Thanks to what AstraZeneca country president Rick Suarez called a “thriving life-science eco-system and highly-skilled talent pool,” along with Spain’s leading position in clinical trials, the British Big Pharma is intensifying its commitment to the country with a total investment of EUR 1.3 billion its new global R&D hub in Barcelona.


Spain is a strategic country for research worldwide, and for AstraZeneca

Rick Suarez, County President, Spain


A “First Class” R&D Ecosystem

When AstraZeneca announced the creation of 1,000 jobs and an investment of EUR 800 million for its new R&D hub in Barcelona, Spain last year, the drug maker dubbed the facility as a reference centre for clinical innovation in Europe. With 500 employees already onboard, the hub, which coordinates projects across oncology, cardiovascular, renal, metabolic diseases, respiratory diseases, vaccines and immunotherapies, and rare diseases, is already involved in 244 global research projects and 154 clinical studies,

AstraZeneca has now made an additional commitment to ramp up the facility’s activities, doubling the number of jobs it expects to create by 2025 and adding an additional EUR 500 million to its initial investment pledge of EUR 800 million, bringing its total investment in the project to EUR 1.3 billion.

“The Spanish R&D ecosystem is first class,” global CEO Pascal Soriot asserted when the plan for the Barcelona hub was first announced and country president Rick Suarez’s claim that the decision to further expand the Barcelona centre was based on the country and the city’s “thriving life-science eco-system and highly-skilled talent pool” affirms this.


Clinical Trials Powerhouse

Spain has become an increasingly important focal point for clinical research as well as a central piece in the pharma giant’s research efforts. “Spain is a strategic country for research worldwide, and for AstraZeneca,” said Suarez.

“Spain plays a priority role in AstraZeneca’s global growth strategy,” Rudd Dobber, executive VP and president of the company’s BioPharmaceuticals business unit, agreed, referring to the solid position Spain has forged as a clinical trials destination. With no less than 924 clinical trials authorized in 2022, the country has become a hotspot for European clinical research, and not just for AstraZeneca.

Merck Sharp & Dohme’s Spanish affiliate, for example, participates in 80 percent of MSD’s global clinical trials, a number Spain’s president and managing director Ana Argelich Hesse attributes to the excellence of the Spanish healthcare system. “The reason why MSD in Spain is a global leader in clinical trials is because of the country’s top-notch physicians, researchers, and hospital infrastructure,” said Argelich Hess in a PharmaBoardroom interview.

Apart from its excellent healthcare system, Spain has also successfully implemented new European legislation around clinical trials and adapted its own legislation accordingly. “It was the first country in Europe to anticipate this legislation with a national regulation as a result of working together with the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices (AEMPS) as well as the hospitals and clinicians to establish a good environment for clinical trials,” said Javier Urzay, deputy general manager of the National Trade Association of the Spain-based pharmaceutical industry, Farmaindustria.

Of AstraZeneca’s investments in Spain last year, EUR 48 million correspond to R&D, with part of its overall investments also going to Alexion, a subsidiary acquired in 2021.


Government Support

Beyond qualified talent, AstraZeneca’s country president also highlighted the supportive role of local administrators and the private sector in bringing the project forward. “We are very happy with how the project is going because of the talent we are finding, the support of all the administrations, the Spanish and Catalan governments, the city council, and collaboration with private entities and the local innovation fabric.”

“We will continue to invest and grow our capabilities in environments committed to innovation and development,” Soriot initially said about the project, referring to incentives from local government that perhaps helped it advance like the Big Pharma’s recent investment pledge of GBP 650 million in vaccine R&D and manufacturing in the UK.

Catalan authorities have made a major push to grow the Spanish region’s biomedical sector with initiatives such as its Investment Funds in Advanced Technology (FITA), a EUR 55 million venture capital fund to promote scientific research and entrepreneurship, and the National Industry Pact 2022-2025 agreement to transform the region’s industrial model and increase the importance of the sector within the Catalan economy.

The AstraZeneca hub endorses the strategies being carried out in a region that is already home to over 1,350 companies and 91 research entities that have an economic impact of 8.7 percent on its GDP. Catalonia “has the assets, the capacity, and the ambition to lead the field of life sciences in Europe,” according to Roger Torrent, the Catalan minister of business and labour.

Foreign direct investment in the life sciences sector has been on the rise in Catalonia since 2019, and in 2023 accounted for EUR 1,025 million, an increase of 110 percent with respect to the previous year, while 4,600 new jobs were also created within the sector between 2019 and 2023. In line with this tendency, AstraZeneca’s workforce, not just in the region, but throughout Spain, increased by 20 percent in 2023, reaching 1,300 employees.