Biotech Industry Finds Fertile Ground in the Netherlands

Growing cooperation among government, scientific, and venture-capital communities spells boom times in the land of tulips.
Oct 01, 2004
By BioPharm International Editors
Volume 17, Issue 10

Though still relatively modest by international standards, the Netherlands' biotechnology industry has made impressive gains in recent years and now provides investors with a compelling alternative to more established European "heavyweights" such as Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Starting with only a handful of biotech companies in the 1980s, the Netherlands' biotech community has mushroomed to 138 entrepreneurial firms specializing in areas such as agri-foods, biologicals, blood transfusion technology, cardiovascular disease, cell growth and cancer, cognitive neurosciences, genomics and proteomics, and therapeutic vaccines. The Netherlands has witnessed the establishment of 75 new biotech companies since 2000.

The Dutch biotech industry had a banner year in 2003, generating sales of more than $207 million — a 10% increase over 2002, according to BioPartner's 2004 Netherlands Life Sciences Sector Report. The annual publication also reported impressive performances in 2000 and 2001, with biotech sales topping $89 million each year. Last year's sales surge resulted in a seven percent jump in employment and increased the size of the total life sciences workforce in the Netherlands to 2,100 full-time employees, according to the report.

Most of the revenues generated by the Dutch biotech industry are ploughed back into research and new product development.

Kendle International conducts phase 1 trials, like the one shown here, from its dedicated Clinical Pharmacology Unit (CPU) strategically located on the university campus in Utrecht. Approximately 60% of the trials conducted at Kendle s CPU are for customers based in North America, Japan, and the Pacific Rim.
EXCELLENT RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE The steady growth of the Netherlands' biotechnology industry is rooted in the country's excellent research infrastructure and long history in the life sciences. These attributes became readily apparent to a number of North American biotech companies that opted to establish European operations in the Netherlands in the 1980s. Today, the parent companies of more than one quarter of the biotech operations in the Netherlands are based in the United States.

The Dutch life sciences industry is clustered primarily around eleven cities: Amsterdam, Delft, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Groningen, Leiden, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Twente, Utrecht, and Wageningen. This "bio-belt" region accounts for 60% of the dedicated life sciences companies and more than 70% of the life sciences workforce in the Netherlands. Home to 10 university hospitals, the bio-belt provides a proven infrastructure dedicated to developing highly educated and skilled professionals. Almost one-quarter of Dutch research schools are devoted to biotech, and the Netherlands is the only country in Europe to offer laboratory training in dedicated, vocational laboratory schools.

The Netherlands' highly educated, multilingual talent pool weighed heavily in Centocor's decision to build a new production facility at Leiden's BioScience Park in 2003. The Pennsylvania-based biopharmaceutical company is the world's leading producer of monoclonal antibodies.

A technician reviews data at a pharmaceutical research facility in the Netherlands.
By locating its new facility in BioScience Park, the company was able to readily tap into the resources of Leiden University, one of the Netherlands' premier laboratory colleges, as well as a network of research institutes and other Dutch universities, according to Pedro Tetteroo, vice president and general manager of Centocor. Leiden, home to some 60 biotech companies, is the oldest biotechnology cluster in the Netherlands and one of the most extensive biotechnology centers in Europe.

"Leiden provides Centocor with a significant base of knowledge about antibodies and the production of biotech goods," says Tetteroo. "It's the ideal scientific environment for a company like ours." Over the years, the city's healthcare community has proven a valuable ally. Since coming to BioScience Park in 1984, Centocor has established contacts with clinical experts who oversee clinical trials. Leiden University also gives the company access to library and research resources, lecture halls, and, with each new graduating class, a ready supply of skilled labor.

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