France’s biotech ecosystem is primed for growth – it’s time to feed it

After some years of stagnant funding and growth France is now at an inflection point for health care innovation, says Jeito Capital’s Dr Rafaèle Tordjman.

Prior to the pandemic, our homegrown entrepreneurs felt too often they had to go abroad to the United States to get the funding they needed, government support for clinical trials and an ecosystem of fellow entrepreneurs to innovate with.

Our response to COVID-19 has shown we can break down barriers to rapidly get medicines to people and has emphasised the urgent need to finance and support biotech and biopharma companies.

To sustain that momentum, France has doubled down on its commitment to fostering innovation here, with the ambition of becoming a leader in Europe by 2030. It has committed billions of euros in medical infrastructure, tax credits and financial support to digitise production and attract manufacturing from abroad.

“I’m thrilled to have been entrusted by the French government a mission to attract talented biotech entrepreneurs and professionals to the country”

France is making bold changes to simplify and accelerate its market access system and increase the number of clinical trials to make sure as many patients get access to cutting-edge treatments as possible and that innovators are rewarded. This should be very attractive in drawing to entrepreneurs to develop their therapies in France. The country is also creating an agency for healthcare innovation that will coordinate healthcare innovation in France, bringing together researchers, physicians, industry, and patient associations. This agency is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2022 and will help identify the best and brightest innovations and quickly incorporate them into the ecosystem.

This is one of the many reasons I’m thrilled to have been entrusted by the French government a mission to attract talented biotech entrepreneurs and professionals to the country. I am particularly positive about the outlook for healthcare innovation in France with the government’s support fully behind our sector, and I will seek to put it on the strategic map alongside Oxford, Boston and San Francisco.

According to a report by McKinsey & Co. published in June, early-stage funding for European biotech has grown by 13% CAGR over the past six years, but is still well below the United States, at 17%, and China, at 18%. This is where we’re looking to narrow the gap.

There are many more innovations to be discovered here in Europe. McKinsey names France, Germany and the United Kingdom as the top three biotech centres in Europe, accounting for half of all European biotech companies. France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have seen the fastest growth, accounting for 63% of the biotech companies founded between 2018 and 2020. We also have the talent here. Europe is home to 43 of the global top 100 life-science universities, while the United States has 34, according to that report, which means we are cultivating our future entrepreneurs and innovations here, and we must give them a reason to stay here.

It is crucial that our ecosystem streamlines the process of turning this research into companies and supports them with expertise and funding for clinical trials so that they can get these innovations into patients.

“There are many more innovations to be discovered here in Europe”

My firm Jeito Capital identifies transformative research across all therapeutic areas and continuously supports its innovative portfolio companies from discovery to market approval to accelerate access for patients. This continuum of support is incredibly important for emerging companies. Biotech companies are capital intensive, burning through cash for several years until their treatments are proven in clinical trials. It’s crucial that these companies have the financial support needed to see their discoveries through that uncertain period. Without it, life-changing medicines may never leave the lab.

In just over a year since Jeito was launched, we have made five investments in some of the best and highest-quality start-ups that Europe’s biotech ecosystem has to offer: France-based SparingVision and InnoSkel, in the fields of ophthalmology and rare skeletal disorders, respectively, Dutch-based biotech Neogene Therapeutics in solid tumours, UK-based Pulmocide in severe respiratory diseases, and, most recently, French-Swiss biotech company Alentis Therapeutics, a spin-off of France’s Inserm developing treatments for fibrotic diseases and associated cancers. And this is just the beginning as we expect to make more investments in the coming months.

Sanofi invested €50 million in Jeito, its first ever investment in a European private fund. It validates that the innovations are here, and with our support these entrepreneurs do not have to go to the United States or Asia to realise their potential. At the same time, as we believe healthcare challenges are global, we are an international fund with a global view and our companies have reach beyond Europe.

We are building a bridge from France and Europe to the rest of the world with our core mission: to develop life-changing medicines for the patients who need them as quickly as possible.

About the author

Jeito Capital Rafaele TordjmanRafaèle Tordjman, MD, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Jeito Capital, an independent investment firm dedicated to biotech and biopharma. An experienced investor in life sciences for almost 20 years, Rafaèle launched Jeito Capital in 2018 and prior to that worked at the Paris-based venture capital firm Sofinnova Partners. She was recently appointed by the French government to promote the country’s biotech ecosystem internationally.