Life Sciences & Care
The importance of Life Sciences for Flanders can hardly be overestimated. 'The sector puts our region on the international map and attracts people and capital.'
In the success of Life Sciences in Flanders, PMV plays a key role. ‘We pursue investments that sustainably underpin the Flemish ecosystem and in those areas where we are strong, such as biotech,’ Wils explains. ‘Our aim is to strengthen our competitive advantages and reinforce our competitive position.’ The Flemish investment company is taking an integrated approach to this. Wils and his team are responsible for direct investments in companies.
PMV furthermore also invests indirectly via specialised funds, which yields interesting partnerships with other financiers. And in addition, PMV also contributes to the development of real estate and specific infrastructure such as the Tech Lane Ghent Science Park or the headquarters of the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology, with bio-incubator.
The fact that Flanders has grown into a top international region in Life Sciences is no accident. A combination of factors explains that success. For instance, Flanders can lean on a lot of success stories. Just think of the impressive growth trajectory of argenx or other sector peers, for example. ‘Such successes – and there are so many more in the pipeline – are necessary for the development of an ecosystem,’ says Wils.
He also notes the importance of our strong universities, the extensive network of specialised knowledge centres, and of a government that has developed an attractive investment climate. ‘Another important element in success is access to capital, both public and private. Moreover, that capital is getting ‘smarter’, the available funds are increasing and more and more international financiers are looking at Flanders.’
The Life Sciences sector is a house with many rooms. Biotech alone includes the development of drugs (red biotech), of products for agriculture (green biotech), and diagnostics.
In addition, medtech (the development of devices for in medicine) and e-health (ICT applications such as artificial intelligence in healthcare) are also part of Life Sciences. The importance of data and data handling will play an increasingly important role in Life Sciences.
Investing in Life Sciences is extremely risky. Our homework has to be good.Kenneth Wils, Head of Life Sciences & Care at PMV
Prove yourself first
Each of these industries requires its own approach, Wils explains. ‘In biotech, research has to go through several phases. There, the risks are more or less known and you can often realise a transfer before development is fully complete. Selling the promise, people sometimes say. For biotech, there is a lot of venture capital available to support the various stages. We mainly focus there on early-stage funding and strengthening the local ecosystem.’
‘Medtech and e-health are a different story. There, companies often have to prove themselves first and already achieve turnover before they become attractive to the bigger players. That means we invest there over the long term to allow companies to build themselves out commercially. We also try to contribute to building the ecosystem in a selective way. To do so, we also look for companies that are already more advanced. For example, we brought Sequana Medical to Flanders. We need local heroes like that. They ensure that other companies come in as partners or suppliers. Building an ecosystem around local heroes works, we have seen that in biotech.’
More than money
‘Our role is that of local specialist evergreen investor,’ Wils summarises. ‘By ‘evergreen’, we mean that we are long-term; we are able to invest from the very start of a company to the rest of its life cycle. Our money should also not flow back to our shareholder, the Flemish government, or external investors. So the return we get as an early investor in success stories like argenx we can reinvest in the ecosystem.’
PMV is one of the three most active investors in Life Sciences in our country with 32 holdings in its portfolio. ‘We position ourselves as a local reliable partner,’ it sounds.
A partner that provides not only money but also expertise. Wils: ‘My team consists of passionate professionals with diverse scientific backgrounds who complement each other. Investing in Life Sciences is extremely risky. Our homework has to be good.’
Moreover, PMV does not remain on the sidelines, but also sits on the boards of the companies in which it participates. ‘With an investment you buy a ticket for a rollercoaster, because the path from science to value is often very bumpy. Walking that course is the job of management. But in addition, a good board of directors is needed with directors who must have a lot of expertise and experience.’
‘We are, as it were, in the mud with them in finding the right expertise and putting together strong teams. To find the ideal profiles for companies, you need a good network. We also like to build collaborations with international partners and financiers, as they bring an extra address book.’
Finally, when investing, PMV also focuses on sustainability and the added value to society of projects. That makes financial sense. ‘We notice, for example, that added value is taken into account much more when reimbursing new drugs.’
But it also ties in with PMV’s mission, Wils concludes. ‘We are trying to positively influence the future of our children. That gives a lot of satisfaction. That’s also the beauty of PMV. You’re working on Flanders’ future prosperity.’