Alsace Biovalley wins Gold Label of the European Cluster Excellence Initiative (ECEI)
By Kathleen Mackay
Alsace BioValley (ABV), the cluster organization for health and life sciences companies based in Strasbourg, France, has won a prestigious award from the European Cluster Excellence Initiative (ECEI). After a two-day quality audit conducted by two neutral cluster analysts in 2015, the organization received the label. The award signifies that ABV meets ECEI’s levels of excellence in terms of structure of the cluster, governance, financing, strategy, services and recognition.
Alsace BioValley, which takes in an area located between Strasbourg, Basel, Switzerland and Freiburg, Germany, is a cluster dedicated to therapeutic innovations and driven by healthcare companies in the medical and healthcare fields.
Today, many people are familiar with the high-tech companies that often cluster or gather around prestigious universities. Silicon Valley in California is near Stanford University, and similar high-tech clusters are gathered around MIT in the Boston area in the U.S., and around Cambridge University in the UK.
This tri-nation focus of the Alsace BioValley (ABV) is also logical for the cluster – it offers one of Europe’s highest concentrations of health researchers and companies. In this tri-national BioValley area, scientists and researchers can meet all the biggest Pharma and Techmed leaders within a 200km radius. The ABV is supported by the French state, by Alsace regional authorities and by the Strasbourg Eurometropole. The French government has identified the ABV as one of the major life sciences clusters in France and its support is intended to help establish the country as one of the premier centers for research and innovation in the world.
Part of the Alsace BioValley’s success can be attributed to the synergy created by the region’s many medtech scientific talents, its distinguished prize-winning scientists including Nobel Prize winners Professor Werner Arber (Medicine, 1978), Professor Jean-Marie Lehn (Chemistry, 1987), Professor Martin Karplus (Chemistry, 2013 – picture left) and Professor Harald Zur Hausen (Physiology or Medicine, 2008), and its internationally renowned research institutes. Among them are the Human Frontier Science (HFSP) and IRCAD (Research Institute Against Digestive Cancers), both located in Strasbourg.
medeuronet is also a member of the ABV and is proud to be part of this eco-system developed by the Alsace region and the city of Strasbourg. With medeuronet’s specialization in developing a strategic relationship with medical device companies from pre-market launch requirements through to execution of sales strategy, this organization finds many synergies in being part of the ABV and this alliance helps connect its clients’ innovations and discoveries with the right life sciences experts in Europe.
Importance of Cluster Excellence Award
The award given by the European Cluster Excellence Initiative has many positive consequences for the ABV. Guillaume Facchi, Head of Operations of the Alsace BioValley, said, “This award is important to us because it gives us further credibility and recognition in the international realm. This reinforces our international identity.”
“Only 15 clusters out of 69 received the award,” notes ABV-President Séverine Sigrist.
Five new medtech start-ups a year are set up in this small region of France. “The University of Strasbourg, ranked 17th for chemistry and 51st for life sciences in the latest Shanghai rankings, gives us a world-class research centre,” explains Sigrist. The cluster concentrates on research in several strategic fields: robotic, keyhole surgery and robotics in general, implantable medical devices, simulation and modelling tools, drug delivery and neuroscience. “Our biocluster helps companies set up collaborative projects, from design to end products, and makes it easier to raise funds and find new business,” continues Sigrist. 
The Alsace Biovalley has been behind more than 492 regional collaborative projects over the past ten years. Eight medtech companies in the region, including five accredited innovation cluster start-ups, have benefited from a 32 million-euro R&D budget, i.e. an average of €1.5 million per medtech company. This, for example, enabled Defymed, which has designed an artificial pancreas, to obtain €1.2 million in 2013.
“We offer healthcare companies a range of services,” said Facchi of the ABV, “including funding assistance for collaborative R&D projects, coaching in fundraising, and identification of partners. ABV can also advise companies about tax credits for research and development work.”
Currently Alsace BioValley has 155 members operating in the healthcare field. Among the well-recognized companies which belong to the cluster are SANOFI, Lilly France, Merck Millipore, GE Healthcare, Hartmann, Bruker Biospin, as well as medeuronet. The region employs 50,000 people, and 15,000 scientists. These companies represent 45% of the European medical technologies market. This is another benefit to medeuronet being part of the ABV, to be strategically connected to so many medical technologies companies.
Partners in Foreign Markets
Facchi also notes that Alsace BioValley helps its member organizations enter foreign markets.
Facchi explains, “One of our German partners is the cluster BioPRO GmbH. This successful partnership encourages collaborative projects between Alsatian companies and German companies. For example, a collaborative project between Amoneta and JPT Peptide Technologies GmbH was born.”
Alsace BioValley also has partnerships with the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) in the U.S., the Japan Bioindustry Association in Japan, and has partnerships in Canada, Belgium and Germany.
Among its foreign partners is BioWin, the Belgian cluster. The BioWin (Wallonia, Belgium) and Alsace BioValley (Alsace, France) health competitiveness clusters partnership is aimed at encouraging future cooperation between the two regions. This agreement will result in a call for projects to accelerate the development of research projects, particularly in the areas of cell therapy, biomaterials, implantable medical devices, robotics and diagnostics. The primary stakes of this new partnership are financed projects, especially for the benefit of Alsatian and Walloon life sciences.
Medical Technologies Campus
One of the most ambitious projects ABV is undertaking is the development of the MedTech Campus in Strasbourg, in conjunction with the Strasbourg Eurometropole. The project is located within the walls of the Civil Hospital of Strasbourg. “This will distinguish Strasbourg as a center of excellence in healthcare technologies,” says Facchi, “and the Medtech Campus will bring together recognized specialists in healthcare, research and training to help to forge close relationships with business.”
The Medtech Campus is built on several complementary pillars, Facchi explains:
- The Institute of Image-Guided Minimally Invasive Surgery, run by IRCAD (Research Institute Against Digestive Cancers). This training center trains more than 6000 surgeons each year in hands-on experimental labs.
- An Institute for developing new Biomedical Implants, the Institut Carnot MICA.
- An academic laboratory specialized in Imaging & Robotics, the ICube laboratory.
- Equipment recognized by the French government as excellent.
- The Strasbourg University Hospital with 15 000 employees.
- Three business centers for R&D companies in the medical instrumentation sector: pH8, the Biocluster (already available) and a Technoparc (in progress). A 30,000 sq. meter building will accommodate companies and offer shared services and equipment. These shared (fee-for-service) technical services will include medical engineering platforms, IT–equipped meeting rooms and a lecture hall to accommodate 100.
With exciting and far-reaching projects in the works, the future of the Alsace BioValley looks bright. It is leading the way for companies to achieve greater results in research and innovation, and inspiring greater achievement and collaboration.
“The Alsace BioValley is definitely helping France as a whole,” concludes Facchi, acknowledging that many highly-skilled jobs are being created as new companies are formed. “We are helping to increase the competitiveness of companies and improving their knowledge about how to secure financing. We are encouraging their growth.”