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The Pharmaceutical Industry of Spain

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The pharmaceutical industry is a large part of the Spanish economy, secondary to tourism, renewable energy, aerospace and automotive. In 2017, it was estimated that pharmaceuticals provided for 200,000 jobs of which 37,000 were direct positions in the industry. The R&D investment capacity was estimated at $1B€. In 2015, 40% of the $1B€ funds were dedicated to working with hospitals, academia and excellence centers on various projects1. The BEST Project is an example. The Project’s goal was to have successful clinical research of various new medicines from Farmaindustria, which for over a decade has been endorsing the participation of Spain in various clinical research projects.

In addition, it is estimated that the annual medication exports in Spain account for $11B€, 5th in exports in Spain. The industry works on a commitment of collaboration as a partner with Public Administrations and the Spanish National Healthcare System. The goal is not just to research and develop new medications but also to provide those medicines to patients in need. An Agreement has been signed between the pharmaceutical industry and the Government that guarantees patient’s access to these novel medications that our being developed.

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There are many leaders of the pharmaceutical industry in Spain. The majority of the companies are headquartered in Barcelona or Madrid.

Leading companies based on manufacturing and sales of basic products in 2016 in Spain are seen below:

Current innovative leaders in the pharmaceutical industry include: Almirall, Curaxys, Esteve, Grifols, Inibsa, SOM Biotech, and PharmaMar.

  • Almirall (Barcelona) is the leader in R&D investment. In 2016, total revenue was 859.3M€ net sales 764.4M€, which include 70% international sales. They collaborate with both public and private entities in Spain as well as internationally, including the NIH in the United States. Their main products include ebastine (allergy), doxycycline (antibiotic), almotriptan (migraine), and sitagliptin/metformin (diabetes) to name a few.
  • Curaxys (Cadiz) specializes in R&D and production of generic (biosimilar) medications . Biosimilar medications are one of the leading areas of research within the pharmaceutical industry. Curaxys has patents for producing insulin from plant cells and for developing cancer medications from cultured human cells. They collaborate with various public entities and the University of Cadiz, and are in negotiations with various US companies.
  • Esteve (Barcelona) is established in over 100 countries worldwide, with subsidiary companies in Europe and the US and production centers in Mexico and China. Esteve focuses on R&D of new medications, especially in the areas of pain, and in the active ingredients, working to develop production processes and ingredient commercialization.
  • Grifols (Barcelona) is a multi-European national pharmaceutical company. Their main products are blood plasma-based products, being the European leader of this product and the largest worldwide. Grifols took over Talceris Biotherapeutics, headquartered in North Carolina, for $4B in 2011. They also acquired Novartis’ blood transfusion unit based in California. In 2015, they acquired 45% of Alkahest for the co-development of plasma-based products to treat cognitive decline in the elderly and in brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s. In 2016, they acquired Hologics interest in joint blood screening unit for $1.85B.
  • Inibsa (Barcelona) consists of 4 companies: Laboratorios Inibsa (75%), Inibsa Dental (15%), Inibsa Hospital (5%), and Inibsa Ginecologia (1%). They have a subsidiary in Portugal (4%). Their products can be found in over 70 countries. Product areas include dental pain control, regenerative and restorative dental work, urology, anesthesia, regenerative medicine, and symptomatic treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnant women.
  • SOM Biotech (Barcelona) focuses on using known drugs for a new disease (drug repurposing), particularly in the neurological rare disease setting. It licenses out its programs and creates joint-venture agreements for the development of these drugs. They recently opened an office in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2017. It licensed its first asset, SOM0777, used in the treatment of aggressive brain tumors (glioblastoma), to Argon Pharma, also based in Barcelona. Argon Pharma is a biotech company created in 2008 that is a spin-off company from the University of Barcelona and Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau of Barcelona . Their entire goal is the development of innovative therapies in oncology and the development of new technologies for drug delivery to improve current available therapies. SOM Biotech has other various novel drugs for rare neurological diseases.
  • PharmaMar S.A. (Colmenar Viejo) made 179.4M€ in revenues in 2017, 56% of revenues from oncology and have 78.5 M€ invested in R&D with 1316 patents granted and 193 pending. PharmaMar’s mission is to focus on oncology and participate in R&D to discover molecules with anti-tumor activity (included targeted therapies and immunotherapies which are the latest drugs available to oncology patients), providing innovative care to the patients. They focus on the sea-based molecules. PharmaMar was a subsidiary of Zeltia that took over the company in 2015. They are an international company with one of its key products Yondelis, used in the US for the treatment of various cancers.

The pharmaceutical industry is gender balanced with approximately 50% of the work force female. Salaries range based on the various job categories, gender and age.

The pharmaceutical industry is on a path to recovery in the current era, since 2014-2015. In the years prior, there were several challenges the industry faced, including competition and the risk of R&D investments with rising costs, long research times and low probabilities of success. The government cut spending on the industry due to the economic crisis throughout Europe starting in 2008 .

The current growth is due to biotechnology, innovation, high quality workforce, support from the government and an aging population that is playing a pivotal role in the Spanish healthcare area. The Spanish government has allowed for tax incentives for R&D spending after they introduced a price containment in 2010, which prohibited pharmacists from dispensing more expensive medications if a cheaper substitute was available. This price containment caused a value drop of 13.7% of the pharmaceutical industry between 2010 and 2014. However, by 2015 with the tax incentives in R&D, the pharmaceutical industry in Spain invested $1.2B in R&D12.

In 2017, Spain exported more than 11.6M€ (3.6% of total exports) in medications, which has been steadily increasing since 2015 when it hit a record high that year. The future is bright for this industry given the critical role of biosimilars, molecular targeted, innovative therapies and immunotherapies in various disease realms, particularly oncology. It is estimated that the Spanish Pharma market will approach $25.1B by 2021, rising from $23.7B in 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of approximately 1% .


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