- Improve access to equity by launching novel specialised investment funds
- Support research and innovation by issuing calls for projects with no thematic restrictions, going beyond the scope of biopharmaceutical and digital applications
- Invest in the production tool, while maintaining a focus on medical devices and diagnostics
Following the announcement of the “France Relance” stimulus package, the Healthcare Clusters network, which groups the six French healthcare competitiveness clusters – Atlanpole Biotherapies, Clubster NSL, Eurobiomed, Biovalley France, Lyonbiopôle and Medicen Paris Region, put forward three proposals to ensure French healthcare sovereignty and address current and future challenges facing the practice of medicine. Wishing to play a role in this process, the Healthcare Clusters network, capitalising on its direct contacts with regional innovation players, has put forward several proposals to make this stimulus package more effective. The France Relance stimulus package considers the healthcare industry a key strategic sector, a position welcomed by the Healthcare Clusters network. The current health crisis has underlined the challenges of healthcare sovereignty, demonstrating the need to support investment and innovation in this sector. Against this background, the Healthcare Clusters network recommends integrating the specificities of healthcare industries in order to ring-fence budgets and secure means of intervention for three areas: access to equity, support for research and innovation and investment in the production tool.
ACCESS TO EQUITY
The healthcare sector is characterised by the need for large-scale upstream investment. While the France Relance stimulus package aims to increase the size of generalist funds, boosting existing funds will not in itself be enough to safeguard the sector’s development in France. Healthcare Clusters consider that healthcare funds such as Innobio, Innobio2 or Patient Autonome will require additional input of between € 150 to € 200M. Note that the development of pharmaceuticals generally takes up to 15 years of R&D and close on € 1bn of investment, with only one molecule out of every hundred evaluated actually ending up on the market. The Healthcare Clusters network therefore recommends launching new funds tailored to the healthcare sector, with a funding cap of 49% by France Relance, thus leveraging investments by the private sector and municipalities. These funds could be both national and regional to encourage regional decentralisation and business strategies, and to foster seed funds, as well as post startup or capital-development funds. This involvement in new specialised healthcare funds would mobilise an additional France Relance envelope amounting to € 250M.
“There is an urgent need in our industry for new specialised funds, the only ones capable of investing in companies that operate capital-intensive high-risk projects”, stress the presidents of the Healthcare Clusters network, adding “In France, there are still few funds of this type, making it more difficult for healthcare companies to access equity. “
To address the funding gap for mature healthcare companies, during late-stage development phases and for investments in excess of € 50M, France Relance may again create leverage that would help to develop this type of funding, by financing up to 49% and contributing € 250 to 400M to this initiative. Input from the European Investment Bank would strengthen such a fund or supplement a specialised Equity fund targeting production tools used to develop healthcare products.
SUPPORT FOR RESEARCH AND INNOVATION
Support for research and innovation is a keystone element of the stimulus package. Healthcare Clusters recommend that new French National Research Agency (ANR) resources should be distributed across the healthcare sector in the form of two kinds of calls for projects. Firstly, calls for healthcare projects with no thematic restrictions, focusing on upstream research and on strengthening innovation power in terms of prevention and patient care and management. Secondly, increased emphasis on calls for collaborative public-private projects in the healthcare sector (such as Collaborative Enterprise Research Projects – PRCE) to supplement resources relating to the Investing in the Future Programme (PIA) focused on biomedical research. Healthcare is considered a strategic sector for PIA innovation support, meaning that these budgets have to be ring-fenced to ensure continuity, while still covering the full range of healthcare industries and ensuring the focus is not limited to biopharmaceuticals and healthcare data. The latest version of the PIA suggests ring-fencing some of the funds for phase I and II clinical pharmaceutical trials and the initial stages of the validation of medical devices and diagnostic solutions. The 4th version of the PIA should establish RHU funding options (Hospital-University Research), that could go some way to meeting this need.
“The clinical assessment phase, which requires major investments, is often a crucial period during which French innovations are intercepted by foreign companies”, the presidents of the Healthcare Clusters network pointed out. “A call for projects that specifically targets this development stage would help French patients benefit from innovative healthcare products. “
INVESTMENT IN THE PRODUCTION TOOL
In addition to reducing the tax burden for the manufacture of scaled-up batches, vital to the sector’s development, it is also recommended to apply stronger tax reductions on preclinical and clinical batches. This would enhance regional development of manufacturing skills and know-how on innovative products, and drive the deployment of scaled-up manufacturing processes. Given the range of possible domains, it might be necessary to ring-fence 50% of the budget of € 1bn provided for in the stimulus package to reshore strategic supplies, for healthcare sector projects in particular, thus ensuring that this measure helps to improve French healthcare sovereignty. While it may have been useful in 2020, the criterion “first to apply is the first funded” could be detrimental to healthcare industrials if it persists in the long-term. In addition, it is vital that these investments are not limited solely to biopharmaceuticals and other drugs, and that they include investments in production tools for medical devices and diagnostic solutions as well as the components required for their manufacture and usage. Lastly, regarding means of intervention, private actors will be better served by applying for subsidies, especially when setting up novel technologies. This is because it takes longer to scale up new technologies and maximise the production tool. The presidents of the Healthcare Clusters network concluded “As actors who play a key role in the competitiveness of healthcare industries, intimately associated with the innovative healthcare business sector throughout the entire territory for fifteen years, we are convinced that these measures will strengthen French healthcare sovereignty over the long-term”.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT HEALTHCARE CLUSTER NETWORKS
The Healthcare Clusters network was established on 11 April 2018 and groups the French competitiveness clusters in the healthcare sector – Atlanpole Biotherapies, Clubster NSL, Eurobiomed, Biovalley France, Lyonbiopôle and Medicen Paris Region. The network strives to enhance the results of Healthcare Cluster initiatives since 2005, in favour of the healthcare sector both in France and abroad. Together, these clusters group 1,500 members, including 1,000 SMEs. Large corporations, academic institutions, regional authorities, hospitals and healthcare institutions all play a role in developing this unique and vibrant ecosystem. Projects awarded the competitive cluster label represent nearly 5 billion euros, with these initiatives alone bringing together close on 1,000 members. Completed projects have put 400 products or services on the market, and created 54 companies. Based on this encouraging record, the six Clusters are intensifying collaborative efforts to strengthen their members’ innovation power and enhance the economic weight of the healthcare sectors they represent.