In 2000, the Basque Government took the decision to boost the Basque economy in order to adapt to an increasingly changing and competitive world by making a strategic commitment to strategic new sectors based on knowledge and innovation. The result of this reflection was the first strategy designed specifically for the development of biosciences in Spain: the BioBasque Strategy.
BioBasque 2010 was launched with a global approach and structured actions on three fronts: knowledge generation, business development and boosting the biocluster, aimed at the ultimate goal of diversification and creation of a new business sector.
The gradual development of the strategy has meant the beginning of a profound change in the scientific and technological landscape as well as in the business environment. This transformation, which is still in progress, is responsible, moreover, for the early international recognition of the Basque Country as a bioregion.
The biosciences sector in the Basque Country is now, more than ever, a strategic sector. One example of this is that the Basque Government has included the bioscience/health binomial as one of the 3 priorities in the framework of the Smart Specialization Strategy RIS3, PCTI 2020 where human health is the main core of activity.
At present, there are more than 94 entities conducting biotechnology research in the Basque Country, of which 75 carry out this activity as their main or exclusive business, dedicating more than half of their internal expenditure to R&D in biotechnology. Of these 94 entities, 88 are biotech companies.
The Basque biotechnology business sector is made up mainly of small and medium-sized companies, intensive in highly qualified personnel and with constant commitment and investment in research, developing products and services mainly applied to human health, the agri-food sector and industry.
Internal expenditure on R&D in activities related to Biotechnology in the Basque Country in 2015 was 85.7 million euros and made up 6.7% of total internal R&D expenditure, according to data prepared by Eustat.
There are 1,891 people employed as staff, representing 1,256 people in full-time equivalent (FTE) and making up 6.9% of R&D staff.
As regards research staff, this increased by 7.4% compared to 2014 with 977 people employed full time.
This strong commitment to the development of the biosciences sector in the Basque Country has included the creation of the Basque Health Cluster, a non-profit association formed in 2010, which coordinates, manages and promotes the common interests of companies in the sector, in collaboration with local government and other organisations in the field of biosciences, promoting business cooperation as a basis for the competitive development of its companies and their internationalization, and contributing to the development and positioning of the bio sector of the Basque Country.
At present, the Basque Health Cluster has 30 associated companies, 58 counting their subsidiaries, and in 2014 they had a turnover of 268 million euros, of which 78.7% (211 million) came from the export of their products and services to international markets. The association’s companies contribute to the maintenance of 1,632 direct jobs.
The commitment made by the Basque government to fostering powerful R&D infrastructures in the Basque Country can be considered a success that has resulted in a significant increase in scientific-technological capabilities and, linked to this, the attraction of talent and the development of first class labs.
This extensive infrastructure in research and development looks to the CIC bioGUNE as its reference; this is a world-class centre for molecular, cellular and structural biology, unique in Spain and cutting edge at European level. Next to this is the CIC biomaGUNE, a pioneer in biomaterial research, biofunctional nanomaterials and biosurfaces, of which the Molecular Imaging unit is an important part.
In turn, the powerful Basque Public Health System and its entities linked to the promotion of healthcare research and innovation, with BIOEF as the main reference, together with the Biocruces and Biodonostia health research institutes, represent important differentiating elements for driving major development in the bio sector in the Basque Country
In addition, the Basque agri-food (foodtech) sector also has important institutions that favour the development and production of biotechnology-based solutions. Hazi plays an important role as a development agency whose main objective is to boost the competitiveness and sustainability of the primary and food sector, and the technology centres are Azti, focusing on marine and food research, and the Basque Institute for Research and Technological Development NEIKER-Tecnalia, aiming at developing knowledge and innovative transferable solutions that add value to the agri-food sector.
The synergies of this whole group and the sustained commitment that the Basque Government, local institutions and private initiatives have made for many years clearly show the capabilities and potential of the biotechnology sector in the Basque Country.