While Belgium has long been famous for its chocolate and beer, its flourishing biotechnology and health-care industry has managed to remain a well-kept secret. With one of the highest numbers of graduates in science and engineering on a per-capita basis and some very supportive public policies, such as tax incentives on research and development, the country has developed a reputation for providing scientific research of some of the highest quality.
As a result, despite the fact that Belgium accounts for only 3% of the EU’s GDP, it represents 17% of EU exports of biopharmaceuticals, punching well above its weight in one of the most exciting areas of health care globally. For this reason, I decided to spend a few days in and around Brussels getting to know more about the leaders in this field.
From meeting one company hoping to become the Apple of the diagnostics industry, to another trying to use stem cells to treat various crippling bone diseases, and a third using camels as cell donors, owing to the unique characteristics of their immune systems, the trip did not disappoint.
The challenge for the investor is that, while these companies are working on ground-breaking new therapies and technologies which have huge potential to change lives, the reality is that few will ever make it to the big stage. The good news is that many of the companies in this area whose stocks are held in our portfolios are looking at these innovative areas too, so it is important for us to have an understanding of some of the major early-stage developments which could one day compete with, or even be acquired by, the companies that our strategies currently own.