Since its birthday back in 1776, America has seen itself as the land of the new–and Europe as a landmass caught in the past. Nowhere is that truer than in the tech industry, writes The Economist. America is home to 15 of the world’s 20 most valuable tech firms; Europe has one.
Silicon Valley is where the cleverest ideas meet the shrewdest money. America is also where the debate rages loudly over how to tame the tech giants, so that they act in the public interest. Tech magnates face lambasting by Congress for their firms’ privacy lapses. Elizabeth Warren, a senator who is running for president in 2020, wants Facebook to be sliced up.
The London-based newspaper goes on to say, “Yet if you want to understand where the world’s most powerful industry is heading, look not to Washington and California, but to Brussels and Berlin.”
Google recently was fined $1.7B for smothering competition in the advertising market. Europe could soon pass new digital copyright laws. Spotify has complained to the EU about Apple’s alleged antitrust abuses.
And then there’s the biotech sector, where Europe is home to four of the 10 best and largest biotech companies in the world. The US has the other six. Ironically, tiny Switzerland can boast two of the top three.
Although the initial stages of the biotech industry are commonly traced back to the US, Europe has stepped up as a major contender and ally in the biotechnology field, says Labiotech.eu. Though the names and achievements made by Europe’s biotech companies are many, the Berlin-based newspaper decided to narrow it down to eight key companies that it believes deserve to be in the spotlight as some of the best biotech companies in the continent, both by their significant contribution to technological development and their financial success.
1) Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT), co-founded in 1989 by Sir Greg Winter and David Chiswell, is known for having changed how antibodies are made today.
“There wasn’t much interest in antibodies in the early 90s,” Winter said, “But we had the idea of developing some completely novel technology where we could make billions of antibodies and fish out the ones we wanted.”
After selling and licensing several human antibodies to big pharma, UK-based CAT was acquired in 2006 by AstraZeneca for £702M (around €1B back then) and merged with MedImmune to create AstraZeneca’s current R&D arm.
2) Micromet was created in 1993 as a spin-off of the University of Munich’s Institute of Immunology. The company started focusing on cancer diagnostics to detect micrometastases, but with the help of biotech veteran Patrick Baeuerle as CSO, the company took a turn that was key to its success.
“One of my missions as CSO was to transform Micromet from a cancer diagnostic into a therapeutics company,” Bauerle said.
Eventually, Micromet developed a bispecific T cell-engaging antibody that was in-licensed from inventors at Munich’s LMU. This drug eventually became the blockbuster Blincyto (blinatumomab), the first bispecific antibody to ever be approved by the FDA. The technology used to create Blincyto attracted a $1.2B (€930M back then) acquisition by Amgen back in 2012.
3) Founded in 1997, Actelion is one recent big success story in Europe. In 2017, the company was acquired by Johnson & Johnson for a massive $30B (€28B). The possibility of an acquisition deal had been discussed for the previous months, with Sanofi and J&J making increasing bids until Sanofi fell through.
Before the acquisition, Actelion was Europe’s largest and most valuable biotech. After the deal, the company did not fully renounce the spirit of independence that it had shown over the years. Actelion’s early-stage R&D and €930M funding were spun-out into a new company, Idorsia.
4) Solexa, founded in 1998, is the company responsible for the development of next-generation sequencing technologies used routinely today in genomics research. The technology, which dramatically reduced the time and money necessary to sequence DNA, was invented by researchers at Cambridge University and turned into reality by CEO Nick McCooke.
A few months after its IPO on the Nasdaq, Solexa was acquired by Illumina in 2006 for $600M (around €485M then). Nowadays, Illumina still uses the technology developed at Solexa and controls most of the global next-generation sequencing market.
5) Abcam was founded in 1998 by Jonathan Milner. He was frustrated by how difficult it could sometimes be to find good quality antibodies and decided to make ordering antibodies for research easier than ever.
“I was amazed by how you could order books on Amazon back in 1998, I thought this could be applied to research antibodies as well,” he said according to Labiotech.
Abcam started off as a search engine that gathered antibodies from over 500 companies. Soon it started to grow, entering the London Stock Exchange in 2005, where it’s valued at over €2Bn today.
6) After the acquisition of Actelion, Genmab, founded in 1999, is now Europe’s most valuable independent biotech, with a market cap of over €9B on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange. Co-founded by Jan van der Winkel, now CEO, the company focuses on making new therapies for cancer. Its technology consists of two next-generation antibody platforms, one for bispecific antibodies and another for antibodies targeting immune effector cells.
Two of Genmab’s antibodies are already in the market, Darzalex (daratumumab) and Arzerra (ofatumumab). The former is licensed to Johnson & Johnson and the latter to GSK. The company is also developing antibody-drug conjugates that deliver toxins to tumoral cells.
7) Founded in 1999 and based in Belgium, Galapagos started as a service company that produced adenoviruses to serve as DNA shuttles for gene therapy. After a partnership with AbbVie fell through, Galapagos teamed up with Gilead to develop filgotinib. They recently released positive Phase 3 data that will support its marketing approval as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The drug is being tested as a treatment for multiple other inflammatory conditions.
With over 700 employees and valued at over €5B, Galapagos has become one of Europe’s most valuable companies.
“I’ve never had the urge to move away from Galapagos,” Onno van de Stolpe said. “We’ve evolved so much over time from a biology to chemistry outfit that it has remained very interesting to run.”
8) Ablynx was founded in 2002 following the discovery that camelid animals–camels, llamas, alpacas and the like–produce an unusual form of antibodies. Their antibodies are very small compared to human ones, making it easier to penetrate the target tissue. They can also be produced cheaply in bacteria, whereas human antibodies require expensive manufacturing in mammalian cells.
“In 2006 we had lots of bright ideas, but we hadn’t proven the technology could really work,” CEO Edwin Moses said.
Everything changed when Ablynx’s lead drug candidate scored a Phase 3 success. Just a few months after a successful Nasdaq IPO, Ablynx was acquired in early 2018 by Sanofi for €3.9B. Soon after, Ablynx’s lead antibody got EMA approval to treat a rare blood disorder.
Like the global tech industry, the biotech sector is rapidly changing through ongoing mergers and acquisitions, and the following multinational corporations (ranked by market value) are positioning themselves to capitalize on the growing healthcare needs of the world.
But don’t overlook Europe. Remember that Switzerland is home to numbers 2 and 3, and Denmark and France round out the top 10. Who among the European contenders above might replace the Americans on this list?
1) Johnson & Johnson. Founded in 1886 and headquartered in New Brunswick, NJ, J&J is a multinational pharmaceutical, medical devices and consumer packaged goods manufacturer.
2) Roche Holding AG. Founded in Switzerland in 1896, Roche calls itself the largest biotech company in the world, with 17 biopharmaceuticals on the market.
3) Novartis AG. Switzerland-based Novartis was founded in 1996 through a merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz. Novartis focuses its business on pharmaceuticals, eye care and generics.
4) Pfizer Inc. Pfizer is a research-based global biopharmaceutical company founded in 1849 and headquartered in New York City. In 2015, the company agreed to acquire Botox maker Allergan for $160 billion in the largest inversion deal in history and the largest-ever acquisition in the healthcare sector.
5) Merck & Co. Founded in 1891 and headquartered in Kenilworth, NJ, Merck is a global company that produces prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and consumer and animal health products. Its core product categories include diabetes, cancer, vaccines and hospital acute care.
6) Gilead Sciences Inc. is headquartered in Foster City, CA. Its primary areas of focus include HIV/AIDS, liver diseases such as hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus, and serious cardiovascular/metabolic and respiratory conditions.
7) Novo Nordisk A/S is a multinational biotech company headquartered in Bagsvaerd, Denmark with production facilities in seven countries and affiliates or offices in 75 countries. The company’s primary focus is diabetes care, hemophilia care, growth hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy.
8) Amgen Inc. Headquartered in Thousand Oaks, CA, Amgen focuses on human therapeutics and concentrates on new medicines based on advances in cellular and molecular biology. It markets recombinant protein therapeutics in supportive cancer care, nephrology and inflammation.
9) Bristol Myers Squibb Co. Based in New York City, Bristol-Myers manufactures prescription pharmaceuticals for treating cancer, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis and psychiatric disorders. Some of its marketed medicines include Plavix, Abilify and Opdivo, which treats advanced-stage cancer that has grown or spread.
10) Sanofi SA is a Paris-based multinational pharmaceutical company. The company specializes in diabetes solutions, human vaccines, innovative drugs, consumer health care, emerging markets, animal health and Genzyme.