The international biotech sector clocked in at $1.37 trillion in 2022 despite headwinds such as slow launches, long-term drug pricing shifts and changing consumer behavior. Recent biotech breakthroughs include the development of an Ebola vaccine, progress in genetic testing and drug treatments and advances in artificial tissue growth. This article explores several leading biotech centers across the world and highlights their respective strengths.
1. Boston & Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Innovation Landscape: A powerhouse in the biotech and education sectors, with more than 1,000 biotech companies, ranging from small startups to billion-dollar firms. Robust patent activity.
- Academic Pedigree: Home to top-tier universities such as MIT and Harvard, which feed the regional innovation network with a constant flow of scientific talent and research.
- Investment Environment: A major hub for VC activity, particularly in the biotech sector, underscoring the region’s attractiveness to investors.
- Living Costs: High, reflecting the area’s status as a competitive innovation hub and its high concentration of top-tier institutions and companies.
- Talent Pool: Rich in highly qualified STEM graduates and researchers, nourished by the area’s academic institutions and thriving in areas like Kendall Square and the Longwood area of Boston, both dense with life science industry activity. The area is home to more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, ranging from small startups to heavyweights.
2. San Francisco Bay Area, California
- Innovation Landscape: A global leader in both tech and life sciences innovation. Silicon Valley is home to tech giants, while regions of San Francisco, Menlo Park and Palo Alto are dominant in the life sciences sector. The region is home to global organizations and startups. Industry leaders like Genentech, Amgen, Janssen, AbbVie, Nektar Therapeutics, Metagenomi and Santen have a presence in the area.
- Academic Pedigree: Home to respected universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley, along with numerous research institutions.
- Investment Environment: Known for strong VC investments in both tech startups and life sciences companies. Organizations like Biocom California provide further support.
- Living Costs: Extremely high, particularly in cities like San Francisco and Palo Alto.
- Talent Pool: Robust and highly specialized, with numerous STEM graduates and highly cited researchers contributing to both the tech and life sciences sectors. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a robust biotech industry. According to a report from CBRE, the San Francisco Bay Area has the second-highest concentration of life sciences researchers in the country.
3. Chicago, Illinois
- Innovation Landscape: Chicago has emerged as a hotbed for biotech startups, many of which have spun out from local academic powerhouses like the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.
- Academic Pedigree: Home to globally renowned universities. In addition to the two mentioned above, the University of Illinois at Chicago is another prominent university there.
- Investment Environment: Considerable VC investments. Particularly active in funding tech and biotech startups.
- Living Costs: Moderate to high, with costs varying across different areas of the city.
- Talent Pool: Robust, with a substantial number of STEM graduates and highly cited researchers, particularly in social sciences and business fields. The Chicago area is home to AbbVie as well as startups like Nanosphere and Ohmx.
4. Southern California
- Innovation Landscape: Home to Biotech Beach, the region is home to a vibrant mix of industries, including aeronautics, tech and a thriving biotech sector.
- Academic Pedigree: Home to several prestigious universities and research institutions like the University of Southern California (USC), California Institute of Technology (CalTech), University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and research centers such as the Scripps Research Institute.
- Investment Environment: A hotbed for VC activity, with investors drawn to the biotech sector’s dynamic growth and potential. The region generated $42.5 billion in life science industry economic activity as of 2018.
- Living Costs: High, reflecting the region’s booming industries and the desirability of the coastal California lifestyle.
- Talent Pool: Substantial, with approximately 92,000 jobs in the life science industry alone as of 2018, many of these roles filled by highly qualified STEM graduates and researchers. While San Diego is a long-standing biotech hub, organizations such as Biocom California and the Southern California Biomedical Council (SoCalBio) are working to promote biomedical and biotechnology research, development and manufacturing in the Greater Los Angeles region as well. The life sciences industry is also strong in Orange County.
5. Seattle, Washington
- Innovation Landscape: Seattle excels in tech and biotech as home base for tech titans Amazon and Microsoft. Recognized as a national hub for STEM jobs, GDP growth and VC investment, its innovation ecosystem continues to expand.
- Academic Pedigree: University of Washington and several prominent research institutions like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are in the area. Local education initiatives such as the “Seattle Excellence” program further support the academic environment.
- Investment Environment: Highly attractive for VC investments, especially in tech startups.
- Living Costs: High, reflecting the city’s status as a tech hub and the concentration of high-paying industries.
- Talent Pool: Rich and growing, with a high number of STEM graduates and researchers in computer science and life sciences. Seattle’s booming life sciences industry has created thousands of high-paying jobs and lab space growth, according to Axios.
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Innovation Landscape: Philadelphia stands out in the biotech and healthcare sectors, with a vibrant innovation ecosystem and a unique startup scene. The city has an active patent landscape, with more enterprise tech firms than consumer-facing companies.
- Academic Pedigree: The city hosts numerous universities, including the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and multiple research institutions.
- Investment Environment: The city experiences active VC activity, particularly in biotech startups. Billions of venture capital dollars flow to into Philadelphia companies. The area is home to a strong network of angel investors, accelerators, students and professionals.
- Living Costs: Living costs in Philadelphia are moderate relative to other major U.S. cities, making it a reasonably affordable location.
- Talent Pool: The city boasts a strong talent pool, with numerous STEM graduates and highly cited researchers contributing to its dynamic innovation landscape. Companies in the area include Integral Molecular, Bioquark, Spark Therapeutics, Novapeutics and Longevity Biotech.
7. Research Triangle, North Carolina
- Innovation Landscape: The Research Triangle boasts over 700 bioscience companies and more than 2,400 tech companies. High patent activity also reflects a dynamic innovation ecosystem.
- Academic Pedigree: Named after three top research universities — Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — which drives the region’s R&D engine.
- Investment Environment: Attracts significant VC, especially in life sciences and tech, enabling both startups and established firms.
- Living Costs: Relatively affordable compared to major tech/biotech hubs.
- Talent Pool: Known for a rich talent pool with many STEM grads and cited researchers. The region has more than 600 life sciences companies.
8. BioHealth Capital Region (Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia)
- Innovation Landscape: This region has a concentrated innovation landscape in the biotech and healthcare sectors, supported by a considerable number of patents. The BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) encompasses more than 1,800 life sciences companies and more than 70 federal labs.
- Academic Pedigree: Home to several world-class universities and research institutions, including those affiliated with the federal government. Examples include Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, known for their biomedical research and biotechnology programs, as well as George Washington University and Georgetown University, which offer specialized biotechnology programs.
- Investment Environment: The region is attractive for investments in the biotech and healthcare sectors, underpinned by its strong innovation ecosystem.
- Living Costs: The cost of living is high, especially in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
- Talent Pool: The region boasts a talented workforce, particularly in biotech and healthcare research. The D.C. metro is a hub for many companies involved in domains as AI, healthtech, biotech and other areas. Companies based in the region include Grail (Illumina), Horizon, CytoRecovery, Miltenyi Biotec and Emergent BioSolutions.
9. New York and New Jersey
- Innovation Landscape: These regions host a diverse innovation landscape, spanning finance, tech and biotech sectors. New Jersey is globally recognized as the “Medicine Chest of the World” for its world-renowned cluster of life sciences companies.
- Academic Pedigree: Home to numerous high-ranking universities, including Columbia, NYU and Princeton, and multiple research institutions that contribute to a strong academic and research environment.
- Investment Environment: They have a vibrant investment environment, with significant VC activity, particularly in tech and biotech startups. The area’s startup culture has blossomed in recent years.
- Living Costs: The cost of living is very high, especially in New York City, which is one of the most expensive cities in the world. NerdWallet has Manhattan topping its Cost of Living calculator out of a database of 304 cities.
- Talent Pool: New York and New Jersey boast an abundant talent pool, with numerous STEM graduates and highly cited researchers. In New Jersey, 126 high school and college students completed the year-long Governor’s STEM Scholars program in 2023.
10. Toronto, Canada
- Innovation Landscape: Toronto boasts a diverse innovation landscape, excelling particularly in tech, finance and life sciences. The city fosters a thriving startup ecosystem, and is rich with support structures such as incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces.
- Academic Pedigree: The city is home to the University of Toronto, ranked among the best in the world for academic work and research, along with several top-tier research institutions.
- Investment Environment: Toronto features an active investment environment, with substantial VC investments, especially in tech startups. Investment attraction agency, Toronto Global, plays a role in supporting the expansion of international businesses into the Toronto Region.
- Living Costs: Toronto is the most expensive city in Canada. While the cost of living in Toronto is high by Canadian standards, it is more moderate when compared to other international cities. The city is home to a new $100 million complex built by the University of Toronto that will focus on AI and biotech.
- Talent Pool: The city is known for its talented workforce, providing a steady flow of STEM graduates and researchers.
11. Vancouver, Canada
- Innovation Landscape: Over the past decade, Vancouver has emerged as a significant hub of biotech innovation, with the city becoming the epicenter of the British Columbia’s life sciences sector.
- Academic Pedigree: Vancouver is home to the University of British Columbia, one of Canada’s leading research universities, known for its emphasis on innovation and research.
- Investment Environment: Rapidly emerging, Vancouver has witnessed growth in investments, especially within the tech, biotech and clean energy sectors. Notable biotech companies in Vancouver include Stemcell and Zymeworks.
- Living Costs: Considerably high, particularly in housing. Vancouver is known to be one of Canada’s most expensive cities.
- Talent Pool: Robust and continuously growing, with a significant number of STEM graduates. Greater Vancouver has one of the highest concentrations of life sciences companies in Canada. According to a 2021 report commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, the annual revenue for the British Columbia life sciences sector reached CA$5.4 billion.
12. Cambridge, U.K.
- Innovation Landscape: Cambridge is well-renowned for its strong tech and life sciences clusters, particularly noted for the “Silicon Fen” tech cluster. Antibody development is a forte. The city is beginning to give its U.S. counterpart a run for its money.
- Academic Pedigree: Cambridge hosts the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s most renowned universities, as well as recognized research institutions such as the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
- Investment Environment: Cambridge presents an attractive environment for investments in the high-tech and biotech sectors.
- Living Costs: Living costs in Cambridge are high by U.K. standards. According to CompTIA, Cambridge scores near the bottom of their affordability rankings. Only London is more expensive in the U.K. Costs though are more reasonable when compared against other global cities.
- Talent Pool: The talent pool in Cambridge is rich and diverse, particularly prominent in tech and biotech sectors. Some of the biggest names in biotech, such as AstraZeneca have their research centers or headquarters in Cambridge. Other biotech companies in the area include Kymab, Bicycle Therapeutics, Mission Therapeutics, Congenica and Artios Pharma.
13. Oxford, U.K.
- Innovation Landscape: Oxford is renowned for its strengths in life sciences, tech and academia. The city has a long scientific tradition and an enormous output of biotech applications.
- Academic Pedigree: The city is home to the University of Oxford, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world.
- Investment Environment: Oxford has an active investment environment, attracting strong investments in tech and biotech sectors.
- Living Costs: Like Cambridge, the cost of living in Oxford is high by U.K. standards, but is reasonable relative to major U.S. cities.
- Talent Pool: Oxford boasts a talented workforce, composed of many STEM graduates and world-class researchers. The area has an Oxford Trust STEM Careers Programme.
14. Berlin, Germany
- Innovation Landscape: Berlin is known for its vibrant innovation landscape, particularly in the technology and creative sectors. The city has a robust biotechnology startup scene.
- Academic Pedigree: Berlin is home to many world-class universities and research institutions, such as Humboldt University of Berlin, Free University of Berlin and the Max Planck research institutes.
- Investment Environment: Berlin attracts substantial investment, especially in the dynamic technology and biotechnology sectors. The presence of accelerators like Bayer’s CoLaborator and Pfizer’s Berlin Healthcare Hub supports this entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- Living Costs: Although Berlin is a major European city, its living costs are relatively affordable. The average monthly living cost for international students in the city is roughly €1,300.
- Talent Pool: Berlin benefits from a diverse talent pool with many graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This fuels its thriving creative community. Some 5,300 biotech workers are employed in by 230 Berlin biotechnology firm, according to Berlin Talent.
15. Basel, Switzerland
- Innovation Landscape: Basel has a strong life sciences and biotech hub. With more than 700 companies active in biotech and advanced manufacturing, Basel may be Europe’s biotech answer to Silicon Valley.
- Academic Pedigree: Basel hosts the University of Basel, the oldest university in Switzerland, and several leading research institutions.
- Investment Environment: The city enjoys significant investments, particularly in the life sciences and biotech sectors.
- Living Costs: Living costs in Basel are high, reflecting Swiss living standards.
- Talent Pool: Basel has a talented workforce, particularly in the pharmaceuticals and life sciences sectors. Some 32,500 professionals work in some field of life sciences in the Basel Area.
16. Beijing, China
- Innovation Landscape: Beijing has a vibrant innovation landscape with high R&D expenditures, particularly in the tech, manufacturing and biotech sectors. The city is the backbone of a major biotechnology cluster in northeastern China.
- Academic Pedigree: Beijing is home to numerous high-ranking universities and research institutions, such as Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, promoting a strong academic and research environment.
- Investment Environment: The city attracts high domestic and foreign investments, especially in tech, manufacturing and biotech sectors.
- Living Costs: Living costs in Beijing are high by Chinese standards but are considered moderate when compared to many Western cities.
- Talent Pool: Beijing is home to many STEM graduates and globally recognized researchers. Chinese universities have surpassed U.S. institutions in the production of STEM PhDs. Beijing-based IT giants like Baidu and ByteDance also are applying AI to drug design.
17. Shanghai, China
- Innovation Landscape: Shanghai is strong in the high-tech and manufacturing sectors, with a growing focus on nurturing innovation in its biopharmaceutical ecosystem.
- Academic Pedigree: The city is home to multiple top-tier universities and research institutions, including Fudan University.
- Investment Environment: Shanghai has a vibrant investment environment, with substantial investments in tech and biotech sectors, reflecting a significant shift from a generics-focused play into a region that promotes innovation.
- Living Costs: While high for China, living costs in Shanghai are reasonable when compared to major Western cities.
- Talent Pool: The talent pool in Shanghai is large and high-quality, particularly in tech and biotech sectors, contributing to the city’s robust innovation landscape. Shanghai is also home to many AI researchers and companies that are using that technology to drive innovation in the biotech sector. For instance, Insilico Medicine, a Hong Kong-based company with half its global operations in Shanghai, has AI-discovered drugs in the clinic.
18. Bangalore, India
- Innovation Landscape: Bangalore, known as India’s Silicon Valley, has significant activity in both IT and biotech sectors, with almost 30% of Indian biotech companies based in or around the city.
- Academic Pedigree: The city is home to prestigious institutions such as the Indian Institute of Science.
- Investment Environment: Bangalore has an active investment environment, attracting considerable venture capital investment, especially in tech startups.
- Living Costs: Although living costs in Bangalore are low compared to Western standards, they are higher than in many other Indian cities.
- Talent Pool: The talent pool in Bangalore is large, particularly focused in the IT and engineering sectors. The city has attracted investments topping $3 billion from heavyweights such as Novartis, BMS Sanofi and Roche, generating more 450,000 jobs in the last seven years
19. Hyderabad, India
- Innovation Landscape: Hyderabad has a robust innovation landscape, particularly strong in IT and biotech. The city is home to Bharat Biotech, located in the region known as Genome Valley.
- Academic Pedigree: Hyderabad is home to several universities and research institutions. The Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad, known for its Department of Biotechnology, focuses on addressing medical and environmental challenges.
- Investment Environment: Hyderabad experiences active investment, especially in the IT and biotech sectors.
- Living Costs: Although Hyderabad has a lower cost of living compared to Western cities, it ranks among the higher ones within India.
- Talent Pool: The city has a significant number of STEM graduates, particularly in IT and biotech. For instance, the Department of Biotechnology at IIT Hyderabad offers programs in biotechnology and bioinformatics, including a Ph.D. in biotechnology.
Filed Under: Biologics, Cell & gene therapy, Data science, Drug Discovery and Development, machine learning and AI, Special Feature