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US-Belgium partnership: The biopharma success story

US companies play a significant role in Belgium’s biopharmaceutical sector. They invest here, create jobs and produce medicines that help treat people around the world. The US is also a top importer of Belgium’s pharmaceutical products.

Belgium’s biopharma sector is in full bloom. The country represents 2% of the EU’s population, yet it produces 4.5% of the bloc’s biopharma products and exports 12.2% of them. Belgium is also a frontrunner in R&D: it has the highest number of drugs developed per million inhabitants in the world!

US companies play a key role in this success story. They help make Belgium a leading drug producer and logistics hub. For example, Pfizer’s aseptic manufacturing facility in Puurs is one of the largest in the industry, and the company’s distribution center in Zaventem manages two-thirds of its global portfolio. Heist-op-den-Berg hosts one of MSD’s most strategic manufacturing sites, in which it has invested about $150 million in new facilities since 2013. Last January, Janssen Pharmaceutica – which manufactures 170 million packages per year in Beerse – announced that it will invest €42.8 million in a new state-of-the-art lab on the campus.

Besides producing in Belgium, US companies also carry out clinical trials here. The country ranks second in the world, on a per capita basis, for this crucial stage of drug development and is the European leader. There were 1,399 ongoing clinical trials in Belgium in 2016 – thanks, in large part, to fast approval times. Belgium is among the top ten countries where AbbVie conducts clinical studies, with a particular emphasis here on Phase II and III trials.

The country has indeed prepared a fertile ground for R&D through fiscal incentives, such as the Innovation Income Deduction and the withholding tax exemption on researchers’ salaries, and by fostering collaboration between international companies, local SMEs and world-renowned academic centers. This framework enables companies like Eli Lilly, Celgene and Bristol-Myers Squibb to hire top-notch researchers and work with universities and public research institutions.

Through all these activities, US biopharmaceutical companies in Belgium employ 8,660 people, an equivalent to one-third of all employment in the sector. When distribution jobs are included, the figure reaches 13,500.

Trade matters as well. Biopharmaceutical products make up one-third of Belgium’s exports to the US, and Belgium imported €8.35 billion worth of life science products from the US in 2016. The value of Wallonia’s exports of biopharmaceutical products to the US increased by 110% in the last four years and now constitute 61.1% of all its exports to the country. The US is also a top importer for Flanders’ pharmaceutical output – in 2016, the region exported €4.78 billion worth to the US.

US companies are vital players in Belgium’s biopharma ecosystem – investing, employing, innovating, producing and delivering high quality medicine – and in this regard, the US-Belgium partnership is helping patients and improving lives around the world.


A special thanks to, essenscia, FIT, Wallonia Export & Investment Agency and Brussels Invest-Export for sharing their data.