Belgium is a leader in clinical trials, with the second highest per capita rate in Europe, based on the number of new applications filed last year. The Government has taken recent steps to safeguard Belgium’s competitiveness in this domain and strengthen the country’s position as a ‘Pharma Valley’.
There were 1,399 clinical trials running in 2016, and more than 10,200 studies have been carried out in Belgium since 2000, according to statistics from pharma.be. Biopharmaceutical companies are the main drivers of the studies, initiating 82% of all trials. On a yearly basis, more than 170,000 Belgians volunteer to participate in such studies. These numbers illustrate the importance and strength of clinical trials in the country.
“Belgium’s excellence is the result of numerous factors: effective administrative steps with very short timelines to obtain approval to conduct clinical trials, a fertile ground with well-respected, highly qualified clinical researchers & research centers, and lastly, a positive environment which fosters interactions between biopharmaceutical companies and universities,” says Carlo Ciapparelli, General Manager Northern Europe at QuintilesIMS.
The increasing number of trials in the country results in benefits for patients, doctors, companies and the economy. More than €2.8 billion was invested in clinical trials last year. Clinical trials offer patients the opportunity to gain early access to the latest treatments and doctors the possibility to keep up-to-date on medical advances.
“With the support of volunteers and patients, we are in fact highly motivated to truly understand the potential of new medicines, and we closely cooperate with the government in order to deliver innovative high-quality clinical data for the future of patient care,” says Anna Colzi MD, PhD Medical Director Phase 1 Clinical Research Unit Brussels, Pfizer. Pfizer is this year celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Brussels Phase 1 Unit, one of two Pfizer Research Units worldwide.
Belgium does face some external pressure. In October 2018, new EU legislation on clinical trials will enter into force, harmonizing the application and approval procedures in all Member States. The implementation of the new EU Regulation could cause Belgium to lose some of its competitive advantage.
The Government is, however, proactively addressing concerns to ensure the country’s leadership beyond 2018. A Pact for the Future was signed between the Minister for Social Affairs and Public Health and the biopharmaceutical industry already in 2015, providing a stable and predictable framework. New legislation approved in April 2017 is intended to create a more coordinated, simple and rapid procedure for clinical trials, while also opening the door to pilot projects. Even more recently, as part of the Summer Agreement, the Government decided to drop the cost for the application procedure for clinical trials, making it free of charge.
We encourage the Government to continue its efforts to put Belgium on the map as a ‘Pharma Valley’, and we remain confident that, with these measures, the biopharmaceutical industry will continue to say #Yes2Belgium for clinical trials.