Blog | September 18, 2018

The Future Of Biopharma — Netherlands Style

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL


Back in July I received an email on behalf of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency to attend a press tour of the biopharmaceutical industry in the Netherlands. Yes. I was interested, for a number of reasons. For starters, by the end of Q1 2019, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will officially relocate its headquarters from London to Amsterdam, the largest city in the Netherlands . As a result, U.S. biopharmaceutical companies will likely turn to the Netherlands instead of the U.K. when launching new medicines in Europe following Brexit. For though the U.K. is an important market, the EU will still consist of 27-member countries (see Table 1). And though the U.K. makes up 13 percent of the EU’s current (estimated) population, and 16 percent of its annual (estimated) GDP, following Brexit, the EU’s population will still be about 125 million greater than the United States, and its GDP a close second. In other words, even without the U.K., the EU will remain the world’s third largest biopharmaceutical market (U.S. #1, China #2, and Japan #4).The Netherlands is also one of the world’s richest nations. Further, its airport in Amsterdam is the ninth busiest in the world, and its container port in Rotterdam ranks number 12 (six spots higher than the biggest U.S. port of Los Angeles). And I haven’t even touched on the country’s rich biopharmaceutical history — yet.

Table 1

EU Member Countries

(as of September 2018)

*The U.K. is scheduled to depart the EU at 11pm (U.K. time) on Friday, March 29, 2019.

The Netherlands Rich Biotech History Includes Former Employer

I admit I did have a personal interest in visiting the country. Back in June 2000 I joined a small pharma company called Organon, where I worked for 10 years. Now admittedly, prior to researching for interviews, I hadn’t heard a whole lot about this company. In fact, it wasn’t until I ran into a former Mead Johnson Nutritionals’ colleague, Ken Vergara (then a district manager at Organon), that I decided to apply for an open position. But I soon learned that it had a U.S. headquarters in N.J., and a global headquarters in Oss, Netherlands. And while I had numerous trips to the two different U.S. corporate offices, I never made it to the facilities located in the Netherlands, where so many of the company’s innovative products had been developed. Even Merck’s current cancer blockbuster Keytruda has its roots in Organon’s original PD1 program in the Oss lab of Andrea van Elsas. So, while I was intrigued when offered this press tour for personal reasons, the business reasons for desiring to embark on an immersive learning experience are even bigger. For despite its small geographic stature (i.e., the 138th largest country in the world by land mass), the Dutch have consistently been leaders in the world of business (e.g., 10 of the world’s largest companies currently call the Netherlands home). Might the next big biopharma soon be headquartered here too?

Netherlands Press Tour Expectations

Though Organon is no more, the Netherlands continue to have a rich biopharma ecosystem that I am looking forward to learning more about. For example, the country is home to more than 420 biopharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Janssen, Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), Amgen and Teva that rely on Dutch operations for both R&D and distribution activities. The upcoming press tour intends to showcase how the Netherlands is a breeding ground for biopharmaceutical startups and scaleups too, like Galapagos, Genmab, Pharming and uniQure.

In addition to those companies, below are some examples of additional (tentative) itinerary stops:

  • Pioneering “Mini-Organs”: At the Hubrecht Institute, a Dutch team led by molecular geneticist Hans Clevers is pioneering “organoids” aka mini organs – including livers, lungs and intestines – grown from stem cells to test specific drugs outside the body.
  • Finding a Cure for Cancer: The Netherlands is a fertile ground for diverse companies developing cancer therapeutics and immunotherapy techniques, including Speratum, Aduro, Acerta, and Kiadis Pharma, a clinical-stage company developing life-saving therapies for blood cancers. The country’s biopharma ecosystem also supports drug discovery companies including OcellO and Ncardia, as well as drug manufacturers like Synthon and Aspen.
  • Robots, Incubators and R&D: Netherland research parks support R&D operations from around the globe. For example, at the Amsterdam Science Park, some 150 companies collaborate in one of the largest concentrations of sciences in all of Europe. The country’s Pivot Park (video) features a new medicines Screening Centre (video) boasting two fully automated robotic systems; BioConnection, which is active in the field of contract services and GMP manufacturing aimed toward the development and production of sterile (bio) pharmaceutical drug products; and ChemConnection, which has expertise in APIs and nanomedicines. For these innovative products, ChemConnection develops and validates the manufacturing process and the analytical methods, and performs the cGMP manufacture, quality control, and stability studies. The Rotterdam Science Tower (video) is home to the LabHotel, an incubator that gives new companies access to a fully equipped professional lab.
  • Medicine Distribution to the World: In addition to research parks, the Netherlands is home to key logistics partners like DHL, pharma supply chain manager Movianto and HealthLink Europe, which provide logistics outsourcing for more than 130 life science manufacturing companies.

The goal of the trip is to learn why the Netherlands is a top R&D innovation hub for biopharmaceutical operations, complete with 13 globally ranked universities, a highly educated workforce, one of the world’s highest-ranking healthcare systems, and an innovation-friendly government that supports companies developing innovative products through tax benefits, innovation credit, and grants. Perhaps I will even have the opportunity to meet Pepper (video), the “most advanced social robot in the world.” The first intelligent humanoid robot to give a TedTalk, Pepper is a resident of the Pivot Park life science community in the Netherlands. Stay tuned for my post-tour recaps in October.