This year’s “BioForum 2011” conference in Lodz, Poland, exposed the good and the bad about Central Eastern Europe’s (CEE) biotech industry. The good news is that CEE is beginning to establish a biotech presence: there are over 200 companies (many of which are small start-ups) in the 10 countries that make up this region. The main players include Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
The member countries are also becoming aware that to become a force in the field, they need to present a united front. Thus, the big news at the conference was the announcement of the formation of a new CEE biotech association.
“The new association will be run by the heads of the biotech associations of each of our 10 member countries. We will have one common website where people can go for information,” Erno Duda, president of the Hungarian Biotechnology Association, stated.
Hungary is heading the biotech revolution in this region with over 100 biotech firms. It is also home to long-established pharma companies such as Gedeon Richter headquartered in Budapest, which is developing biological-based drugs.
Gedeon Richter’s 2010 sales were approximately €1 billion ($1.3 billion), while its market capitalization was €3 billion ($4 billion).
The company has also been in the vanguard of CEE biotech. In 2007, the firm established biotech R&D and manufacturing facilities, unique in Hungary at the time, for the large-scale fermentation of recombinant proteins.
Other notable Hungarian biotech successes are Solvo Biotechnology, which has operated for over 10 years, offering a range of drug-transporter assays on a contract research basis.
“From a standing start we now have 450 customers in 35 countries including all major pharma and biotech companies,” comments Duda, who is also founder, president, and CEO of Solvo. “I think this is because we have been global in our outlook and are one of only three CROs in the world that can offer all the ADME/Tox transporter tests the FDA requires and the only company that can do all that the EMEA requires in one location.
“Companies also come to us because our science is solid; there are some assays that only we can do really well. We offer cost-effective services, and companies know that their IP is protected because Hungary has to comply with EU IP regulations, and this offers a good level of protection for their science.”
Why is Hungary ahead of the game in CEE despite having a quarter of the population of Poland and the same population size as the Czech Republic? Many at “BioForum” believe the Polish and Czech biotech markets are underdeveloped for a number of reasons.
“Hungary has good links with Austria because of its historical Austro-Hungarian empire days,” says Pawel Przewiezlikowski, CEO of Selvita, Poland’s largest drug discovery company. “So until very recently it was seen as a slightly safer passage into Eastern Europe than placing a company in Poland or the Czech Republic.”