The innovative pharmaceutical industry in Spain has reached its highest level of investment in R&D ever, according to the latest R&D Activities Survey that Farmaindustria conducts each year among its associates. Thus, in 2021, R&D investment in the Spanish pharmaceutical industry exceeded 1,267 million euros, which is 9.2% more than the previous year 2020, when the second highest investment figure was reached until then, with 1,160 million. This historic investment figure confirms the upward trend in these investments that began with the start of the economic recovery in 2014 and was maintained even in 2020, despite the exceptional difficulties caused by the pandemic.
“The sector’s constant commitment to R&D investment is reflected in the fact that almost 20% of all industrial R&D in Spain is now carried out by the pharmaceutical industry. This represents more than 9% of the R&D carried out by the entire business sector in our country, and 6.1% of the total research of the Spanish economy, taking into account public and private research. The leading role played by our sector in research work, essential for drug development, is also an opportunity to attract international investment to the health system, and therefore to the country, but also an opportunity for patients and for society as a whole, since participation in a clinical trial may be the only way out for certain serious patients,” said Farmaindustria’s director general, Juan Yermo.
According to the survey, more than 60% of the 1,267 million euros allocated to R&D in 2021 were devoted to clinical trials (789 million euros), where Spain plays a leading international role, in addition to a further 156 million euros for basic research, which represents a 23% increase in the resources allocated to this area compared to the previous year. This investment in clinical research carried out by the pharmaceutical industry has increased at an average annual cumulative rate of 5.3% over the last 10 years, rising from 470 million euros in 2011 to nearly 800 million euros in 2021.
Of the total investment in clinical trials, 35% was allocated to early phases (phases I and II), the most complicated from a scientific point of view, which already account for more than half of the clinical trials (55%) currently underway in Spain. This commitment has also materialised in a boost to research in the field of rare diseases, such that 22% of the trials underway in Spain are already focused on orphan pathologies.
“This sustained investment effort by pharmaceutical companies, together with the close collaboration with the Administration and regulatory agency, health and research centres, the involvement of health professionals and the growing participation of patients, has allowed Spain to become one of the countries with the best conditions for hosting clinical trials, to the point that a third of all trials carried out in Europe now have Spanish participation and that for some multinational companies Spain is the second country, after the United States, in participation in trials”, highlights Yermo.
In fact, he adds, “the great test of effort that was Covid-19 showed the strength of our model: we were the first country in Europe and the fourth in the world in clinical trials against the coronavirus. It is a success for our entire sector, a case that exemplifies very well the results of public-private collaboration in the field of health”.
This investment in clinical research generates a great virtuous circle, since it involves investment in hospitals by the companies promoting the trials – 82% of which are driven by the pharmaceutical industry -; it contributes to the qualification of healthcare professionals, thereby increasing the quality of our healthcare system, and it opens up new possibilities for Spanish patients, for many of whom participation in a clinical trial may represent a unique opportunity to cure their disease.
Specifically, according to the survey data, in 2021 nearly half of the pharmaceutical industry’s total R&D investment (593 million) went to research projects with hospitals, universities and public and private centres, which is a key contribution for these centres and one of the greatest examples of public-private collaboration in this field in our country. The rest of the investment (674 million) was devoted to R&D activities carried out in the companies’ own research centres.
Según la encuesta, todas las comunidades autónomas captaron inversiones en I+D por parte de la industria farmacéutica innovadora, aunque la Comunidad de Madrid (34%) y Cataluña (31%) acaparan más de la mitad de la inversión total en España. “Es importante que cada vez haya más comunidades autónomas, más hospitales en todo el territorio, que promuevan la investigación clínica; esto significará más inversión por parte de las compañías, más profesionales sanitarios implicados en investigación de vanguardia y más opciones para sus pacientes”, señala el director general de Farmaindustria.
Los datos de la encuesta de Farmaindustria muestran que cerca de una tercera parte (el 31,8%) del total de la inversión en I+D en 2021 fue en el campo de la biotecnología (403 millones de euros). En concreto, el 33% de las compañías farmacéuticas innovadoras utilizan la biotecnología o alguna herramienta de origen biotecnológico en la fase preclínica y el 57% en la fase clínica, mientras que el 90% de los laboratorios que utilizan la biotecnología en la fase clínica desarrollan total o parcialmente estas actividades en España. Fruto de esta investigación, en los últimos 20 años las compañías han comercializado en España hasta 72 medicamentos biotecnológicos de origen biológico-recombinante, principalmente en las áreas de oncología, hematología e inmunología.
La encuesta pone de manifiesto también la importancia estratégica que el sector farmacéutico innovador representa para el mercado español en términos no sólo de productividad y estímulo de la I+D, sino también de empleo de calidad, un aspecto clave para garantizar el desarrollo de nuevos fármacos y asegurar la competitividad de las compañías farmacéuticas en nuestro país. Así, el empleo directo de las compañías asociadas a Farmaindustria en tareas de investigación y desarrollo creció en 2021 un 6,5% y alcanzó las 5.393 personas, lo que supone, también en este ámbito, un nuevo máximo histórico.
Added to this is the high qualification of research personnel in the pharmaceutical industry, which continues to be one of its main distinguishing features: 9 out of 10 (89.6%) of these more than five thousand researchers are university graduates (undergraduates, graduates and doctors). Furthermore, according to the latest data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), two thirds of all R&D employees are women (3,600), which means that currently one in four female researchers in the Spanish industrial sector come from pharmaceutical companies.
“This high level of training of our professionals is a differentiating element with respect to other sectors. Quality employment is synonymous with wealth for countries. If we add that employment in innovative pharmaceutical companies is, for the most part, permanent and equal, we have the ideal equation to consider the pharmaceutical industry as a strategic sector for Spain,” Yermo emphasises.
To conclude, the director general of Farmaindustria stresses that “the pharmaceutical industry has the structure, experience, results and willingness to continue growing and consolidate Spain’s position as a benchmark in clinical research. A strategic plan for the country, with the right regulatory framework for the industry to grow, will allow us to do so. We are currently working with the Spanish government to define a Strategic Plan for the Pharmaceutical Industry based on three pillars: patient access to medicines, biomedical R&D and drug production, and the resilience of the supply chain,” recalls Yermo.