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The DNA of TopDutch's Life Science & Health Industry

In the TopDutch region health is, literally sometimes, in the blood. As a wealthy, inclusive society, keeping everybody healthy for as long as possible is the goal of not just government or business, but the whole region. From their leading medics and researchers, to their 167,000 dedicated citizens participating in the multi-generational cohort study Lifelines; TopDutch is the place to be for the Life Sciences & Health industry. Here's 7 reasons why Life Science and Health companies are thriving in the TopDutch region.

1. A dynamic Life Sciences & Health sector with good connections

The Netherlands has the most concentrated Life Sciences & Health sector in the world, with more than 6,000 companies (employing a total of around 80,000 employees) and research centers within a 190 kilometer (118 mile) radius, and excellent connections to the rest of Europe and the world. With more than 70% of its companies commercially active abroad, the Netherlands is number eight on the global ranking for patents in the sector, and a Dutch company has been involved in half of the recent top 10 biotech deals in Europe. 

The Northern Netherlands, with its dynamic Life Sciences & Health cluster, plays an important role in this success. The University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG, one of the largest hospitals in the Netherlands), the regional hospitals, the care facilities and the health insurance companies are always focused on improving care and health. The university, colleges and vocational training institutes provide a steady flow of well-trained talent. The many start-ups, spin-offs, SMEs and multinationals convert this knowledge into innovative products and services. The local and regional government authorities also actively support the sector.

2. A clear focus on Healthy Ageing

An ageing population means an increased demand for care and, therefore, an increase in healthcare costs. At the same time, fewer people are working to provide this care and cover the costs. In many places in the world, it has become a challenge to maintain both accessible and affordable care. The Northern Netherlands is no different. To contribute to possible solutions to this global challenge, the region has been focusing on Healthy Ageing for the past three decades. This has clearly influenced knowledge development, innovations, education, investments and activities in the region. The European Commission has named the Northern Netherlands to be a best practice region for Active and Healthy Ageing twice so far. This is not just a great motivator for the already dynamic Life Sciences & Health sector in the region, it also means extra international attention, funding and opportunities for the export of innovative knowledge and products.

The power of this region is that we have a shared feeling of responsibility.

Daan Bultje, Director of Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands (HANNN)

"The UMCG, the university, the colleges, the companies, insurers, care facilities: everyone wants to contribute to healthy ageing. The future of the care sector is a big challenge, both internationally and in our region. We have the perfect mix of problems and talent here. And we know how to find each other. We really work together toward an environment that pushes its residents in the right, healthy direction." - Daan Bultje, Director of Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands (HANNN)

3. The TopDutch mentality: Pioneering and collaborating

The TopDutch are born pioneers: A good idea never goes to waste here. Scientists, care facilities and companies actively seek each other out to make sure that promising knowledge can be marketed as a product or service very quickly. Educational institutes train the employees of the future, focusing on entrepreneurship, while the government creates room for experiments and invests in new activities. It’s no wonder that the TopDutch region has a vibrant start-up scene.

The lines between multinationals, start-ups, top researchers, doctors, insurers, educational institutions and governments are short here. There is an open and inclusive atmosphere, where it’s easy for everyone to meet each other in one of the many networks. Take for example, the Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands, where governments, educational and care facilities, and entrepreneurs are committed to healthy changes and activities in the region. Or the Life Cooperative, where 25 companies from the region combine their strengths to organize communal projects, research, etc. Another example is Health Hub Roden that facilitates collaboration in the area of medical technology. The pioneering mentality and open collaboration accelerate innovation in the region and stimulate the growing activities in the field of Life Sciences & Technology.

If you’re enthusiastic and know what you’re talking about, you can find all the support you need here.

Nutte van Belzen, neurologist and co-founder of CC Diagnostics

"An ecosystem like the one in the Northern Netherlands is great for a start-up. Parties complement each other, help each other achieve goals. When two of my fellow students and I came across an old patent during our studies, we started to develop a new test to screen cervical cancer. It looked promising, so we started a company. For a whole year, we received intensive guidance from VentureLab North; they turned us into real entrepreneurs. I think this also contributed to the confidence that investors and grant providers had in us. We get a lot of support from the regional government and other well-established companies. They actively helped us to find new team members and establish useful contacts. If you’re enthusiastic and know what you’re talking about, you can find all the support you need here."- Nutte van Belzen, neurologist and co-founder of CC Diagnostics

"For the development of our Cyclops, a disposable inhaler with medicine in powdered form, the open contact we have with researchers, doctors and other companies in the region is invaluable. The patent for the inhaler comes from Professor Frijlink from the University of Groningen and researchers from his team are still contributing to the further development. We also have good contact with the doctors at the hospital and, through them, with the end-user of the Cyclops. Twenty patients with cystic fibrosis are currently using the Cyclops. They take antibiotics continuously to prevent infections, normally with a large atomizer that they have to clean after every use. Our powder inhaler makes administering the antibiotics easier and more hygienic. The medicine can also be stored much longer, up to three years. Both the lung specialists and the first users are enthusiastic and they provide us with important information for further product development. We collaborate closely with other companies in the region on this development. Which is nice, because there is so much knowledge here about the regulations for the development of medical devices." - Reinier Schwietert, Managing Director PureIMS

The Cyclops

4. The newest knowledge as building blocks for innovation

The university, colleges and University Medical Center Groningen all belong to the international elite when it comes to basic and clinical research. For example, Nobel Prize Laureate, Ben Feringa, developed a ‘molecular motor’, a molecule that can be steered with heat and light, which can be used, for example, to transport medicine to the correct place in the body. And the researchers from European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA) are at the international forefront in unraveling the ageing process at a cellular level. Research on genetics, transplants, chemistry, data analysis, foods and smart materials is also prominent in the research institutes and companies in the Northern Netherlands. Real innovation is created by zooming in on the common ground between professions.

Another interface that creates useful knowledge for innovation is theory and practice. The North is good at organizing testing grounds, like in the Groningen neighborhood of Selwerd. Here, lawyers, economists and behavioral scientists from the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, together with the municipality and an insurance company, monitor the effects that various interventions have on the health of the local residents. The region, with its loyal population, excels in gathering data in cohort studies. The Lifelines data collection, which follows 167,000 Northerners extensively for thirty years, is an almost endless source of knowledge. The participants provide blood, urine and stool samples, as well as information about their lifestyle and health. Scientists, whether they collaborate with companies or not, can use this data for various studies: detecting early signs of diabetes, the effect of little exercise or which foods contribute to healthy intestinal flora.

Ben Feringa, Nobel Prize Laureate

Our raw material is knowledge and talent needed to turn it into something valuable.

Gerard Lenstra, Project Manager NOM

“Foreign companies love to visit us. Our raw material is knowledge and the talent needed to turn it into something valuable. There are a lot of smart people here who work very efficiently and are also great team players.” - Gerard Lenstra, Project Manager NOM, Investment and Development Company for the Northern Netherlands

“The Northern Netherlands is good at cohort studies. Lifelines is the biggest and most well-known, but we have many more. Prevend, for example, which is about kidney health, Trails that is making an inventory of the psychic, social and physical development of adolescents, and TransplantLines that follows people with a donor organ. It helps that the people here tend to stay here, and that bioanalysis is one of our strengths. This region is also very good with big data; storing and processing large amounts of data. We borrow from the university’s astronomers and the ASTRON radio telescope; they can handle pretty much any amount of data.” - Jan Sikkema, Business Development Director at Center for Development and Innovation (CDI) at UMCG

5. Excellent environment for innovative activities

The Dutch are masters at innovation: we are second in the world ranking (2018 Global Innovation Index). We also do our best to create the right conditions for innovation. We consider very carefully before we invest. Life Sciences & Health is a top sector with a high priority in the Netherlands.

The Northern Netherlands also pulls out all the stops to help stimulate innovation. For example, innovative start-ups get a lot of support in the TopDutch region. Companies, the UMCG and the regional governments all participate in investment funds for start-ups. And starting companies can count on a year of practical support and coaching from VentureLab North.

Venture Lab North, located in Start Up City

In the Northern Netherlands, entrepreneurs not only have easy access to a vast amount of relevant knowledge but also state-of-the-art research facilities. Health Hub Roden or Innolab Chemie have laboratories that are easily accessible and that can be used for both short-term and long-term projects. Someone developing drugs or medical equipment can access patients for clinical trials through the hospitals, and get comprehensive knowledge about regulations via the networks. Those same networks provide contacts in the region and other parts of the Netherlands, Europe and the rest of the world. It helps that the region is very accessible: Hamburg and Düsseldorf are just as close by train as Amsterdam and The Hague, and it’s only an hour’s flight to London.

Together, we are more visible to the rest of the world, and the cooperation makes it easier for us to collaborate with knowledge institutes.

Ton Vries, Managing Director at Syncom and initiator Life Cooperative and Innolab Chemie

“We’re good at moving knowledge onto the market. We connect companies from outside the region to our knowledge. Promising ideas are tested in one of the laboratories, and we try to keep the thresholds as low as possible. Upscaling can be done here at Campus Groningen, where more and more companies are building their research facilities. And when the time comes to go on the market and start growing, the region has fantastic opportunities for successful entrepreneurship.”- Edward van der Meer, Director Healthy Ageing Campus Groningen

“Pharmacists from around the world hire us for the development of components for drugs that still have to be tested. Syncom, with its 300 employees, is the largest chemical Clinical Research Organisation (CRO) in Europe. The Northern Netherlands is home to many companies in this sector that provides services to the pharmaceutical industry. QPS, Ardena and PRA Health Services use bioanalysis to monitor how new drugs perform in clinical trials. SPARK Holland makes equipment for BioAnalysis. And companies like Polyganics and Innocore package the drugs with smart materials, so the right dose arrives at exactly the right spot.

"25 companies, with a total of 2,000 employees, are united in the Life Cooperative. Together, we are more visible to the rest of the world, and the cooperation makes it easier for us to collaborate with knowledge institutes. Together, we created a funding instrument for start-ups to stimulate innovation and activities. And we opened Innolab Chemie, with low-threshold access where new ideas can be tested. This helps our ecosystem grow and it creates extra activities for the established companies.” - Ton Vries, Managing Director at Syncom and initiator Life Cooperative and Innolab Chemie

6. A constant supply of young and experienced talent

Enterprising, productive, sociable and good language skills. The educational institutes in the Northern Netherlands provide a vast supply of highly-trained and enterprising employees for the Life Sciences & Health sector. This is one of the major reasons why companies come to the region and remain in the region. The various companies employee highly-trained graduates and doctors in the fields of medicine, dentistry, pharmacology, physical therapy, biomedical sciences and chemistry. There are also many expert analysts and laboratory technicians from the colleges and vocational training institutes in the region. Because employees tend to stay near home and there are ample career opportunities, finding experienced talent to join the workforce is quite easy.

The main reason we stay in the Northern Netherlands is the people.

 Peter Ketelaar, PRA Health Services, Vice President of Global Bioanalytical Services

“Pharmaceutical companies often outsource their drug research and the Northern Netherlands is a very popular region for this. Pharmacist, Jan Jonkman, started the precursor to our lab in 1984. QPS and Ardena have their roots here too. In addition to our vast knowledge and experience, this region is attractive for clinical drug trials because our ethics commission is very efficient. The workload is increasing and we will be expanding our lab significantly, from 3,000 to 6,000 square meters (9,842 to 19,685 square feet). This will make it the largest laboratory for drug research in Europe.

"We like the Northern Netherlands because property is affordable and the authorities realize the importance of investing in innovation and biotech start-ups. This benefits the entire sector. But in the end, the main reason PRA Health Services stays in the Northern Netherlands is the people. The university provides a constant supply of masters and doctors in chemistry, pharmacology and biology, and the colleges and vocational training institutes provide high-quality laboratory training. An added bonus: people here are loyal, as proven by our extremely low turnover of 4%.”- Peter Ketelaar, PRA Health Services, Vice President of Global Bioanalytical Services

7. A great place to live

The Frisian lakes, the forests of Drenthe, the views in Groningen and, of course, the islands and the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. But also the historical villages and cities, renowned museums, bustling shopping streets and vibrant night-life. The Northern Netherlands has it all. Add to this the fact that the Netherlands is one of the happiest countries in the world, with excellent schools and the best healthcare system in Europe. No wonder people don’t want to leave!

Take a walk through nature in our province of Drenthe

Healthcare in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has excellent healthcare. Every Dutch resident must have healthcare insurance. The healthcare is of high-quality, accessible to everyone and affordable. This puts the Netherlands in the very top across a number of indicators in the Euro Health Consumer Index, which ranks the best healthcare systems in Europe.

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So what will be your next move? How will your company join the fight for a healthier population? Contact our network of knowledge-intensive institutions and innovative and entrepreneurial companies. You’ll soon see for yourself how quickly things get done here in the Northern Netherlands.

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