Nationwide, life science is taking a significant place in the Austrian economy with nearly 1’000 companies accounting for a global turnover of over € 22.4 billion (bn), which represents roughly 6% of the Austrian GDP. For the sole city of Vienna companies active in medical device and biotech – pharma industry had, last year, revenues of respectively € 3.4 bn and € 8.8 bn. Graz and Innsbruck host various renowned medical universities completing the strong positioning of Austria in the life science sector. This goes along with some top-notch figures: 55 research institutions, 20’000 employees in research institutions, 35’000 students, and more than 4000 academic publications annually.
The presence of numerous venture capitalists supports the progression of fast-growing companies. Additionally, public funding is an important development path for companies. For instance, the Viennese company Apeiron develops innovative projects related to immuno-oncology with a focus on cancer immunotherapy for children. It just received a € 25 million loan from the European Investment Bank to sustain research for this rare case of cancerous disease affecting more than a thousand children annually in the EU and the USA.
Public policies encouraging innovation in life science
Three years ago, the Austrian government launched its life science strategy that aims at “developing and strengthening the domestic science, research and business landscapes along the whole innovation value chain from early research to market uptake”.
Already in 2019 results are astonishing: enlarged capabilities for clinical trials, enhancement of new fields (i.e. personalized medicine and stem research), focus on international cooperation, ease of founding ventures, facilitation of public – private interactions, and other activates aiming at creating ideal frame conditions.
A practical example shows how tax incentives are offered to newcomers. Independently of the company size, 14% of R&D expenditures can be deducted for tax purposes. The Austrian government also put in place measures for individual tax deduction. They apply only to scientists and researchers who decided to move to Austria for professional purposes and for a limited period of time. Furthermore, authorities launched a BioCenter in the heart of Vienna to allow scientists to achieve their goals by providing access to cutting-edge infrastructure in biomedical research. More than one thousand square meters are dedicated to co-working spaces dedicated to entrepreneurs and affordable for all.
Focus on digitalization
Measures were taken at the federal level to ease conditions for doing business. Precisely, the government fights for the reduction of bureaucracy and the drop of corporate taxes. This struggle also takes place at the EU level, where Austria supports intellectual property rights and other incentives for innovatory drugs. These measures help the life science stakeholders to leverage potential synergy for science, industry and society in the age of digitalisation. Vienna is in line with the overall trend towards a blend of biotech, pharma, medtech and IT. This is obviously related to the increased demand for e-health, personalized medicine and the use of innovative diagnostic tools.
One relevant example is the establishment of the Centre for Precision Medicine in the Vienna General Hospital. It will include a campus to enable the convergence of basic research, translational and clinical research and teaching.
Vienna as the heart of Austria
Within two hours Vienna can easily be reached from anywhere in Switzerland. Indeed, geographically the Austrian capital is only 600 km east from Zürich and it is the gate for central and Eastern Europe. Let us focus on two aspects of the life science industry in Vienna: the industrial landscape and the academic quality. The city is a healthy blend of start-ups and well-established enterprises. To start with, half of the life science company located in Vienna are younger than ten years old, while around one quarter are older than twenty years. Furthermore, all of the top ten worldwide biotech and pharma companies have a branch in Vienna creating an inspiring environment.
Its university was founded more than 650 years ago. Apart from its long-lasting experience and numerous research centres, the University of Vienna is well connected to international scientists. The city counts no less than five universities, two universities of applied sciences and eleven non-university research institutes. The latter gathers for instance the Austrian Institute for Technology (AIT) and other organisations that account for 1’500 employees and a budget of € 160 million.
Finally, all these facts and figure about Austrian’s growing potential in life science shall demonstrate at least two features: firstly, Swiss entrepreneurs have tremendous opportunities to expand their activities in Austria. Secondly, the environment is welcoming for Swiss SMEs willing to experience the Austrian market.
Key success factors
- Well-educated work force
- Most promising developments in oncology, neurology, vaccines, immunology, precision medicine and e-health
- 1/3 of companies younger than 10 years
- Top tier companies have a branch in Austria (e.g. Boehringer Ingelheim, Shire, Ottobock, Sandoz, Bionorica, or Octapharma)
- Institutes and universities, which are active in high-end R&D topics (e.g. infectious diseases, oncology, immunological disorders, laboratory reagents and kits as well as diagnostic tools)
- Among European cities with the highest quality of life
- First milestone for developments further East
- Modern up-to-date infrastructures
- Ideal conditions for joint research (e.g. Vienna BioCenter and the Vienna Life Science Center Muthgasse)
- Great framework conditions: access to funding, tax purposes, close meshed networking, interdisciplinary approach and diversity
- European Summit of Industrial Biotechnology on November 18-20 in Graz. This year’s biggest biotech conference in Europe takes place in Austria and will have two major themes: „Bioproduction in the Sense of Bioeconomy" and „Advances in Biomanufacturing and Upcoming Biopharmaceuticals".
- LISAvienna - Regulatory Konferenz für Medizinprodukte und IVD on December 3rd in Vienna. This conference is a unique occasion to discuss about the latest legal development in the EU regarding medical device and in-vitro diagnosis.
- AICI Forum Villach 2019 on December 6-7 in Villach. Can AI replace medical doctors? This topic will be further discussed during this forum along with AI in clinical imaging.
- SLAS Europe 2020 on June 3-5, 2020, in Vienna. With a set of conferences and exhibition, the SLAS Europe 2020 aims at delivering value to discover the latest trends in life science.