Key facts & figures

The German biotech industry at a glance

How is the German biotechnology industry doing? How are the most important economic indicators such as turnover, R&D investments, employees or financing developing? What about the start-up dynamics and the main focus areas of activity in the industry? This section provides a comprehensive insight into key data and facts on listed and private biotech companies in Germany.

1. Key figures of the German biotech sector – Introduction

The German biotech industry has become an enduring global player, generating more turnover than ever before and being an employer for a growing number of people. There was also significantly more money available for research and development than in previous years. This is demonstrated by the Biotech Report 2021 of BIOCOM AG which was conducted in early 2021 providing key figures of 2020. For more than 35 years, BIOCOM. has accompanied the development of the biotech industry in Europe. Every year since 2005, the most important key figures of German biotech companies have been collected and analysed on the basis of the criteria of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only for 2019, the collection of data was paused due to COVID-19. The figures and graphs cited below refer to those companies defined by the OECD as "dedicated" biotech companies. (For more information on the methodology, please see chapter 10)

The 2020 figures show that the biotech industry is currently experiencing a major growth spurt - not least due to the high demand resulting from the COVID 19 pandemic. The industry has proven to be able to transform its technological and scientific know-how into real products and services. The diversity of fields of activity, topics and expertise is still broad, even though 2020 shed light on the growth potential in the medical sector, in particular. This is especially true for vaccines and their manufacturing, and for diagnostics, a field in which many medium-sized and family-run diagnostic developers made an impact.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that biotechnology plays a crucial role in other areas

when it comes to alternative proteins in the food sector as part of new solutions for to feed a steadily growing world population. In the area of innovative and sustainable packaging and materials, biotechnological applications offer innovative and climate-friendly solutions, just as they do in the area of sustainable textiles or waste-to-value approaches in a circular bioeconomy. The rapid development of recent years in the areas of cultured meat or bioplastics further demonstrate the enormous potential for biotech-based innovations beyond the medical sector.


2. Development of turnover in the German biotech sector

The 736 German biotech companies have achieved major growth in 2020 compared to the pre-COVID times in 2018. The industry has thus proven its capabilities to generate large amounts of revenues, even in times of crises. Many German biotech companies have now reached a high degree of maturity which is reflected in growing turnover and employee numbers. At the same time, the start-up momentum that began in 2016 has further continued. As most of the start-ups are active in the medical field, this reflects the enormous potential biotechnology has for the health sector in particular. However, new companies are emerging in other field, so that further growth can be expected in the future.

It is the first time that the sector turnover has surpassed the six billion euros hurdle, and not by a margin, either. The total turnover of the sector increased to €6.7bn, which corresponds to a tremendous increase of almost 50% compared to the pre-COVID year 2018. This growth is obviously driven by the revenues generated with vaccines and related services, representing €4.8bn of turnover for the health sector. In addition, non-specific biotech services (€1.4bn) as well as companies focusing on industrial biotechnology (€358m) showed a significant plus in turnover figures as well.

3. Areas of activity of biotechnology companies

A total of 736 German biotech companies were counted by the end of 2020 (2018: 679). Half of them (52%) focus their activities in the health area, either developing new therapeutics, diagnostics or vaccines or working on technology platforms for this purpose. Approximately one third (30%) of the companies provide services to others and slightly more than 10% deal with industrial biotechnology. Only a minor part of the German biotech sector is active in agribiotechnology. 5% have a focus on bioinformatics.

4. Focus on medical biotechnology

The majority of biotech companies focus their activities in the health area, either developing therapeutics, vaccines or new diagnostics. 383 companies (52%) deal with medical topics and thus belong to the so-called "red" biotechnology. With the COVID-19 pandemic at the top of the agenda, this trend has accelerated, resulting in a particularly strong increase in turnover and employment figures in this segment.

Constant number of drug developers

2020 in particular has shown that biotechnology is able to deliver efficient solutions to manage a global pandemic and providing fast diagnostic services, innovative preventive strategies and therapeutic treatment options at a speed previously not seen in the biotechnology sector. In addition, there are numerous other indications in which new therapeutic approaches are being developed.

A total of 64 biotech companies have one or more candidates in clinical development. BioNTech and CureVac may be the most prominent these days, but they are by far not the only promising and attractive players in the broad field of health biotech developers. The vast majority of companies (210), however, is still either in the preclinical stage of drug development or developing technology platforms.

Clinical pipeline

In total, as per 10/2021, the 64 therapy developers had 112 biologically active substances in one of the three development phases in 2020 (2018: 105). One candidate was in the approval process.

The total number of approved vaccines and therapeutics has increased from 14 to 16. Among the two newly approved drugs is the mRNA-based corona virus vaccine BNT162b developed by BioNTech, which received the first marketing authorization worldwide in December, and the sedative Remimazolam developed by PAION. The latter has been approved for general anesthesia in the USA, the EU/EEA, China, Japan and South Korea.

Companies with a focus on technology platforms

The vast majority of companies (210) in the healthcare sector either have drug candidates in the very early pipeline that are still in the preclinical phase of drug development or are developing technology platforms that can be used for various applications in medical biotechnology. The number of these companies has increased significantly since 2015. This demonstrates that there is still sufficient and growing demand for new technologies to be used in drug development.

Diagnostics more important than ever

The pandemic made clear that it is not sufficient to only focus on therapeutic strategies. The importance of diagnostics skyrocketed during the past year, which is reflected in a steadily growing section of the biotech sector (110 companies) dedicated

to the development of diagnostics. In the future, stratified and individualised medicine will likely push this segment further to the forefront. For many diseases it will not only be important to find a targeted therapy, but to offer a quick and non-invasive way of diagnosis. Furthermore, predictions on the effect of a drug (“Companion Diagnostics”) are able to significantly reduce side effects and avoid incorrect treatment. In 2020, the 110 diagnostic companies achieved a turnover of €2.8bn (+39%; 2018: €2bn), which is nearly 60% of the total turnover of all biotech companies active in the health sector.

Expenditure on research and development (€291m) remained at the level of 2018 (€269m). Investors also showed confidence in diagnostic developers, not only related to COVID-19, but also with regard to using novel tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Another field of interest are glycose measurements for diabetes patientsamong others, and further biomarker-based diagnostics. Data-driven precision medicine will increase this development even more in the future.

5. Services and industrial biotechnology as growth drivers

With 223 companies, companies focusing on non-specific services build the second largest pillar of the German biotech sector. This segment includes all companies that provide equipment and reagents or services based primarily on biotechnological principles.

This also includes contract manufacturers and biomanufacturing experts. In 2020, the companies were able to top the strong sales growth of 2018. Nearly one and a half billion euros in turnover (€1.41bn) were achieved in this segment, which corresponds to an increase of 38,5% compared to 2018 (€1.01bn).

R&D expenditure (€151.1m) also rose by nearly a third (29%) since 2018 and almost 1,000 more staff were employed (8,480; 2018: 7,540 employees). This segment demonstrates continuous growth within the German biotech sector and proved to be one of the pillars for the fast enrolment of vaccine and diagnostic manufacturing to efficiently fight the pandemic.

Industrial biotechnology on the rise

74 companies develop industrial applications for various industries (2018: 69 companies) in Germany. The number of these companies is growing slowly, but the importance of industrial biotechnology is still much higher than the number of companies suggests. Growing demand for industrial biotech applications in the food sector, for instance in the area of alternative proteins as well as in the field of sustainable materials, entails a steady acceleration of industrial biotechnology. The number of companies only slightly increased in the past two years. Nevertheless, the companies recorded an increase in turnover (€358m, +14%). The number of employees remained at a high level at 1,890 (2018: 1.820 employees). Among the highlights in this field are companies active in cellular agriculture. These companies grow animal products directly from cells and are using the possibilities of precision fermentation. Fish, meat and diary products can thus be produced in the bioreactor in the future instead of raising and slaughtering farm animals.

Agrobiotechnology stable at low level

The application of biotechnology in the plant breeding and agricultural sectors has declined over the years, stabilising at a low level since 2015. The 19 companies (2018: 20 companies) in this segment employed 420 people in 2020 and generated a turnover of €38.4m (2018: 440 employees, €35.5m turnover).

6. Research & Development expenditure

Due to the successes in developing new vaccines and diagnostics to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant overall increase in research and development (R&D) expenditure was observed in 2020. At €2.1 bn (+79% compared to 2018), this figure was well above the two billion mark.

Companies in the healthcare sector doubled their R&D investments (€1.9bn) compared to €993m in 2018, accounting for almost 90% of the biotech industry’s total R&D investments. This truly reflects the high importance vaccine, drug and diagnostics development plays not only for COVID-19 related indications. The research quota is also impressive – the “red” biotech companies reinvested around 40% of their turnover in research. Considering only the 62 companies with candidates in clinical development, the research rate is as high as 70%. Companies developing diagnostics spent a total of €291m in 2020, only slightly above the 2018 level (€269m).

However, industrial biotechnology companies and biotech service providers also grew strongly (23% and 29% respectively). Although two-year periods are considered here, the leaps in growth are enormous. From 2008 to 2012, growth rates were negative. They increased for the first time in 2013, but until 2018 the leaps were in the low single digits.

7. Founding dynamics

With a total of 25 start-ups recorded for 2020, the sector still sees a continuous founding of new biotech ventures. Most of the start-ups already known to date are active in the field of medical biotechnology (14), two come from the field of bioinformatics, another two deal with industrial biotechnology and seven are dedicated to non-specific services. Since experience shows that many start-ups still manifest themselves retroactively for the year over the course of the current year, a larger actual number of start-ups can be assumed. It remains to be seen whether the high figures of 2019 can be achieved again for 2020.

8. Financing sources at a glance

COVID-19 also had an effect on the financing situation. Three-digit financing rounds have so far been extremely rare in the German biotech sector, but in the summer months of 2020, both BioNTech and CureVac received several multi-million investments in this range, providing a significant boost to overall numbers. The total amount of financings for 2020 reached a new record with €2.2bn. The companies were able to raise a total of €1.12bn on the stock exchange and €886m from private investors.

Top financing via the stock exchange

In August 2020, the IPO of CureVac at the US tech exchange Nasdaq added another €200m to the overall volumes of listed companies. German-US company Immunic, which focuses on the treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, raised €125m on the stock market in 2020 through three capital increases. The company has three candidates in its clinical pipeline. The most advanced candidate, IMU-838, is in Phase II clinical trials in hospitalised COVID-19 patients. It is also being tested in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis and – in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic in the USA – in primary sclerosing cholangitis.

Top private biotech company financings

Besides the BioNTech and CureVac financings, Berlin-based T-knife GmbH hit the headlines with its €66m financing in August 2020. The capital raised will be used to further develop its next-generation T-cell therapies for the treatment of solid tumours. Munich-based CatalYm,

focused on the development of novel cancer immunotherapeutics, closed a €50m series B financing round in 2020. The capital will be used to further advance the company's pipeline towards clinical testing.

9. Biotech sector as employer

The dedicated biotech companies had a total of 27,200 employees (2018: 23,540) under their payroll, representing an increase of 15.5%. In 2020, the majority of employees were working in the fields of health (15,920) and non-specific services (8,480). The numbers of industrial biotechnology (1,890), bioinformatics (490) and agrobiotechnology (420) employees followed at a considerable distance.

10. Methodology and background

The data and facts used in this data and facts overview are taken from the Biotech statistics report carried out annually by BIOCOM AG. It is based on the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED). In December 2004 the OECD harmonised the large number of existing definitions for biotechnology. Since then, all OECD countries have been called upon to base their biotechnology surveys on the so-called “Framework for Biotechnology Statistics” (www.oecd.org). The OECD differentiates between two different categories of companies within the biotech sector: “Dedicated biotechnology companies” on the one hand and “other biotechnologically active companies” on the other. According to the OECD definition, the former are biotechnologically active companies whose main corporate objectives are the use of biotechnological processes for the manufacturing of products or the provision of services or the implementation of biotechnological research and development.

In contrast to this type of dedicated biotech company, the main corporate objective of an “other biotechnologically active company” is not exclusively the application of biotechnological processes. The OECD describes those companies as the ones using biotechnology only as part of their business and field of activity, such as pharmaceutical and chemical companies or seed manufacturers.

For the purposes of biotech statistics, BIOCOM has drawn up a questionnaire based on the OECD definitions explained above. A total of 816 companies were contacted between January and March 2020. The selection of the companies contacted for the survey took into account the OECD definition in comparison with the company database of BIOCOM AG. 512 of the companies surveyed answered either by questionnaire or after a telephone call. The response rate or verification rate is 62%.

In accordance with the OECD guidelines, when selecting companies, care was taken to include all companies that deal with biotechnology in Germany and are based in Germany. For this reason, companies that are majority owned by a non-German parent company but have R&D activities in Germany were also taken into account. When recording jobs, business figures and business areas, the survey was only carried out for the German locations of a company. If a company has more than one location in Germany, it is was counted once with the corresponding cumulative values.

You’ll find all information regarding the biotech statistics publication of BIOCOM AG here:  https://biocom.de/deutsche-biotech-branche-waechst-rasant/?lang=en