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Fostering Creativity in the Biotech Sector

France is cultivating innovation in research. 

September 28, 2010 | Guest Commentary | France is known the world over for its wine, food, and art. And while it still may surprise some, France is also known for its breakthrough biotech research. The connection? France’s history of cultivating innovation in all of the above has helped it emerge as one of the leading research centers on the planet.

For centuries, France has served as the home to some of the world’s greatest and most influential scientists and research projects—from Louis Pasteur’s groundbreaking research and understanding of germ theory to Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier’s Nobel Prize-winning discovery and identification of the human immunodeficiency virus. With more than 450 dedicated biotechnology firms employing approximately 200,000 people, France is a top contender in the life sciences sector. In fact, all major foreign biotech laboratories now have operations in France, and French biotech companies such as BioAlliance Pharma, Innate Pharma, Nicox and Transgene are currently working on more than 160 potential new drugs.

Multinational biotech companies are drawn to France in large part due to a multi-tiered program that offers collaborative opportunities, access to resources and beneficial financial incentives. This continued focus on growth and international partnerships has created a support network unlike anywhere else in the world. To facilitate these collaborations, France has 71 established innovation clusters, with eight focusing on the health and biotechnology sector. These clusters pool the resources of private biotech companies, universities, and public institutions, enabling research to be shared among each group to ultimately create and provide solutions to some of the most pressing medical challenges facing the world today. The beauty of the set up is that smaller firms, such as Japan’s Cellseed and the UK’s Immunoclin, have the opportunity to work with larger companies such as Novartis and Genzyme, granting start-ups the opportunities to connect with the best and most prestigious firms and universities, providing the resources and expertise to maximize their research output.

Clustered Creativity

Singulex, a California-based company specializing in cutting edge immunoassay technologies, was drawn to one such cluster, Lyonbiopole, which focuses on understanding and curing infectious disease. Home to 6,500 researchers and 173 projects, Lyonbiopole is comprised of 470 members, including major biotech companies such as bioMérieux, Merial, Genzyme and Sanofi-Pasteur and research centers such as the French National Center for Scientific Research, ENS Sciences, Inserm and Jean Mérieux BSL-4 Laboratory, as well as partnerships with foreign biotech clusters in Belgium and Shanghai. Lyonbiopole’s recently completed project, Micro-VAX, the world’s smallest intradermal influenza injection, was accomplished through the collaborative efforts of Becton Dickinson, Sanofi Pasteur and Inserm. In 2010, the vaccine was available in Europe and Australia and is currently undergoing trials in the U.S.

By joining Lyonbiopole, Singulex was offered the opportunity to work with immunodeficiency experts Indicia, Novartis and the Hospital of Lyon toward the treatment of autoimmune ailments such Crohn’s Disease. The project was recently awarded a Euro 2.2-million French government grant to help further their research.

In order to properly fund these endeavors, France’s stimulus package allocated $3.3 billion to the R&D projects undertaken by the country’s accredited innovation clusters. In addition to the package, France provides several opportunities for innovative projects to receive funding through organizations such as the Single Inter-Ministry Fund (FUI) and OSEO, which brings together the French Innovation Agency (ANVAR) and development banks for small and medium enterprises.

As part of this commitment, France offers a research and development tax credit to help lift the burden of research-intensive projects, which along with the innovation clusters has attracted over 300 foreign investment projects in the French life sciences sector. The best tax credit in Europe, it allowed companies to save $4.75 billion in 2009, compared with $1.8 billion in 2006, with U.S. companies receiving 25% of the tax credits awarded to foreign subsidiaries. The incentive helps support a company’s R&D efforts by covering 50% of R&D expenses the first year, 40% the second year and 30% for subsequent years. All R&D expenses are taken into account, from salaries and social security contributions to running costs, depreciation and patents. Expenses incurred on operations subcontracted to French and European public-sector research bodies are assessed at 200%.

Thanks to dynamic research partnerships and public support, the French biotechnology sector is one of the largest in Europe in terms of R&D expenditure and number of firms. With 461 dedicated biotechnology research and development firms and a Europe-leading $2.9billion of R&D expenditure, an increase of 18% since 2003, France’s leadership and commitment to international collaboration is furthering the health and biotechnology sectors and serving both private and public interests while also saving lives.

Philippe Yvergnaiux is president of the Invest in France Agency, North America. The agency can be reached via Amanda Hilson at 

This article also appeared in the September-October 2010 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine. Subscriptions are free for qualifying individuals. Apply today.

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