BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Despite the concerns about biotechnology in Europe, the sector is continuing to grow in Belgium, according to the Belgian Bioindustries Association (BBA). Last year's revenues reached BFr58.6 billion (US$1.65 billion), up by 24 percent over 1996, and research and development spending rose 42 percent, to BFr8.6 billion. The number of companies operational rose from 42 to 53, and the number of employees jumped from 3,300 to nearly 4,500.

Most biotechnology companies in Belgium are active in health care, said BBA, estimating that 75 percent of biotechnology revenues and 75 percent of employment comes from that sector. As the larger biopharmaceutical companies established there continue to outsource parts of their research or production, opportunities are created for start-up entrepreneurial companies. Smaller firms represent three-fourths of the total Belgian biotechnology sector, but only one-fourth of total employees, and less than one-tenth of total revenues. However, BBA said Belgium hosts more than 4 percent of all entrepreneurial European biotechnology companies, although the country has less than 3 percent of Europe's population.

Innogenetics, one of Belgium's principal biotechnology success stories, with a range of diagnostics and burn treatments already on the market, boosted 1997 revenues by 50 percent over 1996, to just under BFr1 billion. It was the first bioscience company to seek public financing on the new Easdaq stock market in Europe (a market modeled on Nasdaq and aimed at providing capital for small fast-growth companies), and now claims to be Europe's largest biotechnology company in terms of market capitalization, at US$1.5 billion. The company has filed 18 new patent applications in 1998, including for tuberculosis, hepatitis, growth factors and neurodegeneration markers.

Almost BFr4 billion has been generated from Belgian sources in just a half-dozen placements and public offers for biotechnology firms during the past ten years. Three of the major Belgian banks have specific biotechnology funds. Private venture capital firms and regional development authorities have made significant investments in the sector, too. The Flanders investment company GIMV has invested BFr2.5 billion in life sciences, with BFr700 million invested last year. "Biotechnology is the priority investment area for GIMV, said Patrick Van Beneden, senior investment manager for GIMV Venture Capital. *

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