Sanofi CEO: ‘Europe’s lead in life sciences R&D is eroding–but co-localized hubs could allow it to keep up’

Paul Hudson is the CEO of Sanofi.
Eric Piermont—AFP/Getty Images

Europe has some of the world’s top scientists–and 43 of the world’s top 100 schools for life sciences. Europe outputs twice the number of scientific publications than the United States–and three times that of China. However, Europe’s global share of research and development dropped from 39% to 28% (and to just 25% in oncology) in just five years. According to McKinsey, the total volume of funding in healthcare is four times higher in the U.S. than in Europe.

Looking more broadly, Europe only accounted for a 19.3% share of global clinical trials activity in 2020, a decrease of 6.3%, compared with the 25.6% average over the last 10 years. Europe publishes more academic papers on advanced therapies (ATMPS) such as gene and cell editing than its competitors. However, the bloc’s policy and financial landscape means there are twice as few ATMP clinical trials in Europe than there are in the U.S. and three times fewer than in China.

The data highlights the need for a coordinated and collaborative policy. In France, a recent public-private partnership presents a model for Europe to stay competitive with the U.S. and China in the life sciences. The country has recently endorsed the creation of the Paris Saclay Cancer Cluster, for which several public and private partners in the initiative have set clear goals: to deliver five new therapies over the next four years, and 20 new therapies by 2032; increase funding to 20 million euros in 2027 to 150 million euros in 2032; and to scale up 20 new start-up companies by 2027, and 100 by 2032. The long-term ambition of the cluster is to contribute to treating and improving the lives of 500,000 people impacted by cancer every year. 

For Europe to have greater growth and fulfill the potential of innovation, a focus on co-localization is key. Innovation is powered by more than just money–and co-locating many innovation players in one site is essential to knowledge-sharing, attracting talent, leveraging resources, and scaling the components that are needed to successfully drive innovation. In the U.S., the innovation hub in Boston is a famous example of a steady source of invention. A greater European focus on the benefits of an innovation hub model is needed, but this will require several shifts. 

Adopting a more open research model

To accelerate the discovery and commercialization of new treatments, we must leverage a more open, high-performing ecosystem. It is no longer sufficient to adopt pilot or “lighthouse” projects to spur invention. Rather, teams need to be fully integrated. Information needs to be shared with academic centers, start-ups, and pharma to fully take advantage of infrastructure and technology platforms.

Collaboration also provides access to cutting-edge equipment, quality data, platform expertise, and talent. Co-localization clusters can fully power opportunities from real-world evidence data, spatial biology, organoids, cell therapy, antibody engineering, and connected health across the hub system, with significant benefits in innovation, productivity, and speed.

Breaking barriers between disciplines

As healthcare and technology increasing become intertwined, there is great benefit in creating sites that encompass companies with expertise in emerging technology tools and which can lend their support for rapid and targeted adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

By having big pharma research sit next to tech startups, we can enable the development of partnerships and working relationships. The quality of education in Europe, and particularly in France, on topics like mathematics and data science is recognized globally. This provides the continent with a perfect platform for strengthening connections between healthcare companies and new, young, promising tech startups.

Creating an entrepreneurial talent culture

Pharma companies have traditionally been very protective of R&D efforts to ensure ownership of their intellectual property. There needs to be a culture shift in R&D teams to enable full benefits from a co-localization hub environment, with greater interaction and integration of teams. The results can be a more entrepreneurial mindset that further empowers pharmaceutical companies and for startups in their efforts. By living in a hub environment, teams can embrace a fast-to-market, patient-focused, purpose-driven mindset. 

Europe knows how to move as one, as demonstrated by its recent initiatives in other key sectors such as electronic chips or hydrogen. Moving to a co-localization hub industrial policy approach for healthcare would empower the continent’s potential to take a lead in R&D output, increase breakthroughs for patients, and build a sustainable innovation engine. 

Paul Hudson is the CEO of Sanofi.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

More must-read commentary published by Fortune:

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion