'Growth’ in the midst of crisis
Milan – Everyone agrees that Italy is not Greece, but it is common wisdom that the country could also be doing better. Considering the meagre growth of the Italian economy in the last decade however, data fom the 2011 survey of the country’s biotech industry should be viewed in a positive light. To start with – there are more and more firms. 221 biotech companies were counted in 2010 (2009: 215), while 2,250 staff work in mostly tiny firms. Revenues are not negligible. Italy generated EUR1.2bn in biotech turnover last year, of which 45% was ploughed back into research. “Biotechnology has become a solid industrial reality in all application areas,” said Alessandro Sidoli, President of Assobiotec. The industry outfit commissions the country’s yearly report together with Ernst & Young. This year, Sidoli’s association is celebrating its 25th birthday, and is especially eager to show that biotech is one of the all-too-few economic success stories in Italy. Even assuming absolute numbers are deceptive – nearly every country counts companies, revenues and other key indicators in different ways – it is clear that in Italy, the sector is growing and providing high-level jobs. A parallel to other countries is the prevalence of red biotech. 185 dedicated companies are operating in the field. And although an Italian biopharmaceutical has yet to reach market, there is a notable pipeline: 64 products are in pre-clinical testing there, with 21 in Phase I, 26 in Phase II and 13 in Phase III. Rare diseases are a speciality. Last year saw a 10% increase in the number of Italian Orphan Drug Designations obtained by European and US regulatory authorities, even though just 1.2% of Italy’s GDP was invested in research in 2010 and the percentage of government researchers dropped from 19.9% in 2003 to 16.9%, according to OECD figures. Italian researchers are holding out, and in areas like cancer or neurodegenerative diseases they still are globally competitive. The elephant in the room in Italian biotechnology remains the absence of capital. Ernst & Young cites investments of just a72m in 2010 – with VC, private equity and IPOs counted together. That’s an increase of 27% compared to 2009, but still embarrassingly small for a large economy. And the tide doesn’t seem to be turning in 2011. With the postponed IPO of cancer specialist Philogen in February, Italy’s red biotech scene has to produce a major news announcement this year.