Stellar year for Belgian biotech

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Belgium has once again strengthened its position as Europe's biotech leader. Today, Belgian biotech companies comprise 23 percent of the total market value of all public European biotech companies. Compared to the end of April 2018, the value of Belgian biotech companies increased by 12.5 percent from 24 to 27 billion euros. A few Belgian biotech giants such as Galapagos, argenx and UCB, are responsible for this growth. This according to figures announced by KBC Securities during the "State of the Union" event of the Flemish biotech sector federation and VIB on the eve of the large "knowledge for growth" congress in Ghent.
  • Public companies’ market value increased from 24 to 27 billion euros, despite the acquisitions of Ablynx and TiGenix
  • More than 15 new private companies founded in 2018

Clearly, the heart of the life sciences sector in Europe – better known as the biotech sector – beats fastest in Belgium. Frequently, foreign investors and companies find their way to our country because they value the Belgian ecosystem highly. The interest in Belgian biotech companies on the stock exchange floor is a clear example of this. With 23 percent of the total European stock market value, we have a large lead over many other European countries such as Denmark (20 percent), Spain (14 percent) and France (13 percent). It is very good news for the entire sector that the value of the Belgian listed life sciences companies has increased by 12.5 percent since April 2018. Especially after two important companies, Ablynx and TiGenix, had to withdraw from the stock exchange after having been purchased. The Flemish biotech pearl Ablynx was sold to pharmaceutical giant Sanofi for 3.9 billion euros and TiGenix was taken over by the Asian pharmaceutical company Takeda for 520 million euros.

The key pillars

The Belgian biotech sector has been able to hold ground well on the stock market given the turbulent times. This is due to the enormous success of a few key pillars, who are developing promising medicines against several important diseases. For example, the market value of the Mechelen based company Galapagos recently rose to over 6 billion euros, largely driven by the development of the drug Filgotinib. This drug against rheumatism and a dozen other inflammatory diseases can, according to stock market analysts, in the long term achieve a turnover of 6 billion dollars – or almost 5.4 billion euros. Ghent based argenx also achieved some successes with its new drugs against cancer and serious autoimmune diseases, just like the biopharmaceutical group UCB. Today there are more than a dozen products from more than half a dozen listed Belgian companies in the final human testing phases. Never before have so many medicines from so many biotech companies been in the last straight line to the market.

The positive stock market evolution of the Belgian biotech sector is due to the big fish in the Belgian pond with a market value of over one billion euros such as Galapagos, argenx and UCB. Since the end of April, the smaller companies (below one billion euro market value) have lost a total of 0.6 billion euros in market value (from 2.8 billion euros to 2.2 billion euros). However, this is not enough to remove Belgium from its fourth place in Europe in this category. The average value of the smaller companies also dropped considerably from 344 to 171 million euros. Since a similar evolution has also taken place in other European countries, a fairly homogeneous playing field has now emerged in that category of companies with Belgium in position four, close to the United Kingdom (3), Italy (5), Denmark (6) and France (7).

“More than ever, Belgium remains a “hot spot” within Europe for public biotech companies,” says Nathalie Van Den Haute, KBC Securities. “The Belgian life sciences sector’s image is very positive, thanks to the successes of Galapagos and argenx, but also the smaller companies such as Mithra and Biocartis. Since the beginning of 2018, our public life sciences companies have together raised more than 700 million euros in capital through the stock exchange. The interest of domestic and foreign investors therefore remains very high. The future is therefore looking bright for the Belgian public biotech companies and for the young private companies that are preparing an IPO.”

The new Galapagos or Ablynx

There is a positive dynamic in Belgium surrounding both the public and new life sciences start-ups. In the last five years, for example, more than 35 new life science companies were established in Flanders and more than 15 in the last year alone. All these companies were able to raise nice amounts in their first capital round with domestic as well as foreign investors. Will one of them be the new Galapagos or Ablynx?

During the “State of the Union” event, during which the organizers announce new developments and initiatives within the sector and analyse the Belgian position in the European landscape, a few new companies have traditionally had the opportunity to introduce themselves. This year four foreign biotech companies who have recently established themselves in Flanders in order to benefit from the successes of our region, will present themselves: alphabiomics, Yesse Technologies, Inari and Apheris.

“We have also seen more young foreign companies establishing themselves in our region in recent years. This is because we have several important assets in our hands, like our renowned universities and knowledge institutions, an attractive environment for testing products, highly trained employees and experienced biotech investors. Add our central location within Europe, our long experience in the life sciences sector and the monetary and political support of the governments and you will have gathered all success factors to grow to be a real driving force behind our local economy.” Dirk Reyn, chairman of the Board of Directors of