SMEs active in health have doubled employment over the last 8 years

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The health industry is crucial in Wallonia and made it through the economic crisis untouched. However, this is still a fragile sector that must be handled with care.

Walloon employment in the health sector has increased steadily in recent years. Even during the financial crisis, when the Belgian economy was at its lowest point, employment in the health sector kept growing. From 2005 to 2013, the members of BioWin have created nearly 6.500 jobs, an increase of 71%, for a total of more than 15.000 full-time jobs. This trend not only generates direct jobs but also indirect jobs. “We are talking about 50.000 jobs in total,” says Frédéric Druck, general manager of Biowin. These are important facts, because they affect the general employment and the economic value.

When looking at the employment figures in detail, it appears that among the BioWin members, the SMEs are those with the strongest employment growth: the workforce has more than doubled, generating some 1.300 additional full-time equivalents over the same period. The life sciences sector is becoming increasingly independent. The proportion of public funds in these projects has begun to reduce quickly. “Currently in Europe, the proportion of publically funded investments to private is about 3 euros of public investment to every 1 euro of private investment. In Belgium, this proportion is slowly shifting towards higher investments from private investors, which is closer to the standard practice in the US.

In terms of maturity, it’s cell therapy that takes the upper hand, with real leadership in Europe. Certain companies like Celyad (former Cardio3) or Bone Therapeutics are listed on the European stock exchange. Celyad is even taking steps to enter the NASDAQ. “Many other companies have not reached this level of maturity yet. We are expecting the growth and value creation to continue to rise,” continues Druck.

Beware the drying up of the source”

This good news was no surprise, news of the success of Walloon biotechs has radiated abroad. Partnerships have been created recently, such as the collaboration between MaSTherCell l’Israélienne Orgenesis and MaSTherCell, who all specialize in cell therapy. In addition, at the end of last year Pfizer and iTeos started a partnership concerning treatment of cancer. Companies from abroad are also beginning to settle here, which include such firms as iSTAR (glaucoma) and Nyxoah (sleep apnea). “This is a new trend,” confirms Sylvie Ponchaut, director of Biowin, “our tax incentives are attractive, but we also have a solid academic base.”

“But beware of the drying up of the source,” she warns, “to conserve the ecosystem, to keep the biggest companies like GSK here, we must continue to develop basic research. Otherwise they will go elsewhere.” The real challenge may be in education as an increasing number of jobs in the healthcare industry now require additional knowledge, more than just health related skills. Some medical professions now require employees with skillsets in ICT, handling ‘Big Data’, and engineering. This will be the main challenge to maintain growth in this sector.

(Source: L’Echo, Image courtesy of Photokanok at