The French Biotech Industry Is Growing, With Focus on R&D and Big Data

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For many people France may is synonymous with wines, cheese and rich meals. But the country also has a strong biotech community that how grown significantly over the past decade, with a strong focus on developing clinical drug assets.

France has several well-known pharma companies that are cornerstones for the industry, including Sanofi, Ipsen, Servier, Pierre Fabre and LFB Biotechnologies.

Earlier this month, France Biotech, which represents life science entrepreneurs, released its 16th “French Health Tech Survey,” that showed the transformation of the French biotech environment over the past decade has grown to include more than 1,800 companies with a broad focus on multiple aspects of the healthcare space. According to the survey, France’s life science industry includes 720 biotech companies, 73 biocleantech companies, 886 companies specialized in medical devices and diagnostics and 200 companies focusing on eHealth. The latest survey shows that more than half of these companies, 53 percent, employ one to 10 employees. Also, many of these companies have sprung into existence over the past several years. According to the survey, 41 percent of the companies are less than five years old.

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The France Biotech survey included 365 French companies that employ about 9,438 people.

Maryvonne Hiance, president of France Biotech, said the French biotech industry is able to draw from a range of new technologies that help it grow. One area that Hiance and France Biotech see growth is through the use of artificial intelligence and big data. About one-third of the surveyed companies already use these technologies and the other two-thirds of companies that participated in the survey said they intend to start using them in the future. Hiance said this is a key area for improvement in the sector.

One of the key strengths of the French biotech industry that the survey revealed is the amount of research and development being conducted, particularly as it compared to the sector 10 years ago. The survey showed that in 2018, there are 386 drug candidates in clinical development by the companies that participated, compared to only 178 in 2008. For these companies, R&D investments on average were €9 million, about $10.2 million. Of the companies that participated in the survey, at least 15 percent of their total expenses are made in R&D.

Hiance said that the R&D work being conducted the biotech companies sampled in the survey is actually a greater amount than the companies she called “the main French pharmaceutical companies.” The abundance of projects developed by innovative health startups is a key growth driver for big pharma and biopharma companies looking to innovate and renew their product portfolios, she said.

In addition to a focus on R&D, the survey also noted that for these companies, there is a focus on international growth. The survey showed that 64 percent of the companies that opened subsidiaries over the past decade, did so abroad, with the United States begin the preferred location. Since 2013, these types of international partnerships are on the rise, increasing from 25 percent in 2013 to 33 percent this year.  

The international arena is also playing a key role when it comes to investments. The survey showed an uptick in the amount of global investments made in the French biotech sector. France Biotech said the trend of foreign investment can be explained by the “sustained interest of foreign investors in medical technologies, at a time when digital technology and patient data management are revolutionizing the industry.”

While the R&D and the increase in foreign dollars is a bright spot, the France Biotech survey did show a few difficulties affecting the industry in that country. France Biotech noted that a majority of the companies that participated in the survey are struggling to find the funding they desire. Also, the survey showed that about half of those companies reported having difficulties in raising money. From the survey, 75 percent of the firms sampled believe that industrial partnerships are the way forward to draw funding.

"Let us ensure that all of the players in our ecosystem, including startup companies, public agencies, researchers and healthcare institutions, work together to build the medicine of the future, entirely dedicated to patients," Hiance said.

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