The European landscape of listed biotech companies: 2018 review (Part 1)

2018 Review European Biotech

This review is an introduction to the universe covered by Biotellytics, publisher of, a business intelligence service on the landscape of the European biotech companies listed on the main European stock exchanges. This service aims at providing insights and data at company level for investors, as well as consolidated data at the European level for life sciences profressionals. This review will form a basis for more content to be released in the future. It will be delivered in several posts online, and as a document availabe for download on this website with the release of the last part.

This review is intended for a broad audience but more particularly people who are already specialized in the life sciences, without being familiar with the European biotech landscape, and notably the listed side.

In this first part, we will just define our universe, presents our selection of companies and make a general overview of the landscape. We will parse the IPOs and M&A operations in our universe in 2018, and end with the development stages of the companies. All these data will be broken down by country or by (country) cluster, when relevant, in order to have a minimum number of companies for each presented data. Belgium (BE) and the Netherlands (NL) will be taken together, as well as UK and Ireland (IE). Norway (NO) and Finland (FI) will also be gathered into a cluster. The same way, Italia (IT) and Spain (ES) will form the “Southern Europe” cluster.

In the next parts, the following items will be studied, still within our universe: R&D pipeline, commercial products, market data, employment, financing and other financial metrics, and deals. We will end by a snapshot of the characteristics of a “typical” European public biotech company, at the end of 2018.
The full report is now available here.

Part 1 - Table of Content

1. The European landscape of listed biotech companies: definitions, selection, general overview
  1.1 Companies by country and by stock exchange
  1.2 A still relatively young landscape, with an IPO boom over the 2014-2017 period
  1.3 New listings/IPOs and M&As in 2018
  1.4 Development stages by country

But let's start with a short introduction.


The European biotechnology (“biotech”) sector is an ecosystem in the making. The first listings of biotech companies (our universe) were only recorded in the late 90s, so roughly 20 years ago. The inception of biotech companies, listed later on, started accelerating around this period, so 10 to 20 years later than the emblematic Amgen, Biogen, Celgene and Gilead Sciences. The biotech sector is not yet established as a strong pillar in the European markets, even though one can exceptionally find some biotech companies selected in the main national indices, e.g. in Belgium. It’s very recent though.

In contrast, the Healthcare sector and particularly the Pharma segment is well represented in Europe, with 4 European Pharma companies in the Top 10, and 8 in the Top 20, according to GlobalData [1] (we do NOT consider Allergan as an Irish company). Another testimony of the relative strength of the European Pharma sector is the weight of the sector in the total equity market cap, measured to 7.6% (1.05 trillion USD at the end of 2018 for 28 companies -broad “Pharma” definition- , out of 13.2 trillion USD of total market cap among the 8 main European stock market operators [2-4]). This is higher than the US figures, with 1.5 trillion USD for 12 US Pharma companies [1;5], out of 30.4 trillion USD of market cap, or 4.9% [6]. Unfortunately, the European Biotech segment only weights 0.37% of the total European market cap, or 50.3 billion USD (155 companies in our universe), whereas the US Biotech segment represented 1.1% of the total US market cap, or 336 billion USD for 444 US companies listed on the Nasdaq in New York (diagnostics and services excluded).

This lag in Europe owes mainly to the overall lack of financing available for the Biotech segment, with few exceptions nonetheless. Some reasons can be found in this review. For the solutions, there are unfortunately no easy ones. In a recent thought-provoking article named “Is Going Public in Europe the Kiss of Death?” [7], Antoine Papiernik, Managing Partner at Sofinnova Partners (an important Life Sciences fund in Europe), invited the European companies aiming at an IPO someday to “think as if they were located in Boston”, and to engage as soon as possible with the investors with “deep pockets”, namely those in the US and why not those in the fast-growing Hong-Kong markets. In his guidance, Europe would a second choice, but paradoxically 3 out of the 4 companies mentioned as having “cracked the code” (multi-billion USD market cap) were actually listed on European markets first. Moreover, a direct listing in the US is probably not for the mainstream private biotech company, e.g. for market cap considerations. This is indirectly implied in the article, as it relates to companies with “science, products, management, and investors on a par with the best Boston-based companies”. So yes, the European ecosystem needs success stories à la Actelion, and companies who remain independent -Galapagos!- to show the way, even if this is the natural order that most of them are acquired. A few are on their ways and need to end the job from a commercial standpoint. With the pipeline data we show in this review, there will likely be more.

At the same time, more positive signals are sent from the private side. Over the past couple of years, we started to see inflated early VC rounds on European biotech companies (e.g. 40 million EUR in series B for Enyo Pharma in June 2018 [8], or 67 million EUR in series A for Alizé Pharma in July 2019 [9], just to name a few), mimicking a trend recently observed in the US [10-11]. Therefore, it will be interesting to follow in the coming years what will be the VCs’ exit model when these companies reach a stage of development legitimating an IPO. One could guess a direct listing on Nasdaq. Unfortunately, we do not have any particular insights to provide on why the health in the private and public sectors would be so divergent, especially in the long term.

The overall ecosystem needs to gain in maturity at all stages: executives, governance, analysts, VCs, investors of all kind, media, etc… (and service providers like!). Maybe just incantations today, because this is a process. There is still a long way for the European retail investors to get “educated”, but it is probably only a matter of time as well. The risk-averse profile of the typical European investors at baseline, at least as compared to the US, is also a hurdle. Perhaps we in Europe also do not showcase our success stories enough, as compared to the US, at least from one country to another. There are signs that we try to learn the lessons from the recent successes, and hopefully from setbacks as well. The regulatory environment can certainly be improved in some countries, to support the clinical research. Finally, the European politics probably do not see any reason to help the biotech ecosystem in particular, as the Pharma sector is still relatively healthy. Perhaps the European biotech sector needs more visibility and more lobbying, in general and as an innovative industry segment.

Innovation drives growth, this is a constant everywhere in the world, and in every business. Over the past decade, the biotech sector has become a main vector of innovation in the drug industry, not only to fuel the pipeline of the largest Pharma companies, but also to bring treatments on the markets on their own [12-13]. At some point, a strategic question in Europe could be: who do we want to buy our drugs from? There is no news here, but Europe lacks tech leaders. If we cannot build digital giants, why not relying on what is still recognized as a strength: the quality of the science and scientists? At least those who do not leave Europe for better opportunities overseas.

Unfortunately, there is no equivalent to the Nasdaq markets in Europe. Beyond investment policies excluding investment on European assets like biotech companies, some international investors might just view the European markets as not worth the effort. If we take the US investors for example, they only have to deal with one market place (Nasdaq), one regulator (the SEC), all the documents are in English, and the market offer is large (more than 500 companies for pharma/biotech only). This is simple. Now, if you look at the main European countries and stock markets, like our universe, you need to deal with 13 countries, with the same number of Financial Supervisory Authorities and stock exchanges, managed by 8 stock market operators. The main corporate documents can mostly be found in English, but not always, so you basically need to deal with 10 languages. On top of that, not all the countries in the European Union have adopted the euro, so you also need to deal with 7 currencies. And this for 150-200 companies (biotech/pharma only), with select companies already accessible on the US markets with the dual listings (excluding those who directly list in the US). Several of these items might be minor hurdles for professional investors, wherever they are based. Perhaps there is even no hurdle at all for some. But it seems fair to say that this is less simple than in the US. This is basically one of the purposes of the service offered on, presenting the whole European landscape as one, while keeping the granularity at company level. In short, making things easier for investors. The US investors’ referential also needs a reset, or at least an adaptation when they look at Europe, e.g. there is no such thing as same-day offerings after “positive news”.

Additionally, Europe lacks a cluster as strong as Boston, but given the fragmented nature of this territory, it is not likely to happen anytime soon, as each country also aims at becoming a future leader. Instead, there are several regional “bio-clusters” in each country. The fragmentation we just highlighted may also be reflected in the profile of some companies, with a lack of critical size. Would the ecosystem benefit of a local consolidation, e.g. of businesses relating to very close therapeutic areas or modalities?

Another point is the rise of a new hotspot for Life Sciences in Hong-Kong, which now both competes with Europe to attract US capitals, but could represent an opportunity as well in the future, according to Papiernik’s take. In reality, there might be just no competition properly speaking, if we refer to the large amounts of money flowing in Hong Kong, as compared to Europe. However, this is still a “work in progress” in Hong-Kong as well [14]. Indeed, the biotech stock performances were very mixed in Hong Kong in 2018 [15], and one will have to judge over a longer period. What is certain is that in terms of Business Development, Asia must be considered. So, Hong-Kong, Asia, China, threats or opportunities for Europe, only time will tell.

After all these points, the “elephant in the room” question is: why on earth would anyone invest in European listed biotech companies? Ask the likes of Fidelity, Perceptive Advisors, Baker Bros, just to name a few, they will probably have a clue. These specialized funds definitely do not wait for a company to list on Nasdaq in New York to take a bite. There are opportunities everywhere, and the sector rewards the best cases. Therefore, when all the boxes are ticked, Europe or not Europe, does it really matter? Of course, there might be no plethora of opportunities on the old continent, but they exist. This is even a pity that the European investment firms do not capture a larger share of the upside from the most promising European biotech companies. On the other side, there are already several hedge funds operating on the European biotech sector. Looking at the pipeline data in this review, the aficionados of the event-driven strategy will not lack opportunities either. Finally, even if selectivity is key in biotech investing, requiring key data at company level, it is also interesting to know the sector characteristics, at top level, which is the purpose of this review.

Is there a future for the biotech sector in Europe? Will the public sector recover from a tough period? How long will it take? How will the financing environment evolve moving forward? Is a consolidation of the number of companies needed? What are the main characteristics of the listed segment of the European biotech sector? Are there different dynamics among the European countries? Who will be the next European rising stars? Will the soon-to-be integrated companies succeed in their transformation process? These are just few themes and questions we will try to cover, or that we will help the investors and life sciences professionals to find the answers to, not especially in this review but in general, so stay tuned.