Dutch biotech sector feel benefits of EMA move, says industry leader

The Netherlands’ biotech sector has already seen an upswing following the relocation of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to Amsterdam following Brexit, according to an influential figure in the sector.

Annemiek Verkamman, managing director of the country’s biotech hub, HollandBIO, said the relocation had already helped to draw attention to the country’s burgeoning biotech sector.

The EMA’s original location in London has been seen as a driver behind the growth of the sector in the UK, with many pharma and biotech companies opting to open offices there to gain access to the regulator following its setup in 1995.

In an interview with pharmaphorum on the sidelines of the LSX World Congress in London, Verkamman pointed out that the Netherlands already has two of the largest and most influential biotechs – Galapagos and UniQure.

She told pharmaphorum: “When the decision was taken about the EMA I was really excited about it, and I still am. It is not a ‘magic bullet’ that will change everything but it will certainly put us in the spotlight.”

Verkamman said there had been “activity” in the country’s biotech sector since the relocation of the EMA, although she stressed the importance of keeping existing life science research partnerships going between projects in UK and Europe.

This emerged as a major concern in the weeks following Brexit, and maintaining these collaborations, which have often taken years to build is important for the continuity of research, said Verkamman.

“Many of the projects that have been funded have partners in the UK and many of them have been going on for many years.”

However Verkamman added that the investment from big pharma may not be as affected as some feared – in her view the money will follow the science.

“The capital will always flow as it is a global market,” she said.

Her comments followed a panel debate where the ongoing issue of undervalued European biotechs was a major talking point.

The consensus of opinion was that in many cases investors in European biotech don’t have the confidence in management teams to allow them to sell their companies to big pharma when they are fully mature.

Michael Altorfer, CEO of the Swiss Biotech Association (SBA) cited the case of Actelion as a rare example of a European biotech that maximised its potential as an investment.

He noted that some shareholders had been pushing for a sale several years ago at a value of a few billion dollars, while in the end management held out before selling the business to J&J for $30 billion in 2017.

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