A rundown of five things to know about the healthcare and life sciences industry in Catalonia. Nestled in Northeastern Spain and bordering France, Catalonia’s capital and largest city is Barcelona. The region boasts a strong scientific output by European standards, is the birthplace of many of Spain’s pharma success stories, and punches well above its size in terms of number of active clinical trials.


Catalonia is the main driver of health innovation and exports in Spain

Catalonia represents more than 40 percent of the Spanish innovation capacity in life sciences, according to public-private foundation Biocat. The region’s healthcare and life sciences ecosystem is made up of over 1,200 companies and 89 research entities, generates EUR 34.2 billion each year and accounts for 7.3 percent of the regional GDP, and employs more than 230,000 workers.

The region is the second largest pharma market within Spain, behind Andalusia, and accounts for 15 percent of the total Spanish market by revenue, according to IQVIA.

Per 2020 data, Catalonia’s biotech and pharma pipeline is made up of 41 drugs and therapies in clinical development, seven of which are in phase III (Grifols, Almirall, and Salvat have two assets each, and Reig Jofre one). In addition, the autonomous community remains the main exporting region of life sciences products in Spain, accounting for over half of the country’s total exports in 2019.


One of the leading research hubs in Europe

Catalonia can lay claim to being a European research powerhouse. Scientific production has almost quadrupled in the last twenty years and one in six (16.5 percent) of biomedical articles authored by researchers in the region are among the most cited documents in the world.

The scientific output from Catalonia has outperformed that of Finland, Ireland, and Austria in recent years, which perhaps explains why it is the fourth European region in number of qualified workers in scientific and technologic sectors, according to Eurostat.

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Another trend pointing in the same direction are the EU funds being that the region’s researchers and organizations are attracting. From 2014-2019, life sciences researchers in Catalonia were awarded over 100 European Research Council (ERC) grants, more than almost any country in Europe, including Belgium and Denmark, and on par with Austria.

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Birthplace of Spanish success stories

Besides being the birthplace of architect Antoni Gaudí and artist Salvador Dalí, Catalonia is called home by some of the largest Spanish pharmaceutical companies: Grifols, Esteve, Almirall, and Ferrer.

Coincidence or not, it could explain why the autonomous region has been recognized by the Financial Times as the best region to invest in southern Europe for three consecutive years. Investors and entrepreneurs have taken notice; on average, one new life sciences company has been created in Catalonia every week since 2010.

This momentum appears set to continue if venture capital investment in healthcare start-ups is considered a sign; venture capital investment in start-ups doubled between 2018-2020, from EUR 112 million to 226 million.

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A Prime Destination for Clinical Trials

If considered a country, Catalonia would have ranked number 13th in the world in number of active clinical trials in 2019, above Switzerland and Denmark. The region accounts for 45 percent of the total clinical trials being conducted in Spain.

Some Big Pharma companies with an active clinical development footprint in Catalonia include Novartis, Roche, MSD, AstraZeneca, Janssen, GSK, Bayer, Pfizer, Amgen, Sanofi, AbbVie and Boehringer Ingelheim.

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Digital health has been the fastest growing subsector since 2010

Reflecting global industry trends, digital health has experienced rapid growth in Catalonia. The number of health-tech companies doubled from 2014-2019, from 22 in 89 to 180, according to Biocat. The sector totaled EUR 119 million in revenue

Digital health refers to tools and services using information and communication technologies that can improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management. It includes information and data sharing between patients and health service providers, hospitals, health professionals and health information networks.