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Slowly but surely: biotechnology continues to grow, now equals tourism as an industry in Spain

According to Jordi Martí, innovation “has changed the course of diseases, sparked the development of new foodstuffs, fuels, production processes, environmental technologies and lies before us as the only possible pathway of growth,” With these encouraging words, the president of ASEBIO presented the report that the Spanish Bioindustry Association has published this year with the latest data from the biotechnology sector.

The figures of the ASEBIO 2015 Report  provide plenty of reasons to be optimistic. According to Martí, the statistics indicate a “change of tendency”, as they show growth in nearly all ratios related with turnover, employment or the investment in R&D. Despite the financial crisis that has hobbled the country over recent years, biotechnology has shown unusual robustness, increasing its weight in the Spanish and Catalan economies. The proof is in the biotech industry’s turnover, which is already over 10% of the GNP, having passed the barrier of 10 billion annual euros. These spectacular figures put Spanish biotechnology on par with tourism for the percentage of GDP it represents for all Spain.

The major advancements in science, largely attributable to the contribution of the cores and technological services, also translate into a sturdy boost for the biotechnology sector. According to ASEBIO, the turnover has surpassed 107 billion euros, 13.28% more than last year. Employment has also risen, with a total of 177,000 people working in biotechnology, still short of the 2012 figures, when the highest level of jobs in this scientific field was recorded. Although the number of strictly biotechnological companies has dropped, in the report the association underscores that investment in R&D has grown for the first time after two years of consecutive decline. 

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Source: Kaibara87 (Wikimedia)

Without a doubt, the evolution of biotechnology has been spectacular in the past decade. The same can be said for the growth of the sector in Catalonia, a region that has been consolidated as the “locomotive” of Spain’s biotechnology train. The BioRegion continues to lead the industry throughout Spain, ahead of autonomous communities like Andalusia or the Community of Madrid. In fact, some of the sector’s most key developments have taken place in this region. Success stories like the agreement between Oryzon Genomics with Roche or the financing round completed by Minoryx Therapeutics, only surpassed by Sanifit, show the way ahead in an industry that has slowly but surely grown in prominence.

The figures presented are taken from 2014, the year Spain celebrated its Spanish Biotechnology Year. This landmark event was promoted by organizations like the Spanish Federation of Biotechnologists (FEBiotec), the Spanish Biotechnology Society (SEBiot), the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), the Spanish Society for Microbiology and ASEBIO itself. The purpose was to raise awareness in society and the political class that supporting research means supporting the future. As the ASEBIO 2015 Report reflects, in an interview with Daniel Ramón, CEO of the Valencian company Biópolis, “it is important that society understand that generating knowledge is one of the best investments that it can make because at the end of the day it is what makes a country great”. This is a clear statement of the intent to promote support for an industry that keeps growing although, in the future, it will have to improve some of the parameters assessed, such as technology transfer (especially in the number of patents applied for and granted).

The positive figures presented in this analysis coincide with the statistics previously published by ASEBIO in its evaluation of medical biotechnology. According to sources of the business association, the number of projects in this area of activity grew by 7.6% in 2016. The second document stated that there is biotechnology research activity ongoing around 392 drug indications, mainly in fields such as oncology, the central nervous system, autoimmune diseases and endocrinology. Drug development is also supported by the technological cores, as is shown in the application of techniques such as nanomedicine or computation, among others.