Despite a population size of only 11.4 million (ninth in Europe), Belgium is the continent’s fifth biggest spender on R&D, behind only Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and France according to the latest EFPIA data. The country has a long-established tradition of excellence in clinical trials and AmCham Belgium estimates that the country has around 500 trials running at any one time and more than 170,000 Belgians participating in phase 2 and 3 trials.
This direct presence [of Big Pharma in Belgium] is a major driver of clinical trials in the country, something which the government noticed early on
As Frank Swaelens, IQVIA’s general manager for Belgium and Luxembourg explains, “About 20 or 30 years ago, the Belgian authorities realized that if they made it easy to run regulated clinical trials, those standards could create a competitive advantage for the country. Furthermore, Belgium has an excellent quality of education with very skilled professionals. For a small country, we have seven university hospitals with many specialists.”
Also noting the importance of Belgium’s academic excellence, Chantal Depondt, president of the Belgian Neurological Society elaborates, “Belgium has a dominant position when it comes to research on a global scale. Research projects are facilitated by the presence of excellent universities and skilled hospitals, in combination with an attractive regulatory framework for clinical trials. We can be very proud of Belgium’s research capacity because, despite its relatively small size and population, the country is taking ample advantage of assets such as its central geographic position and clinical expertise.”
Belgium has a dominant position when it comes to research on a global scale
Swaelens adds, “The Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) was established in 1996 – quite early on for the biotech boom. The many start-ups surrounding this institute helped pique the interest of the Belgian population to study what it takes to work in the pharmaceutical and life science sector, hence the plethora of skilled talent.”
“Moreover, Big Pharma has had a longstanding, significant presence here in Belgium for many years. For example, companies such as UCB and Janssen have been operating locally for decades. This direct presence is a major driver of clinical trials in the country, something which the government noticed early on. Therefore, they created a transparent system to quickly run trials and continue attracting investments.”
Another Big Pharma that relies heavily on Belgium for its clinical trials is MSD, with 34 immuno-oncology studies in patients and around 25 studies in healthy humans currently ongoing. As Brecht Vanneste, associate VP and MD for MSD Belgium & Luxembourg proudly exclaims, “Phase I trials cannot be carried out without a strong scientific development team and MSD is a company with a focus on early discovery and development.”
Thanks to our strong clinical network, a vast majority of our early discovery that happens across the globe is sent through Belgium
Vanneste continues, “Thanks to our strong clinical network, a vast majority of our early discovery that happens across the globe is sent through Belgium: about 90 percent of all MSD “First in Human” studies (first clinical trials in humans) are carried out in Belgium The country has many university and clinical centres active in phase I-IV trials and over the past decade, the affiliate has established close partnerships with these external stakeholders.”
“Furthermore, the government has also created an enabling regulatory environment for early and late-stage clinical trials, meaning we have quick approval decisions while maintaining compliance with all the necessary policies and procedures. This makes Belgium very attractive for a company like MSD to bring innovative concepts to humans in a matter of weeks compared to perhaps several months in other markets. All Belgian stakeholders are aligned on delivering new solutions to patients as quickly and safely as possible.”
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