Written by: Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.
My PhD department was very international.
There were graduate students from around the world that came to study.
It is one of the amazing aspects of being a life science researcher.
International collaborations are the norm.
Funnily enough, no matter where they come from, PhDs from across the world share the same goals and the same fears.
We all love answering complex biological questions.
We love the challenge of our work.
We will spend days, weeks, months, and even years to complete a single experiment if we feel it will unlock important information.
At the same time, we worry about grants, publications, and what to do when our PhD is over.
Many of us thought about staying in America, but there were others that chose not to — either to return to their home country, or to explore something new.
But we could barely navigate the job market in our current city, let alone across the ocean.
Were there opportunities available outside of academia?
Did Europe put as much emphasis on R&D as America?
And if so, where?
It was frustrating to feel as though I was left in the dark.
Academic advisors were of no help — they barely mentored us through graduate school, let alone afterwards.
We were all left to search online on our own, checking job boards, and calling friends and family back home to ask their opinions.
When the topic of life science clusters came up at a local networking event, everyone knew about the ones in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, and San Diego.
But what about across the ocean?
Europe was teeming with life science clusters in the same way America was, we just didn’t know it.
Having your location in mind allows your job search to become more targeted and strategic.
It allows your networking with industry professionals to become more strategic too.
What PhDs Need To Know About The European Life Science Industry
PhDs looking to transition into industry should not discount the wealth of opportunities available beyond North America.
Over the span of five years, the number of active researchers directly employed in R&D activities across Europe rose from 1.8 million to 2.71 million.
Moreover, the European Union (EU) is dedicated to increasing its R&D strength.
The Europe 2020 strategy sets targets in relation to R&D expenditure and has called for at least 3% of the EU gross domestic product (GDP) to be spent in this direction.
To put that into perspective, GDP levels three years ago reached 2.03% or EUR 283.9 billion in the EU and 2.73% in the United States.
Simply put, Europe is one of the leading regions for life science industry in the world.
It has several well-reputed centers of education and research, which have served as sources of innovation required for development of the life science sector.
Several European countries have taken initiatives nationally to develop their biopharmaceutical and MedTech industry, as well.
This has resulted in the formation of life science specific clusters which serve as a hotbed of innovation, education, and entrepreneurial activities.
Historically, the countries dominating Europe’s life science sector are UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, Denmark, and Belgium, so it is not surprising that most of the major clusters are also located in these countries.
Top 6 Life Science Industry Clusters In Europe
Life science industry clusters are not unique to the United States.
They exist across the globe with Europe at the helm.
If you are seeking an industry transition within Europe, you should be looking to these life science clusters as sources of employment.
Europe also boasts many member-based networks that you can join and use to build relationships with other industry professionals.
The European Biotechnology network is a great place to start.
These clusters will allow you to strategically organize your job search by honing in on areas of interest.
Another piece of the transition puzzle.
Here are the top 6 life science industry clusters in Europe…
Outside of the two big regions in the USA of California and Boston, the European BioValley is considered the best cluster for biotechnology in the world.
It’s the first and the largest life science oriented cluster in Europe.
It was established in 1996 with the aim of replicating in European biotech what California’s Silicon Valley did for the IT sector.
“BioValley” is a combination of three clusters from three different countries; BioValley Basel of Switzerland, BioValley Baden-Wurttemberg of Germany, and France’s BioValley Alsace.
This cluster is home to a total of over 600 organizations, which consist of about 350 biopharmaceuticals and about 250 medical device/MedTech companies.
It also houses 14 technology parks such as Biopark Basel, BioTechPark Freiburg, and Technopole Mulhouse.
All organizations in BioValley collectively offer employment to over 500,000 professionals.
Besides providing employment, this cluster is also a major center for academic activities.
It has 10 academic research institutes and two European Reference Points for Medical Research (European Pharmacopoeia and European Science Foundation).
About 10,000 scientific researchers and 100,000 students are involved in education and innovation within this cluster.
Several major European and non-European life science companies have operations in BioValley.
Some global biopharma companies present here include, Johnson & Johnson, Alcon, Novartis, Pfizer, and Roche.
This cluster is also home to major medical device or MedTech organizations such as Stryker, Agilent Technologies, and GE Healthcare.
2. One Nucleus (Cambridge cluster).
The United Kingdom has one of the best biotech research infrastructures, so it is not surprising that one of the largest clusters in Europe is located here.
The One Nucleus cluster is based around Cambridge and the greater London Metropolitan area.
It was formed in 2010 through the merger of two previously existing life science networks: Eastern Region Biotechnology Initiative (ERBI) and London Biotechnology Network (LBN).
Cambridge benefits from being in one of the major centers of scientific research and innovation.
Several companies based in One Nucleus originated as spin-offs from Cambridge University.
Easy access for companies to researchers in academia, and physicians within the national health services, makes for an ideal environment for collaborations in this cluster.
R&D based biotechnology and pharmaceuticals together form 30-40% of One Nucleus’ companies, with Medical Technology companies and service providers making up the rest.
The cluster is home to over 500 life science companies that employ about 7,000 life science professionals.
Some of the major global biopharma organizations located in this region include, Amgen, Astrazeneca, Gilead Sciences, and Genzyme.
Besides the major global organizations, Cambridge is also home to some exciting university spin-offs such as Astex Pharmaceuticals, Chroma Therapeutics, and Funxional Therapeutics.
3. Munich Cluster (BioM cluster).
Germany has the highest number of life science clusters among European nations and the Munich cluster, also known as BioM cluster, is the most advanced one.
Proximity to numerous academic and research institutes is a major reason for growth of the life science industry around this region.
The Munich cluster contains three Max Planck Institutes, two university clinics, and about 60 hospitals.
It is also home to two highly reputed universities: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and Technische Universität München.
This cluster also has two incubators solely dedicated to the biotechnology sector.
The companies located here benefit from relationships with a range of venture capital firms and other private investors.
One of the major reasons for the excellent reputation of this cluster is its excellence in modern medical technologies and the latest innovations.
A major proportion of the companies and researchers in this cluster are involved in oncology and personalized medicine.
This cluster plans on investing about €100 million over five years for developing personalized medicine and targeted therapies as part of a special program known as the “m4 program”.
This cluster houses about 250 companies, out of which 118 are small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).
The excellence in infrastructure and scientific innovation of this cluster has attracted many major international companies such as BMS, GSK, Gilead, Roche Diagnostics, GE Healthcare, and Sandoz.
In the late 90s, France initiated the development of technology clusters and the Medicien Regions Paris is one of the results of that.
The most prominent “technology park” dedicated to life science located inside this Medicien Paris Region is GenoPole.
GenoPole, located about 30 miles south of Paris, was established in 1998. Originally, it was founded to concentrate mostly on genomics and genetics.
Genopole is fortunate to be in an ecosystem of innovation.
It is close to Paris Saclay, and universities in its proximity include Université d’Evry Val d’Essonne and the Hôpital sud-francilien (CHSF).
Synthetic biology, gene therapy, bioinformatics, plant biotechnology, and genomics are the major areas of focus for Genopole.
Its excellent infrastructure offers incubator services, good manufacturing practices (GMP) service centers, as well as 21 shared-access technology platforms.
Genopole also facilitates financial support to its resident companies, resulting in €403 million in equity funding.
Currently, Genopole has about 80 biotech companies, 20 academic research laboratories, and it employs over 2,200 professionals.
It also has a clinical and translational research facility located near the Center Hospitalier Sud-Lilien.
Some of the noteworthy companies present in this cluster include Genethon, LTKfarma, Vaxon Biotech, and InGen.
5. Medicon Valley.
This cluster spans two Scandinavian nations.
The Medicon Valley cluster is comprised of organizations in the greater Copenhagen region of Denmark and the Skane region of Southern Sweden, which are linked by the Øresund bridge.
This region boasts one of the best life science research ecosystems in Europe, as both nations have strong life science research bases.
This cluster has access to innovation from 15 universities and 28 research hospitals, which include University of Copenhagen, Lund University, and Malmo University.
The research infrastructure also offers a number of science parks and innovation incubators.
The Medicon Valley cluster has 40,000 skilled professionals dedicated to life science, 14,000 scientific researchers, and about 6,000 students involved in various scientific fields, which provide an excellent talent pool.
The Valley’s organizations focus heavily on innovation and key areas of interest are: oncology, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, neuroscience, and stem cell research.
Currently, it is believed that Medicon Valley has the most promising pipelines in development among biotech clusters in the world.
It is home to over 350 biotechnology and MedTech organizations, with Lundbeck and Novo Nordisk being the two most prominent local companies.
Multiple international biotechnology and pharma that have set up facilities in Medicon Valley include Astrazeneca, Genentech, Eli Lilly, Biogen, and Genzyme.
The FlandersBio cluster resulted from the Belgian government’s initiative to patent and commercialize innovations from their academic institutes.
It was started in 2004 through the collaborative efforts of three organizations: Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), FlandersBio, and Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT).
Located at a major economic center of the EU and having a multicultural community makes the Flanders region ideal for international business.
This hub also benefits from having one of the most pro-business environments, tax incentives, and supportive intellectual property laws in Europe.
The FlandersBio cluster has a strong focus in innovation and has one of the highest concentration of patents, with 33 of its biotechnology companies owning 941 patents.
This cluster is home to over 140 life science organizations. It also accommodates five universities, 14 incubators, and three research parks, which provide employment to 13,000 professionals.
FlandersBio’s strongest area is “Biobased economy”.
Research Institutes located here are internationally renowned for pioneering innovations in sustainable agriculture, biofuels, and GMO crops.
Medical Biotechnology is another major area of interest.
Some of the homegrown successful companies include Ablynx, Tigenix, and ThromboGenics.
Major foreign biotech organizations such as Amgen, Bayer, Genzyme, and Novartis also have substantial footprints inside this cluster.
With the continued success of these life science clusters and a growing interest in the biopharma industry, more European nations are striving to emulate them. Government initiatives across the continent are resulting in more hubs dedicated to life sciences. Besides the major clusters mentioned previously, other European regions with well-established life science industry are Amsterdam, Zurich, Lyon, Berlin, and Edinburgh. The bioscience sector in Europe looks promising and we can expect more growth and job opportunities in the future. If you are a PhD planning to work in industry, it would be worthwhile to identify and target these clusters, as they offer multiple opportunities in one location.
To learn more about the best job opportunities in Europe for Life Science PhDs, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.
Latest posts by Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D. (see all)
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