The other side of the COVID-19 crisis highlights the strength of the biotechnology sector in our country.
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on society. Almost all economic areas have suffered the effects of a crisis that has led to the destruction of employment and the business network. During this adverse situation, the biotechnology sector has emerged stronger, and Spain has become one of the world’s benchmarks for companies wishing to grow in this field. The high qualifications of young scientists and the strength of the Spanish healthcare system have enabled many Spanish companies to grow and create quality jobs.
According to the Spanish Association of Bio companies (AseBio), this is a clear trend as demonstrated by a survey on the impact of COVID-19 carried out among its associated companies. One of the most relevant data is that 90% of the companies have maintained their activity during the state of alarm, something utterly unthinkable in other sectors. Likewise, only 9% have had to resort to a temporary redundancy plan; in fact, 89% have maintained their workforce, and 14% have needed to hire specialized personnel to adapt their company to the new circumstances of the healthcare crisis. Actually, almost half of those surveyed (45%) have redirected their activity towards researching COVID-19 and are still immersed in that pursuit. In addition, 57% claim they have not suffered any negative impact on their revenues, and most have a favourable view of their turnover in the long term.
In addition, the biotechnology sector in our country is permanently recruiting highly qualified researchers. It is consolidating as a sector capable of attracting young people: the number of biotechnology students has been increasing year after year despite the fact that these are university degrees with one of the highest cut-off marks, thus giving rise to a pool of brilliant talent, with increased women participation (the percentage of women reaches 60%).
A specific case of this positive impact of the pandemic in the biotechnology sector is the company AKRN Scientific Consulting, a consulting firm specialized in medical devices, mainly in clinical research services, developing innovative technologies to improve people’s medical care. The health crisis has increased the number of projects for this company, which has led them to recruit new employees, facing the challenge of hiring them online and integrating them into the team remotely.
In 2019, AKRN had eight employees. However, in 2020 and to this date, the company has grown by 375%, incorporating 30 highly qualified young professionals with science and clinical research degrees. The activities related to the management of clinical projects have increased by 78%.
Another element contributing to their success has been the increased activity related to the regulatory services they offer (AKRN guides companies in the regulatory landscape in Europe), increasing their revenues in this area, driven largely by those companies trying to bring coronavirus products to market. In addition, they offered free advice to enable them to launch such products as soon as possible.
AKRN is also committed to international expansion. In 2020, they started a new business and tripled their customer base in Latin America, the United States, the European Union and Israel, ending the year with significant momentum that is being continued in 2021, with new projects in life-saving clinical research.
However, despite the favourable development of the biotechnology sector in our country after the health crisis, there is a clear and common demand from all the companies surveyed that AseBio wants to reflect, which is the need to reinforce both the R&D&I aid system and visibility.
The Spanish biotechnology sector has many strengths, but a more significant public funding effort in R&D is needed. Biotechnology generates essential revenues for the State. If there were greater institutional support, these companies could continue to grow and lead the change of economic paradigm in Spain, which could reduce the dependence on materials and equipment from abroad, the delay of the material and its cost, among other problems.