New facilities of Esteve Huayi Pharmaceutical in Shaoxing
Companies and institutions pool innovation for growth
Health care in Catalonia is at the forefront of innovation, with private companies and health officials working hard to improve standards and provide breakthrough treatment, technologies and equipment.
The region's knowledge-based industries far outweigh the national average with biotechnology in particular creating waves on a Europe-wide level.
In March, more than 1,700 delegates, 1,030 companies, delegations from 43 countries, and 62 exhibitors gathered for the 2010 BIO-Europe Congress in Barcelona, confirming Catalonia's position as a leader in the field of biotechnology and a base for biotech projects. Both the city council and the Catalan government were involved in the event.
In recent years, Catalonia has built a young but emerging biotechnology sector that has grown at a rate of 30 percent annually and is made up of more than 25,000 researchers, 50 centers with 400 research groups and 17 science parks, nine of which have activities in life sciences, and 13 hospitals with biomedical research facilities.
Barcelona has developed a powerful biocluster that it is still growing despite the financial crisis, and earning the region a reputation as the gateway to global biotechnology in southwest Europe.
According to a recent report by the Spanish biotech employers association Asebio, Catalonia is the most active Spanish region in biotechnology, biomedicine and life sciences, and is one of the great national biotech centers.
The aim now is to make the region an international reference point for other worldwide bioclusters and to turn Barcelona into the most attractive European capital for biotech events.
The area also boasts an important pharmaceutical sector employing more than 20,000 people and generating sales of around $10 billion. More than half of Spain's pharmaceutical laboratories are based in Catalonia, and many have an international reach.
The Catalan chemical-pharmaceutical group Esteve, established in 1930, continues to grow steadily, recording sales of more than $1.2 billion last year.
After entering the Chinese pharmaceutical market in 2000, the firm built its first chemical plant in Yiwu through a joint venture and is now a leading name in active pharmaceutical ingredients, which it sells to companies in China and other emerging markets.
"Since we started in China, the plant has doubled its industrial capacity, so we opened another in Shaoxing," said Esteve Vice-President Albert Esteve.
"We started operations there this year, and it is approved by the top regulatory authorities around the world, including the FDA in the US. The quality of the plant and the machinery used means we could locate it just as easily in Barcelona or Boston, but we decided on China because it will allow us to develop globally and serve the domestic market with more guarantee and capacity.
"The most surprising thing for us is that we have been able to implement a lot of machinery and technology from China in the plant as the quality has improved so much over the years, rather than just import it all from abroad. The country is experiencing a fantastic transformation, especially in areas of biotechnology, and it will become the third-biggest market for pharmaceuticals after the US and Japan in the next few years."
Back in Barcelona, groundbreaking hospitals and medical research centers are also gaining international recognition.
Specializing in urology, nephrology and andrology, Fundaci Puigvert is a European leader in genito-urinary disorders.
A leading teaching hospital - the Fundaci is commissioned by Spain's National Transplant Organization to train the medical teams responsible for performing live organ transplants - and a center of excellence at international and national levels, Fundaci Puigvert offers both private and public health care to patients from all over Europe.
"We are already the best in our field, thanks to the huge volume of activity," said Esperana Mart, president of Fundaci Puigvert. "We treat 55 percent of all prostate cancer patients in Catalonia, more than all the larger hospitals combined."
"We have many important projects in the pipeline and are planning to widen our national and international strategic agreements and establish others in the future. We are opening a new building that will improve operations, expand the amount of rooms and equipment we have, optimize the conditions for our patients, and give us the necessary space to grow our innovative activities."
Mart is excited about the opportunities China may present in the future. "I think China, with its economic, financial, industrial and social evolution, will be a country to watch in many aspects, including health care," she said.