In the US, VC investment in the Healthcare sector has been growing and is the second most active sector of VC investment after the Internet sector (MoneyTree Report, Q1 2017). In Portugal, numerous startups in the therapeutics, diagnostics, MedTech and digital health areas have been emerging from world-class research institutions. To better characterize this ecosystem, Portugal Ventures conducted a study and the results are promising, showing that this is a growing sector that can positively impact the Portuguese economy.
The number of Life Sciences startups in Portugal has been rapidly increasing and in 2016 there were 72 Life Sciences startups in Portugal, twice the number compared to 2010. This increase is linked to a better funding environment (Portugal Ventures was established in 2013 and is currently investing in 18 of these 72 startups) and to an increased awareness by researchers that great businesses can be started from scientific breakthroughs.
Most Life Sciences startups in Portugal result from research performed at Greater Lisbon research institutions but then one third of these startups eventually move their R&D operations outside Lisbon, mainly to the BIOCANT Park in Cantanhede, near Coimbra. This relocation is mainly due to the attractive conditions this Biotech park offers budding Life Sciences startups. Coimbra and Porto are also important startup creation hubs as 13 of the current 72 (18%) Life Sciences startups were created in Porto area and 19 of these 72 (26%) startups were created in Coimbra area.
Most Life Sciences startups are built around disruptive technologies developed at Universities. Accordingly, our research shows that biomedical research is a growing field at Portuguese Universities. Accordingly, more than 400 Principal Investigators at Portuguese Universities are leading biomedical research teams, which together published more than 19,000 peer-reviewed articles in this area. In Portugal, the most active biomedical research areas based on the number of peer-reviewed publications are Neurosciences, Oncology and Bioengineering. Together, these three biomedical research areas account for 29% of all biomedical articles published by Portuguese Universities. Moreover, the augmented awareness by biomedical researchers that scientific discoveries can be the basis of new Life Sciences startups has increased the number of patents granted to Portuguese Universities in the Natural and Health Sciences’ area, which are now almost at the same level as the number of patents granted in the Engineering and Technology (IT) area.