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Life Sciences in Barcelona: a window of opportunity for the pharmaceutical-healthcare ecosystem

Life Sciences in Barcelona: a window of opportunity for the pharmaceutical-healthcare ecosystem

Diego Pol

Partner Dentons

Carlos Menendez

Order to cash Manager, Bayer

Ingredients of success

Barcelona has all that it needs to achieve success in the pharmaceutical sector and, more broadly, in the healthcare sector. An ecosystem that comprises universities, research centers and hospitals, along with Spanish and multinational companies, start-ups, and specialist investment funds provides us with a unique opportunity in a sector that now draws its strength from knowledge networks. 

The sector employs more than 20,000 people, and its GDP matches that of other strategic sectors such as tourism or the automotive industry. Approximately 60% of the pharmaceutical products produced in Spain originate in Catalonia and most institutional investors specializing in the health sector are based in Barcelona.

Our health system is a world leader, with professionals working in more than eighty private and public research centers in Greater Barcelona.

The city is a center for Spanish and European clinical trials and generates 40% of the patents registered annually.

Barcelona’s strategic commitment to the sector over the last 20 years has borne fruit, particularly in the improvement of infrastructures, a result of investment in science parks where researchers conduct research that is later converted into patents and eventually into products.

The pharmaceutical sector boasts a unique collection of small, medium and large family-owned and multinational companies that invest in and draw on this research to launch new products in an industry that has proved robust during the health and economic crisis.

Barcelona is home to more than 700 start-ups working on biotechnology, healthcare products, and the digitalization of the sector; we are fortunate to be experiencing a boom in the only sector in which investment has grown over the last year.

Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies in Barcelona are in a unique position to take advantage of the ecosystem and to work together to find cures for the diseases that affect the population and improve the wellbeing of all.

How to continue improving?

Without neglecting the existing ecosystem in Barcelona, which is essential (as are the networks amongst different players), we must also think globally in order to be a global player. Our aim should be to attract major foreign investors and encourage our investors to invest abroad as well.

We should continue to internationalize, as so many companies have already done successfully, and do our utmost to attract the regional hubs of the large pharmaceutical companies. Science is global and should have no borders.

We need to retain professionals by offering conditions that are comparable to other regions in the world. This means decent salaries, job stability, and the recognition that their work deserves.

We also need to train our scientists to be entrepreneurs, so that they know how to transform a patent into a start-up that will attract international investment.

Access to funds is never easy and we must show the potential of our region for investment.

To be more attractive, it is important to work on certain levers such as tax incentives; this will help to attract talent and enable start-ups to set up business in the city. Likewise, given the relationship between innovation and risk, work must be done to provide a regulatory framework and a political environment that provides the necessary security and stability to commit significant investments to innovation.

The pharmaceutical industry should work together with all players and stakeholders to change the public's image of the sector. Although it is an industry whose products save lives and cure diseases, several barometers and opinion polls have shown that the public do not recognize its positive social impact.

Lastly, the size of companies matters.

Many of Barcelona's leading companies in the sector are family-run, which often limits their capacity (and willingness) to grow. It is therefore particularly important that Barcelona should become a center for strategic alliances (between companies, research centers, public administrations, etc.) in order to channel R&D investments and share the associated risks.

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