ADS, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, is best known for its aviation endeavors. But it is also linked to one of the more promising biotech startups in Europe.
Dr. Philippe Pouletty is chairman of France Biotech and co-founder of venture capital firm Truffle Capital.
EADS and renowned Paris heart transplant researcher Alain Carpentier have collaborated on a project that has spun out into Carmat SAS
, a Paris-based firm using biomaterials and cutting-edge technologies in construction of an entirely artificial heart.
One of the leading observers of the European biotech scene cites Carmat as a hint of the future of biotech on the Continent –a blend of the biotech and medical device sectors.
"We are going to see a major shift toward conversions between biotech and medtech, and we will see more complex therapies and more complex mixtures of several jobs as opposed to classic biotechnology," says Dr. Philippe Pouletty, co-founder of Paris-based venture capital firm Truffle Capital, one of the major investors in Carmat. He also serves as chairman of France Biotech, the French biotechnology industry association. "Biotech and the medical device industries will converge, especially in the areas of artificial hearts, pancreases, livers and kidneys."
Pouletty says that despite the huge increase in R&D expenditures by both the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, the number of new drugs that are being approved is flat, about 15 to 20 molecular entities per year. He says the reason is probably that the paradigm of a one-drug molecule that responds to one target receptor that responds to one disease is somewhat flawed, or at least overstated.
Pouletty believes the leading European biotech countries will continue to be France, Germany, the U.K. and Switzerland, especially where successful promotion of this new convergence of different industries happens.
"Countries that have all the responsive industries –for example to develop a totally artificial heart –such as pharmaceuticals, chemistry, microelectronic and biomaterials will have an advantage," Pouletty says.
Countries in Eastern Europe, such as Hungary and Romania, will prosper as pharmaceutical and manufacturing bases, but Pouletty believes that for at least the next 10 to 20 years, the major innovations will come from Western Europe. He also predicts that there will be greater collaboration between research institutions across Europe.
Few, if any, biotech companies are expanding on as many fronts in Europe as Genzyme, with ongoing projects in the U.K., Belgium and France. Genzyme has seven manufacturing sites in Europe, three of which are currently being expanded. Genzyme employs about 2,300 in Europe, about 1,500 of which are in manufacturing.
The latest project is in Lyon, where Genzyme is building a new facility for development of anti-rejection drugs for organ transplant patients. The €110-million ($141-million) plant will replace an existing facility and will double its capacity.
Mark Bamforth is Genzyme's senior vice president of pharmaceuticals and operations.
Genzyme expects the plant to be complete by the end of 2009, with production projected to begin in 2011 after regulatory approvals. Genzyme plans to hire 50 to join its current staff of 230.
Genzyme has had an ongoing expansion in Geel, Belgium, for several years. The current €300-million (US$385 million) project involves a new manufacturing plant to produce a recombinant enzyme. This project will add 120 jobs to the plant's current work force of 320.
Genzyme is quadrupling the size of its Waterford, Ireland, fill-and-finish facility with an investment of nearly €100 million ($128 million). The company is evaluating a possible expansion at its chemical facility in Haverhill, England.
Mark Bamforth, Genzyme's senior vice president, corporate operations and pharmaceuticals, says many of Genzyme's manufacturing locations have come about through acquisitions. He says future expansions will likely come at current sites or through acquisitions.
"Once we have a site, they each tend to be unique in either their technology or their skill of operations," Bamforth says. "We tend to focus on centers of excellence and build on a solid base that's already in place. We are product driven, not location driven, and we will continue to invest in the sites that we have."
Bamforth says biotech's biggest current challenge is weathering the current global financial downturn.
"Clearly the financial downturn creates a significant risk for smaller companies that are not established," Bamforth says. "There are statistics about the limited cash supply of a number of companies that do not have their products to market yet. If this doesn't change, there are predictions that a third may disappear and either be bought or go bust. For the long-term health of biotech, that is a danger. For more mature companies, if their products are truly innovative, they are in a different situation."
A major collaborative effort between scientific agencies in five Alps countries is under way. The Alps Bio Cluster, funded primarily by the European Commission, will encourage cooperation among R&D centers, universities, startups and small and medium-sized companies by uniting academic, industrial and training resources.
"We want to blend people from different cultures, from industrial to academic," says Valerie Ayache, director of Lyon-based biotech agency ADEBAG, the collaboration's project leader.
Ayache says the initiative grew from collaboration on conferences between her organization and counterparts in Switzerland and northern Italy.
"We decided to deepen this cooperation and to have more means to work on long-term projects," Ayache says.
Other participating organizations are Lyonbiopôle from France's Rhône-Alps region, Bioindustry Park del Canavese and the Milan Chamber of Commerce in Italy, BioAlps from Western Switzerland, Tiroler Zukunftsstiftung (Tyrolean Future Foundation) from Austria's Tyrol region, and the German Research Center for Environmental Health and Weihenstephan University of Applied Sciences from Germany's Bavaria region.
"We can create companies in France, but it is difficult to develop them to a critical scale," says Ayache. "That's why we created the Alps Bio Cluster."
The Alps Bio Cluster is a collaboration of science organizations in five Alps countries.
Laszlo Urge is CEO of Budapest-based ThalesNano.
, one of Hungary's leading pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers, is building a new $65-million plant in Debrecen, one of the country's biotech centers. Richter plans to establish a biopharma line for its range of domestic and international products, and says it will employ 110. The company is receiving direct subsidies from the Hungarian government to build the facility.
Dr. Lazlo Urge, CEO of ThalesNano, a Budapest-based laboratory equipment manufacturer, also serves as a member of the executive board of the Hungarian Biotech Association. He says the sector is thriving in Hungary. Biotech, combined with the pharmaceutical industry, employs about 15,000 in the country, with major concentrations in Budapest, Debrecen and Szeged.
"When the EU expanded a few years ago, the Hungarian biotech industry was more developed than [biotech in] the other countries that were joining at that time, and even more than in some countries that had previously joined the EU, so Hungary was well positioned," Urge says. "We have a good entrepreneurial spirit, and Hungary has always been very good in terms of the chemistry sector. Our established companies are expanding and new companies are being formed as well. The sector will grow steadily, at least those companies that are not dependent on VC investment."
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