The situation of the Biotech industry in Italy
18 May 2020 | Written by La redazione
The new Assobiotec-ENEA report "Biotechnology companies in Italy" shows a growing sector both in investments and in turnover
The biotechnology industry has countless applications and is a great opportunity for innovation for our country and for the entire industrial sector. The new report on “Biotechnology companies in Italy”, produced by ENEA in collaboration with Assobiotec, reveals an area in constant growth, with 696 companies operating in this field and in excellent health.
Biotech in Italy. At the end of 2019, total biotech turnover exceeds 12 billion euros with an average annual increase between 2014 and 2018 of approximately 5%. Two-thirds of biotech turnover is generated by foreign capital companies, which represent just 11% of those surveyed, and are mainly active in the area of human health. There are over 13 thousand biotech workers in Italy, of which 34% are employed in R&D activities.
The total investments in R&D of the companies surveyed amount to € 2.3 billion while investments in biotech R&D exceed € 760 million. The latter recorded growth of over 7% compared to 2016 and 25% compared to 2014.
80% of the biotechnology industry in Italy is made up of small and micro-sized companies, which have played a driving role in the growth dynamics of the entire sector. Between 2017 and 2019, over 50 new innovative start-ups active in biotechnology were registered.
Where biotech is used. 49% of biotech companies have the health sector as their application sector. 39% develop products and services both of an industrial nature or aimed at the prevention and mitigation of the environmental impact (30%), and for agricultural and zootechnical applications (9%), representing one of the main innovative levers for the bioeconomy sectors. The area of applications in Genomics, Proteomics and Enabling Technologies – GPTA is present in 12% of the surveyed realities.
Biotechnological activities are confirmed as highly concentrated in Lombardy, the first region in Italy by a number of companies (195 equal to 28% of the total), investments in internal R&D (30% of the total), and biotech turnover (45% of the total). However, there has been a progressive development of the North-East regions and a growing diffusion of new initiatives in the Central (with Lazio in the lead) and South regions. The growth of the share of the South has been particularly significant, even if only in terms of the number of companies: the share of biotech companies based in the South increased from 14.4% in 2008 to 19.4% in 2019. Campania is driving this development.
Biotech and Covid-19. During the ongoing health emergency, the biotech sector had the opportunity to show its potential, providing more and more ideas and technologies for a “sustainable” restart of the country: biotechnologies applied to agriculture offer a concrete response to manage the reduced availability of soil, water, to preserve biodiversity, to make production resistant to climate change.
In April Assobiotec carried out a survey to find out the role that biotech is playing in the battle against the pandemic. The results show an important involvement of the companies present in our territory in the research and production of solutions against the virus (57% of the sample) with particular reference to the area of diagnostics (44%) and the search for therapeutics (34%).
The effect that the pandemic and the lockdown are having on the sector is significant: although 60% of the sample indicates that they continue to carry on with their business, even if in a different way, 40% were forced to downsize (29% ) or block (11%) your business. There are many and different operational difficulties encountered between a lack of customers (32%), logistics (29%) and a liquidity crisis (25%). Budget shortages (36%), inaccessibility of laboratories and suspension of patient enrollment activities in clinical trials (21%), lack of materials (19%) are the main factors behind a general slowdown in R&D activities.
The companies were also asked what the priorities should be for the institutions in order to allow those who work in this sector more development opportunities. Almost half of the Italian companies replied that there is an urgent need to identify a long-term plan for Research and Innovation (42%) as well as allocate more R&D investments (41%), while foreign capital firms ask for less bureaucracy ( 28%) and the identification of a package of tax relief (14%).
The comment of the ENEA president. “From the Biotechnology Report, it emerges strongly how research and innovation can make a significant contribution to the development of strategic sectors – commented the president of ENEA Enrico Testa -, in a perspective of economic and environmental sustainability and public collaboration- private. To make the most of the potential of our innovative system, in fact, it is necessary to develop new ways of collaborating between public research, companies, and financiers, first of all, venture capital funds, in order to maximize the opportunities for technological exchange in an approach of open innovation, to enhance the system action between the various actors involved. ENEA has been positioning itself on this trajectory for some years now with ad hoc tools to strengthen collaboration with businesses, through programs such as the Knowledge Exchange to support the industrial system, the internal fund of 2.5 million euros for the proof of concept, training of experts in technology transfer, just to give some examples. And on this, we intend to continue, expanding the services and tools available, also with a view to contributing to the post-emergency restart of Covid-19 “.