Focus on Pharmaceuticals
Welcome to Pharmaceutical Valley
Belgium is often listed as a Top 10 country for the pharmaceutical sector. The question is, why? And what is Belgium doing to maintain— or improve—this positioning? Kirby Hall checks in with MSD, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Janssen Pharmaceutica and others to learn more about these issues.
The bio-pharma research industry here in Belgium has created more than 29,000 jobs, with almost 5,600 specifically in research and development. There are numerous partnerships in the industry that have been created, in order to build major new medicines and provide benefits to patients in areas where there are still unfilled medical needs. In fact, the pharmaceutical sector is the only one that spends upwards of 20% of its turnover on research and development.
This sector in Belgium was already under extensive financial pressure before the recent crisis arrived, but, according to Stefan Gijssels, Vice President, Public Affairs at Janssen Pharmaceutica, “Belgium is still a very favorable environment for pharma investments.”
“Over the last few years, the pharmaceutical industry has created 800 jobs in Belgium, despite the economic crisis” says Gijssels. “The level of education here—in terms of pharmaceuticals, chemical engineering and bio-medicine—is very high.”
Gijssels also points out that in Belgium there are many centers for medical and clinical research – the highest concentration of such centers in the world. In addition, the taxation rate for R&D is quite attractive. The downside is that the government (when there is one!) takes a very long time to approve new drugs, putting them through a complicated bureaucratic system. Ironically, having no government helps to create a predictable and stable tax environment.
Bristol-Myers Squibb in Belgium (B-MS) is headed by Lieve Verplancke. B-MS International has more than 28,000 employees, and in 2009 recorded $18.8 billion in net sales. The company is currently focused on Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis and AIDS, as well as obesity and psychiatric disorders. In 2009, B-MS International spent $3.6 billion on developing a range of products, including Apixaban, an anticoagulant, Beltracept, a fusion protein to help prevent the rejection of organ transplants, and Brivanib, a dual kinase inhibitor. Today, it is concentrating solely on pharmaceuticals.
The company also has its Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation that has targeted HIV/AIDS in Africa, hepatitis in Asia, cancer in Central and Eastern Europe, and mental illness in the US. It helped out in Haiti after the earthquake in January 2010, donating more than $7 million in cash and products. B-MS has consistently been recognized as one of the top companies in the world for promoting women to executive positions.
Another important player in the pharmaceutical sector in Belgium is MSD, which is also known as Merck & Co in the United States. As the second largest pharmaceutical company in the world, according to Jan Van Acker, Managing Director at MSD Belgium, it is a strategic and innovative company that is always focusing on Research & Development.
“The pharmaceutical sector is one of the most critical in Belgium,” says Jan Van Acker of MSD “ It stands for 40% of the private R&D-investments in the country. The US has Silicone Valley, while in Europe, Belgium is the ‘pharmaceutical valley’.”
Commenting on the current economic conditions, Van Acker noted that the only way to get out of such a crisis is to make the economy go again, stimulating innovation and R&D. He is convinced that the pharmaceutical industry could be the motor of the redressing of the Belgian economy.
“But therefore, we want to discuss a long-term framework with the government on how to make the pharmaceutical business stay the leader in Belgium.”
Healthcare in the Digital Age
Johnson & Johnson has three major sectors: consumer products, medical devices and diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals. Gijssels believes that new technology is having a major positive impact on the pharmaceutical sector, as systems exist that can remind a patient by SMS, for example, to take their prescribed medication, and to monitor how customers use their drugs.
Overall, e-health innovations in Belgium appear to be helping doctors and patients to maintain electronic medical records that can provide immediate, up-to-date and essential information. Looking to the future, a number of new breakthrough technologies have been forecast for the pharmaceutical sector, which should have an important impact on everyone’s health.
In Belgium, as elsewhere, investing in pharmaceuticals is all about trying to continue to improve the quality of health care, life expectancy and the quality of life for people of all ages.
Belgian Pharmaceutical Conference
The industry is excited about the upcoming Belgian Pharmaceutical Conference that will be held March 17th, and will focus on the E-Healthcare Age: about its transparency, compliance, e-marketing and online data registries. It will also concentrate on clinical trials, because Belgium is the leader in this area, due to the good relationship the industry maintains with universities.
For many companies, Belgium is one of the most important countries in Europe where trials are undertaken.