There is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity awaiting life science companies that expand to Catalonia. It’s a gateway to a $276bn Spanish-speaking health market and the benefits provided by the region’s thriving life sciences ecosystem is attracting a growing number of companies from the UK and beyond.
Catalonia, which is home to almost 50% of the entire Spanish pharmaceutical industry, has become a top destination for life science companies of all sizes – from scaleups to larger corporates.
Many have made the move to benefit from the region’s network of life science institutions, including universities and research groups, and its abundance of high-skilled talent.
Now, there is an opportunity for UK and Ireland pharma, biotech, medical devices and digital health companies to fast-track their move to the Barcelona-Catalonia BioRegion.
Catalonia Trade & Investment, an investment agency for the Government of Catalonia, is preparing an ambitious support programme for UK and Ireland life sciences companies that wish to expand to the region and make the most of its many advantages.
Successful candidates will receive special support on all aspects of an expansion to Barcelona-Catalonia. Winners will receive advice from a panel of experts formed of corporates operating in the region on areas such as venture capital, regulatory and market access, how to enter the market and how to navigate across the ecosystem.
They will also receive support on legal advice, tax, recruitment, location, incentives, visas and costs.
“Companies that establish a base in Catalonia obtain continuous and personalised support both from our UK office, as well as our headquarters in Catalonia,” says Oscar Martí, director of the London office at Catalonia Trade & Investment. “Our service covers key areas such as financing and incentives, business location, connections with suppliers, business partners and innovation ecosystem, international mobility for executives, aftercare support and media coverage.”
Life science companies benefit from Catalonia
One company that has benefited from a Catalonia expansion is Dutch biotechnology group Qiagen. It set up a division in Catalonia through its acquisition of Barcelona-based diagnostics developer STAT-Dx in February 2018.
“Catalonia is a perfect ecosystem with many professionals in the health sector,” says Dr Dietrich Lueerssen, senior director, global development lead at Qiagen. “It is very easy to establish collaborations to face the challenges in the early stage, clinical development and the launch of commercial products to the market.”
Following the success of the move, which saw STAT-Dx develop a Covid-19 test that’s now on sale around the world, Qiagen has doubled the size of its facilities at Barcelona Science Park.
“Due to the open-mind culture in Catalonia the process was very smooth and it took less than a year to accomplish the integration process,” Lueerssen adds.
While Lueerssen says Qiagen’s acquisition made it “quick and easy” to integrate staff and infrastructure into the wider group, acquiring a company isn’t the only route to Catalonia.
Earlier this year Lightpoint Medical, a London, UK-headquartered medical device company, established a Southern European headquarters in Vilanova i la Geltrú, Barcelona.
It set up a legal entity in the region and was assisted in the process by Catalonia Trade & Investment. It has since gone from strength to strength.
“We have been able to strengthen our network of clinical and commercial partners in the region,” says Claire Woodthorpe, chief operating officer at Lightpoint Medical. “We’ve also been able to find great warehousing facilities and have already located our global distribution facilities in Barcelona.”
The company intends to deepen its Barcelona-Catalonia expansion by increasing its manufacturing and assembly capabilities within the region.
“We have received first-class support from Catalonia Trade & Investment to set up the legal entity in Catalonia, which has enabled a smooth transition,” explains Woodthorpe. “They have also been invaluable – and continue to be very helpful – in helping to troubleshoot any issues that arise and help to connect us to opportunities in the region.”
Abundant life science talent for growing companies
Both Lightpoint Medical and Qiagen have benefited from an abundance of high-skilled life science talent available in Catalonia, where labour costs for laboratory and other specialist staff are highly competitive internationally.
According to data compiled by market research firm TalentUp, the ratio of life science candidates to job openings is 2.12.
This demonstrates how there’s more than enough high-skilled talent in Catalonia to meet the demands of companies as they grow.
Moreover, the diversity of talent in Catalonia is providing additional culture and operational benefits, as discovered by Qiagen.
“The integration of STAT-Dx into Qaigen has provided access to alternative ways of working,” says Lueerssen. “Highly skilled colleagues from Catalonia are contributing globally, and Catalonia has also attracted Qiagen colleagues from other international sites for visits and for permanent relocation.”
Lueerssen adds that Catalonia has proven to be an “excellent opportunity” to attract employees from its global offices for valuable face-to-face meetings and have “memorable” out of work experiences.
Aside from talent, Catalonia has first-rate life science infrastructure – from hospitals to state-of-the-art laboratories. Fast and safe clinical trials help make it a top destination for pharma multinationals.
These benefits are available at a more competitive cost than elsewhere. In fact, Barcelona’s operating costs are almost 30% lower than in other top European life sciences clusters, according to data from fDi markets, a Financial Times investment database.
It’s not surprising that more than 1,200 life science companies have set up headquarters in the region.
A fast-track route to Barcelona-Catalonia
With Catalonia Trade & Investment’s support programme, there’s now the chance for UK and Ireland life science companies to join them.
In addition to valuable knowledge shared on the Latin American health market, there will be an opportunity for UK and Ireland life science businesses to receive introductions to some of the key players in the region.
That includes meetings with executives from life science heavyweights AMGEN, Grifols, Biocat and Asabys.
The fast-track programme, which is now open for applications, is looking for UK and Ireland life science companies with solid growth plans and are poised to take advantage of the life science ecosystem in Catalonia.
The competition will be open for companies to apply until mid-December. Expert panel sessions will be held in January 2022, with a market access session held in February.