CASE STUDIES

Belgium

Europe’s Biotech Hotspot

Famous for its chocolate, beer and moules frites, Belgium is also home to some of Europe’s most dynamic Life Science companies and its biotech industry is thriving.

It is attracting not only early-stage Life Science companies but also established biopharma, which collectively in 2016, represented 18% of the total European biotech market¹. Coulter Partners has been privileged to work on over 40 Belgian executive search assignments over the last three years in booming Life Science hubs such as Ghent, Leuven and Mechelen as well as in Brussels. More than half our placements have been at CEO, C-suite, Board and General/Country Manager level across biotech, pharma and medical devices. The attraction of Belgium and the success of its Life Science ecosystem lie in a combination of several favourable factors which have collectively made it a hotbed of talent and leadership expertise.

STRONG INNOVATION

Belgium is categorised as a “strong innovator” by the European Commission according to their 2018 innovation scoreboard and it is listed in the top 15 globally in Bloomberg’s annual Innovation Index². In 2017  €3.5billion was invested in biopharma R&D, a 21.4% increase on 2016³. Ghent, Leuven and Mechelen have emerged as leading hubs, exploiting their proximity to the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), VITO and the research institute, FlandersBio. Brussels, with its three main universities and five university hospitals, has become another epicentre for innovation and development. Accessibility to R&D expertise from these numerous academic centres and specialised research parks has been key in reinforcing Belgium’s strong industry position and the success of its start-ups. Significant scientific collaborations and the successful commercialisation of academic research have built the country a global reputation for excellence. Earlier in 2018 Johnson & Johnson expanded its global innovation incubator project JLABS into Europe, choosing Beerse in Northern Belgium as its home, stating “This unique model will support entrepreneurs in progressing their transformative science through access to state-of-the-art infrastructure, expertise and funding opportunities and all in the knowledge that their ideas can progress with no-strings attached” .

GLOBAL INVESTMENT

Global investor interest in the country continues to grow, with venture capital funding in Life Science companies increasing 44% between 2015 and YTD 2018⁵. Earlier in 2018, while attending the hugely successful BioEquity 2018 hosted in Ghent, Coulter Partners observed first hand just how attractive Belgium is becoming to venture fund investors. The oversubscribed event saw diverse industry representation and a promising forum amongst dealmakers from across Europe and the US. In 2018 Belgian immune-oncology biotech iTeos Therapeutics raised an impressive €65million, understood to be the largest Series B financing round in Europe year-to-date, and Sanofi acquired the nanobody biotech Ablynx NV for €3.9billion. These, along with success stories such as Galapagos, Promethera, Biocartis, Mithra, Ogeda, and Celyad continue to act as encouraging role models to new investors.

INCENTIVES FOR UPSTARTS & SMES

Belgium has one of the most supportive environments for clinical trials in Europe, boasting one of the fastest clinical approval times in the EU, as well as high clinical trial volumes and a strong presence of CROs.  The country has a favourable regulatory framework which together with lower cost locations and several government grants and tax incentives, makes it particularly attractive for Life Science SMEs and start-ups. Non-Belgians moving to the region can also benefit from very advantageous aspects of remuneration.

STRATEGIC LOCATION

Belgium’s direct rail services into Brussels and sophisticated transport connections across Europe have helped its development as a commercial hub. The country offers easy connections with international markets and has excellent infrastructure for product distribution and talent access. In addition to strong local talent pools, Belgium attracts high calibre international talent from many other countries.

COULTER PARTNERS IN BELGIUM

Belgium has become a European epicentre of diverse scientific and commercial leadership, based around its growing Biotech and Life Science clusters. This is illustrated by the variety of Coulter Partners appointments to the biotech, devices and digital health companies there, with roles ranging from the deeply scientific to senior commercial and C-suite, including at CEO and Board level. The richly diverging cultures and ethnicities of Belgium’s two key regions, Flanders and Wallonia, continue to attract executive leadership internationally. The resulting range of nationalities, languages and origins has created a distinctive and diverse business culture in the region.

Notably, 80% of Coulter Partners’ placements to date have re-located from other European countries or from the US.

Coulter Partners is proud to be contributing to Belgium’s continuing success and to showcase a small selection of our work here:

Chief Executive Officer for an innovative Belgian diagnostic player specialising in liquid biopsies and non-coding RNA; this is a leading European company in the field of molecular test discovery, development and analysis.
Non-Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer for a private equity backed, clinical-stage, Belgian developer of allergy immunotherapy drugs. The client simultaneously commissioned a full Board and Management Evaluation Project for 12 individuals, executed by Coulter Partners’ dedicated Leadership Assessment practice.
Three roles, including Non-Executive Director and Global Head of Regulatory Affairs, for a clinical-stage, Belgian biopharmaceutical client, developing next generation CAR-T NK cell-based immunotherapies for cancer treatment. Concurrently, Coulter Partners conducted a leadership assessment project for the client.
Head of Drug Discovery for a fast-growing Belgo-Dutch clinical-stage biotechnology company, specialising in the discovery and development of small molecule medicines.
VP Business Development for a leading biotech engaged in the discovery and development of nanobodies, headquartered in Ghent.
Chief Executive Officer and Board Member for a Brussels-based, investor-backed imaging technology company, developing 4D microscopic imaging devices and software for life science applications. Female French national appointed.
Seven senior R&D roles, including Director, Immunology Research and Patient Solutions Leader for a Belgian headquartered “big pharma” player focused on neurology and immunology.
Two roles, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer, for a VC funded, emerging drug discovery company building a pipeline of development programs targeting G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).
Two senior commercial Belgium-based roles for a Nordic provider of veterinary care services. Coulter Partners is working on a further ten roles with the same client.


Belgium is a biotech hotspot as it houses all the right ingredients for a successful ecosystem: world renowned academic research centres, a large community of SMEs and last but not least, the top-10 biopharma companies all have key activities in Belgium.


From advances in genomics research to new immune therapies, Belgium has a lively and advancing life sciences scene. We have even seen established companies choose to relocate to Belgium.

Author: Neha Rajdev, Senior Business Intelligence Associate

REFERENCES

  1. Flanders Investment and Trade
  2. 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index
  3. Pharme.be, l’Association Générale de l’Industrie du Médicament, 2018
  4. jlabs.jnjinnovation.com
  5. Pitchbook, August 2018