News blog

French biotech sector struggling

Posted on behalf of Barbara Casassus.

Fallout from the economic crisis continues to cast a pall over the French life-science sector. The number of new firms created in 2011 plunged 47%, from 46 in 2010 to 24 last year, and the number of closures soared by 400%, from 5 in 2008 to 25 in 2011.

And the funding picture is no brighter for the survivors, according to the 150-strong association France Biotech. Its 2011 Life Sciences Panorama showed that biotechnology and medical device firms raised only €277 million (US$348 million) from venture capitalists, new stock market listings and refinancings, down 40% from €460 million in 2010. The French are not alone: biotech financing across the European Union (EU) dropped by an average of 36% year-on-year, to the equivalent of €3,327 million, whereas it jumped by 44% to $31,559 million in the United States.

Despite all that, the Panorama, which was prepared by management consultants Ernst & Young from 190 responses, concludes that the sector remains dynamic in France. Quoting the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it says that France’s biotech sector ranked second worldwide last year, with 1,359 firms against 6,213 for the United States and 5, 398 for the whole of the EU.

“The sector has reached maturity in France in terms of products in phase 2 and 3,” says André Choulika, France Biotech president and co-founder, chairman and chief executive of genomic-engineering firm Cellectis. “The total number of these products is now equal to a top-ten pharmaceutical company.”

Choulika is counting on new president François Hollande’s government to improve tax breaks for the mostly tiny life-science firms. The Young Innovative Enterprise scheme, which supports start-ups, lasts only eight years, and most Research Tax Credits (CIR) go to big companies. “One of the largest beneficiaries (of the CIR) last year was one of the major French banks,” says Choulika.


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