French biotech marches on into 21st century

The International BIO 2010 convention, held recently in Chicago, was a chance to promote French expertise and strengths in the biotechnology sector. The importance of the industry cannot be underestimated: almost half of all new drugs on the world market have their origins in biotechnologies. Outside healthcare, nano-biotechnologies – a cross between biotechnologies and ICT – and biotechnologies for environmental purposes are particularly promising research areas. In March next year, the French city of Nantes will host the Biomarine 2011 summit, which will be devoted to marine biotechnologies, or ‘blue biotechnologies’.

[ClickPress, Tue Jun 08 2010] The International BIO 2010 convention, held recently in the USA (in Chicago), showcased French expertise and strengths in the biotechnology sector. France has some key advantages in the biotech field, which make it competitive and innovative.

First of all, France has a remarkably diversified industrial base. There are almost 400 biotechnology businesses in France, employing around 6,000 people, over half of whom work in R&D activities. The industry, in France, is ranked third in Europe after the UK and Germany. French biotech companies (such as Bio-Alliance, Nicox, ExonHit and Hybrigenics) are at the cutting edge of research in the field, with over 160 potential new drugs in the pipeline. In the health sector, which is the leading area for the application of biotechnologies, all the major international laboratories are already operating in France.

Secondly, France offers a favourable environment for partnerships. Eight innovation clusters with a biotech/health focus have been helping the sector to grow in France since 2005, more particularly through promoting interaction between manufacturers and public-sector laboratories. The eight clusters of excellence are Lyonbiopôle (in the Rhône-Alpes region), Medicen (Ile-de-France), Alsace BioValley (Alsace), Nutrition Health Longevity (Nord-Pas-de-Calais), Atlantic Biothérapies (Pays de la Loire), Prod’Innov (Aquitaine), Eurobiomed (Languedoc-Roussillon/Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) and, finally, Cancer-Bio-Santé (Midi-Pyrénées). These clusters are open business ecosystems, which already count about 60 non-French businesses among their members.

Thirdly, France has a wide range of support programmes and mechanisms that are available in the biotech field. Biotechnology companies are eligible for various innovation support measures with, more specifically, the Research Tax Credit (Crédit d’Impôt Recherche or CIR), along with funding granted to collaborative R&D projects within France’s innovation clusters; the innovative new companies’ scheme (Jeunes Entreprises Innovantes or JEI); targeted support from OSEO, the French Innovation Agency; and, finally, calls for projects from the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche).

For its part, the National Alliance for Life Sciences and Health (Alliance Nationale pour les Sciences de la Vie et de la Santé, or AVIESAN), which was set up in 2009, has improved co-ordination between major stakeholders in the French research sector. Besides, the creation of the InnoBio fund – a partnership between France’s FSI strategic investment fund and pharmaceuticals laboratories, with a budget of €140 million – announced at the meeting of the Strategic Committee for the Health Industries (Comité Stratégique pour les Industries de Santé or CSIS), in October 2009, has opened the door for support to innovative businesses.

Since March 2009, the Alliance for Research and Innovation in the Health Industries (Alliance pour la Recherche et l’Innovation des Industries de Santé or ARIIS) has been uniting and developing public-private partnerships in the healthcare sector.

A fourth key aspect is the long-standing presence of international companies in France. In the last 10 years, 320 inward-investment projects have been recorded in the French life-sciences sector. In 2009, Swiss group Novartis chose France for its fourth R&D centre for oncology worldwide, while Genzyme also chose France (Lyons) for its latest bio-production centre. Many smaller companies, such as Cellseed (Japan) or Immunoclin (UK), have also chosen France over other countries to develop their activities in the biotech field.

All these players have contributed towards moving the sector forward. Daiichi Sankyo (Japan) has decided to increase the size of its operations in Ile-de-France (i.e. the Paris region). Novo Nordisk (Denmark) and Ely Lilly (USA) have confirmed their interest in the French market, as have various specialist medical-equipment manufacturers, such as Sysmex (Japan) in diagnostics and Sorin (Italy) in cardiac implants, both of whom are making increasing use of innovative technologies.

“The dynamism of the sector owes much to the presence of leading international players, attracted simultaneously by the strength of the French market, the excellent skills base, and the support available for innovation. The priority afforded to universities, research and environmental technologies in France’s future investment programme will provide a further boost, encouraging new foreign companies to venture into the French market,” says David Appia, Chairman and CEO of IFA.

“Let us not forget either that the Nobel prize for Medicine in 2008 was awarded to Professors Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for their work to identify the HIV virus, conducted at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and that the first high-resolution mapping of the human genome was developed at the Genopôle d’Evry by Jean Weissenbach, director of Génoscope,” adds David Appia.

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