Leading the way in the biotech revolution: the reasons why Lombardy is the ideal destination for the next EMA headquarter

With its history, its immense cultural heritage and its superb cuisine, Italy is commonly regarded as a land of tradition and not many people would tend to associate the country to groundbreaking innovation and cutting-edge research. This misconception has been fueled by the resilience of those sectors that constitute the backbone of the Italian economy and that have built their fortune on the country’s history and heritage.

Away from the spotlight, however, during the last decade a restricted circle of sectors underwent spectacular growth thanks to a constant focus on home-based innovation. Biotech represents the clearest example of this.

With 541 companies employing 9.742 people and generating a turnover of €10,5 billion, Italy constitutes an excellence in the global industry. As a matter of fact, the country ranks 10th worldwide in terms of R&D biotechnology expenditures: during the last 15 years the number of R&D has more than doubled, and their turnover accounts for more than 40% of the industry’s total.

The “Red Biotech” – namely medical and pharmaceutical biotechnologies – is the spearhead of the Italian bioeconomy: the firms of this subsector represent 54% of the total companies operating in the whole industry, absorb 89% of the total R&D investment and generate 74% of the Italian biotech turnover. The international relevance of the Italian Red Biotech is undisputed: the industry developed the 1st approved stem cell-based drug and the 1st approved gene therapy as a result of a PPP, and Italy is the 1st country in terms of number of Advanced Therapy Products authorized by the EU (3 out of 5). Most importantly, the only two Advanced Therapies based on genetically modified cells that have been filed for a marketing Authorization at the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are Italian. In particular, both of them are ‘Made in Lombardy’.

Similarly as in the case of many research-intensive industries, Lombardy is a forerunner in the biotech sector as well. And with 500 R&D centers, 10 science and technology clusters and 6 science and technology parks, it could not be otherwise. Lombardy hosts 155 biotech firms (29% of the total) generating half of the whole Italian turnover and attracting 51,2% of the R&D investments. The region is also home to 29% of the Italian Biotech startups, and to 18 Scientific Institutes for Research, Hospitalization and Healthcare. Lombardy is one of the most competitive European regions not only for the Biotech sector, but for the whole Life Sciences Industry: the value of production totals to €55,8 billion (28% of the national value), and the value added per employee in the healthcare services is the highest among the other most competitive European regions (i.e. Bayern, Baden-Württemberg, Cataluña and Rhône-Alpes). This is the result of the strong presence of a highly skilled human capital within the region, as proven by the fact that, among the previously mentioned regions, Lombardy has the 2nd highest score in the QS World University Ranking.

The €240 billion of R&D investments make the city of Milan the epicenter of the regional – and thus national – bioeconomy: a local ecosystem of 2.700 specialized workers (25% of which in R&D) working in 102 firms and generating a total turnover of €3,4 billion, nearly one third of the national total. This thriving ecosystem makes Milan the ideal choice for the next headquarter of the European medicines Agency (EMA), and the local governments are doing everything they can to make it happen. The vocation of Milan as the beating heart of the national industry is clear, and the local authorities are implementing a long-term strategy to further point out this aspect. Two key infrastructural projects are underway to build state-of-the-art facilities that will boost the industry’s potential for innovation to unparalleled heights:

  • The Human Technopole, a national cross-disciplinary research project that will host 7 research centres in 3 facilities over a 30.000sqm area in the former Expo 2015 site, for a total workforce of 1.500 specialized people, to enhance the national excellences and make Italy the global leader in the New Biotech Revolution;
  • The City of Health and Research, a groundbreaking hospital center within the greatest reconversion project in Europe. Located in the northern site of Milan, the infrastructure will bring together the two Italian excellences in the field of health and research: the Carlo Besta Neurological Institute and the Istituto Italiano dei Tumori (Italian Cancer Institute), as well as providing dedicated facilities for companies and startups in the life sciences and pharmaceutical sectors.

This critical mass surely makes Milan one of the most serious candidates to host the EMA headquarters, but it is just the most resounding feature of the Lombardy biotech sector. The optimal balance between private entrepreneurship, infrastructural interventions and long-term orientation has triggered a virtuous circle that will most definitely lead Lombardy to play a prominent role in the global biotech industry.



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