The biotech industry in Belgium has reclaimed its position as the second biggest in Europe, trailing only Denmark. By the end of March 2023, the publicly traded biotech companies in Belgium had accumulated a total market stock capitalization of 40.1 billion euros. KBC Securities will provide a comprehensive overview of the recent developments in biotech capital markets and M&A activity during the State of the Union event organised by flanders.bio, the Flemish life sciences cluster organisation, and VIB.
The global market downturn in 2022 had a far-reaching impact on listed companies worldwide, due to high inflation, rising interest rates and the war in Ukraine. In this challenging environment, the Belgian life sciences sector was not immune. However, thanks to the strong performance of argenx and the VC-backed private biotech companies, the ecosystem remained resilient.
Listed Belgian biotech companies have secured the second position in Europe, with a market stock capitalization of 40.1 billion euros, trailing only behind Denmark (42.6 billion euros). Last year, Germany (34.8 billion euros) preceded Belgium as well. The primary driving force behind Belgium’s top-three ranking today is argenx, which has experienced a remarkable surge in stock market value. In less than a year, argenx’s market value increased almost 25 percent, from 16.9 billion to 21.1 billion euros, surpassing UCB. Currently, argenx, UCB and Galapagos represent the largest share of the aggregated market capitalization, accounting for approximately 97,5 percent, but this picture could change substantially overnight if the rumours of argenx’s acquisition become reality.
“Although the global biotech sector remained under pressure in 2022 and there is still some reluctance in the public markets regarding IPOs (initial public offerings) and follow-on offerings, we believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The recent increase in M&A activity (mergers and acquisitions) will likely create a positive momentum for the sector in the near future”, says Jeroen Van den Bossche, Associate Director Life Sciences Equity Research of KBC Securities.
Investors are more conservative
The landscape for smaller public biotech companies, with a market cap of less than 1 billion euros, has been more affected. With a total market value of 1.6 billion euros, Belgium has fallen to seventh place in the European ranking, losing its previous fourth place. Belgian companies in this segment have suffered severely: Mithra experienced a decline from 423 million to 169 million euros, and iTeos and Nxyoah also encountered substantial drops.
Stock valuations are under pressure due to the harsh macro-economic climate and geopolitical issues, and these uncertainties have a clear impact on IPOs and follow-on offerings. Specifically for the IPO-activity, 2022 witnessed a slow year, with approximately 4.7 billion raised compared to 15 billion euros in 2021. Analysts predict a similar trend for this year. Investors have adopted a more conservative and prudent attitude, favouring cash-generating companies over earlier-stage companies. Despite this result, there is a clear increase in M&A activity in the market, which will likely fuel investor appetite in the global life sciences sector.
Venture capital ecosystem is maturing
The unlisted companies faced similar challenges to the publicly listed companies in 2022. With the IPO window closed and fewer M&A, there were limited exit opportunities in 2022. As a result, venture capitalists were forced to channel more of their funds into existing portfolio companies and to focus on capital efficacy. This in turn led to fewer investment rounds being raised. In Europe and the UK, VC investments in healthcare declined to 12 billion euros, a major setback after the record levels seen in 2021.
Despite the strained fundraising environment, which is expected to persist in 2023, international venture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies remain highly interested in the Belgian life sciences sector, as evidenced by some of the latest financing rounds or deals. The biotech ecosystem is experiencing a wave of unprecedented innovation, bolstered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is becoming more embedded in pharma and in healthcare, as well as by a renewed interest in Central nervous system (CNS) diseases, driven by recent advances in for example, Alzheimer's disease.
“The VC ecosystem in Europe is maturing, and companies with strong convincing differentiation are finding adequate funding. Creative financing solutions are possible to secure funding, as private capital is still available. Deals are being signed and closed in Flanders, but they are a mix of classic financing rounds and alternative ways of financing”, says Kenneth Wils, Head of Life Sciences & Care at PMV.
This is the 9th edition of the State of the Union event
Jeroen Van den Bossche of KBC Securities and Kenneth Wils of PMV will both share their insights during the State of the Union event this evening. New developments and initiatives in the Flemish life sciences, and our position vis-à-vis the European landscape, will also be highlighted during the 9th edition of this event, organised by flanders.bio and VIB.
"Investment funds, foreign companies and also international talent are becoming more selective and have more options today. In an ecosystem that is under pressure and evolving rapidly, we at flanders.bio want to play our part. Together with our 340 members, strategic partners, sister organisations, regional and federal authorities, we gladly take up the gauntlet to lift biotech and life sciences in Flanders and Belgium to a higher level,” says Wouter Piepers, CEO of flanders.bio.
Out now: “Biotech in Flanders: a success story”
The book “Biotech in Flanders: a success story” is launched today and will be presented at the State of the Union. After 40 years of building the current ecosystem, the authors recount the fascinating story of ‘behind the scenes’ and of ‘the ups and downs’. Biotech is not a straight line and developing the ecosystem required a pro-active, multipronged approach, in which also flanders.bio and VIB played an important role.
The book is written by three prominent ‘captains of industry’ who know the ecosystem inside and out: Jo Bury, Johan Cardoen and Dirk Reyn. The book is published by flanders.bio, VIB and Witsand Uitgevers, and was supported by FIT (Flanders Investment & Trade).
“The book describes how, in forty years, Flemish researchers and pioneers have made discoveries that have resulted in, among other things, seventeen groundbreaking medicines and in countless discoveries that are used every day in agriculture and in our labs and medical cabinets, but few know they come from Flanders. Putting it all together neatly makes you realise what an amazing story it is. A story of many people and teams. Of stubbornness, of perseverance, of trial and error, and of discoveries and encounters, by chance,” says Dirk Reyn, co-author of the book and chairman of the Board of flanders.bio.
‘Knowledge for Growth’
Every year the State of the Union event gives the starting shot for the annual biotech congress ‘Knowledge for Growth’. For the first time, the event will take place in Antwerp. Knowledge for Growth is one of Europe’s leading life sciences business conferences. Organised by flanders.bio, the event welcomes every year over 1.000 participants from industry, academia, and government. The 65 speakers in the plenary and breakout sessions highlight the new evolutions in the life sciences sector from a technological, finance, market, and business perspective. The almost 90 exhibitors showcase the best the sector has to offer. The professional partnering system allows participants from over 19 countries to arrange meetings and do business. It is the one day that is marked way in advance in the agenda of many life sciences professionals in Belgium and the regions surrounding our country.
For more information: https://knowledgeforgrowth.be/