as well as the integration of some research centers. Other new initiatives that have come up over the period covered in this Report include the Barcelona Clinical Trials Platform (BCTP) and Barcelona Bioinformatics (BIB).
Despite the positive results for most of the indicators, the Biocat Report also shows that there are still challenges to be tackled. First of all, top-notch research doesn't translate into high socioeconomic value. “There is still a gap between the market and research, and between our indicators regarding scientific excellence and those for innovation: the BioRegion doesn't have a science problem, it has a transfer problem,” warns Albert Barberà. For example, between 2010 and 2015 only 286 patent applications in the healthcare and life sciences sector were submitted from Catalonia to the OEPM (Spanish Patent and Trademark Office), 17% of the national total.
Furthermore, public and private investment in R&D in Catalonia dropped nearly 11% between 2009 (the turning point after a decade of steady increase) and 2014. R&D spending makes up 1.47% of the Catalan GDP (data from 2014), above the Spanish average (1.23%). Catalonia leads R&D investment in biotechnology in Spain, with total spending of €416 millions (28.7% of the total – data from 2014). “We must increase support for basic and clinical research, and get the business sector involved," says Biocat CEO. "Between 2002 and 2013, public investment as a percentage of the GDP was 1.7 times greater, while private investment remained unchanged. This trend must be reversed."
Finally, despite the successful investment seen in 2015, access to capital continues to be one of the main hurdles facing Catalan companies. "We need funding vehicles to develop proof of concept; to expand the pool of investors; to attract more private foreign capital; and the legal mechanisms to incentivize a culture of philanthropy, among others," explains Albert Barberà. “We must continue working to address these challenges, focusing on technology and knowledge transfer, as well as support for entrepreneurs and business growth, because we not only have to help people get started, but also help companies scale up."
 Per million inhabitants