ungary's burgeoning biotech sector is moving forward, buoyed by a strong university system and a solid pharmaceutical industrial base. But challenges remain and the industry is addressing several areas viewed as obstacles to its continued growth.
Dr. Arnold Feher, managing partner of Budapest-based Convincive Consulting, a firm which specializes in advising European life sciences companies, says the Hungarian Biotech Association is dealing such challenges as access to venture capital.
"There has been a lot of progress made in the past five to 10 years and I am positive the trend will go on," Feher says. "The day will come very soon that venture capital companies will be formed in Hungary that are pure biotech capital. Hungary is quite outstanding in terms of venture capital if you compare it to other ex-communist countries."
Feher says Hungarian biotech startups may benefit from the EU-funded JEREMIE (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) initiative, which has established eight funds to back high-tech startups.
The industry's bigger challenges, he adds, include developing managers to run startups. He says progress is being made in this area. Another challenge is to ensure the continued support of university technology transfer.
Feher is also head of the Hungarian Biotechnology Association's Strategic Committee which is plotting a course for the industry's future.
"If you take a critical eye to Hungarian biotech companies, we have 35 to 40 involved in human health care biotechnology and another 15 to 20 in bioinformatics," Feher says. "We also have another 55 companies involved in agriculture and biomaterials, so we have about 110 dedicated biotech companies. It's quite outstanding in the region. We are very far ahead of other countries in the region and we have plans to multiply these numbers and the income level of our companies."
While the biotech sector is growing, Feher says only a few companies have developed to the point of being profitable. Most are young companies still burning through investment money. He offers a comparison of Gedeon Richter, which he says spends more on biotech development than the entire Hungarian biotech sector.
Many of Hungary's life sciences start-up companies are the products of research at Semmelweis University, the country's oldest medical school, which was founded in 1769. Semmelweis specializes in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, health sciences and health management. The university has a global reputation for its research in molecular biology, cancer and cardiovascular areas.
The University's Technology Transfer office and the university-owned Semmelweis Innovations work together as a single innovation agency. Semmelweis Innovations scouts for new university research project, helps manage intellectual property and assists startups in reaching markets.