Eight biotech companies you should know about in Austria

Austrian biotechs

Famous for its wiener schnitzel, mountains and palaces, Austria has managed to gain a foothold in the biotech sector, with its capital Vienna being the country’s healthcare hub. Since 2010, the number of biotech companies in Austria has more than doubled.

There are now over 200 biotechs employing over 2,000 people in the country, at least half of which are in or near Vienna. This strong biotech and pharma base in Vienna, which generates billions of euros in revenue each year, is reflected by an equally strong history of academic science and research. The city has five universities, two universities of applied sciences, and eleven research institutes.

The biotech sector in the country has a strong focus on health applications, particularly vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for infectious diseases. This allowed several companies to rapidly start COVID-19 programs after the pandemic began. The Austrian capital also has a number of companies working on diagnostics and biomarkers, cancer therapeutics, and the cross-section between biotech, IT, and medtech. 

Many of Austria’s younger biotechs have been established at the Vienna Biocenter, a cluster of life science research institutes and companies that houses over 40 biotech startups. Here is a list of eight Austrian biotech companies that have secured funding in the past few years to advance their technologies and research, and are leading innovation in their fields.

Table of contents

    a:head bio

    Based at the Vienna Biocenter, a:head bio is growing human brain organoids that can be used to test treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders. The organoids are designed to carry out high-throughput screening of drugs targeting the central nervous system (CNS). It merges cell reprogramming, gene editing, digital biology, and 3D culture technology, to create these organoids, which is different from traditional approaches such as using molecular targets and animal models.

     The company’s main focus is on Dravet syndrome, a rare but severe genetic form of epilepsy. It employs artificial intelligence to help recognize disease signatures, and in CNS drug discovery.

    The company attracted more than €4 million ($4.32 million) in private and public seed funding in 2019. It also closed another undisclosed fundraise from European investors in 2021. Since then, it has collaborated with Swiss organoid developer 3Brain to develop the latter’s CorePlate technology, which integrates deep tech with cell culture assays.


    Located in Vienna, the capital of Austria, biotech company HeartBeat.bio is on a mission to accelerate drug development for heart diseases. By generating induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived, multicellular 3D models of cardiac tissues from healthy donors as well as patients, it aims to reproduce the physiology of the human heart with the help of its Cardioid Drug Discovery Platform.

    Its alliance with the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) in Austria – which the company spun out of back in 2021 – led to the creation of the first chamber-like organoid heart model formed from human iPSCs. These self-organizing heart organoids, which are called ‘cardioids,’ recapitulated the development of the heart’s left ventricular chamber in the very early days of the formation of an embryo (embryogenesis). Heart organoids aid in the study of the earliest development phase of our heart and facilitate research on disease progression.

    Previously, the biotech has partnered with multinational pharmaceutical Boehringer Ingelheim, to assess how well the cardiac organoids can aid in the discovery of drugs for treating heart conditions.

    Last year, it raised €4.5 million ($4.87 million) in a pre-series A financing round to drive the development of its screening platform, and scale up organoid production to be able to eventually commercialize them.

    Hookipa Pharma

    Hookipa Pharma is developing immunotherapies for treating infectious diseases and cancer. The therapies use arenaviruses to generate an immune response against the desired target.

    Arenaviruses are a type of virus found in rodents that can cause hemorrhagic fevers in humans and reduce the body’s ability to function on its own. Hookipa’s Arenavirus Platform engineers arenaviruses to carry and deliver genes that are specific to the virus to patients. This can drive CD8+ T cells to induce an immune response in the body.

    The biotech’s lead candidate HB-200 has two single-vector compounds, both of which encode and express an identical E7E6 fusion protein for human papillomavirus (HPV) 16+ cancers. It is being evaluated in combination with immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab for the treatment of HPV16+ head and neck cancers.

    Initial phase 2 study results showed that 19 patients had a 42 percent objective response rate (ORR), which is double the ORR with pembrolizumab treatment alone. The biotech is set to begin phase 3 trials this year.

    In December, Hookipa bagged $21.25 million in an equity investment from multinational company Gilead Sciences. It has also partnered with the pharma giant to advance its human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) drug HB-500, for which it received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late last year.


    Committed to developing precision medicines to fight cancer and inflammatory conditions, OncoOne has created two platforms, namely Anti-oxMIF and PreTarg-it.

    Anti-oxMIF antibodies, where oxMIF stands for oxidized migration inhibitory factor – an isoform of MIF that participates in inflammatory responses – are said to reduce cancer cell invasion as well as proinflammatory cytokine production. Based on its Anti-oxMIF platform, OncoOne has four drug candidates. One of the most advanced is the chronic inflammation candidate ON104, which is a monoclonal antibody that helps override the immunosuppressive effects of glucocorticoids and neutralize the effects of oxMIF. ON104 is in preclinical development for rheumatoid arthritis, nephritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma.

    The Anti-oxMIF platform has also led to the development of ON203, a monoclonal anti-oxMIF antibody to treat patients with solid tumors. The company will soon file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the FDA for colon and lung cancer.

    Its other platform, PreTarg-it, has been used to develop pre-targeted radioimmunotherapy drugs, all of which are in the discovery phase. 

    Four years ago, the Austria-based biotech company raised €13 million ($14.13 million) in a series A round, to bring its oxMIF candidates into development.


    Austrian biotech Phoenestra is focused on producing stable stem cell lines and scaling up manufacturing with the help of its Next Generation EV Manufacturing Platform. 

    Cells are isolated from urine samples of healthy donors as well as certain patients, which are then reprogrammed to become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The iPSCs undergo screening and characterization to identify their specific characteristics. 

    The biotech also has access to Viennese pharmaceutical Evercyte´s mesenchymal stem cells. These cells have been extracted from the bone marrow, adipose tissue, umbilical cord, Wharton’s jelly, and placenta. Unlike primary mesenchymal stem cells, these cells maintain their growth characteristics over multiple generations. Based on the tissue of origin, these cells can be used in regenerative medicine.

    For mass producing these cells, Phoenestra uses stirred tank bioreactors to cultivate the cells, after which they are harvested. Some cells that are stuck to the cell culture vessel are separated using enzymes. The cells are then washed and stored. 

    Moreover, its EVscale technology is designed to scale extracellular vesicles using assays, protein profiling and RNA sequencing methods. Extracellular vesicles are fat-based structures in cells that aid in tissue regeneration and can be used instead of mesenchymal stem cell therapy. 

    Phoenestra’s services include cell line development, cell banking and scaling up extracellular vesicles production. The company also offers pre-clinical and early clinical supplies to biotechs as well as provides cell banking services.


    On a mission to drug undruggable targets, Austrian biotech Proxygen is developing molecular glue degraders. These are molecules that drive protein-protein interactions. They act as a glue by boosting the affinity between proteins in cells, following which, the harmful proteins are destroyed. The company’s presence is significant in the molecular glues space, and is one to look out for, according to Labiotech’s review of molecular glues startups in the biotech field.  

    Proxygen’s molecular glues are designed to have high target selectivity, extended duration of effect, as well as increased catalytic effect. 

    In a deal worth up to $2.55 billion, Proxygen has embarked on a multi-year collaboration with multinational company Merck & Co to identify and develop molecular glue degraders against multiple therapeutic targets. But Merck isn’t the only pharma giant that has been keen on an alliance with Proxygen. Previously, it joined forces with Boehringer Ingelheim and Merck KGaA, in two separate deals to discover molecular glues.

    Ribbon Biolabs

    Ribbon Biolabs focuses on making synthetic DNA for use in genetic engineering and genome building. Ribbon Biolabs is developing a technology that writes genetic code using DNA-synthesizing enzymes, which could make the process faster than chemical synthesis, a method that’s been largely unchanged since the 1980s.

    Its FullGenes platform leverages algorithms to guide the automated enzymatic assembly of DNA. It applies robotic adaptive control in a sequence-specific manner to ensure accuracy. Honed in on the synthetic biology space, the Austrian biotech’s synthetic genes are supplied to other biotechs that use them for antibody production, vaccines, data storage, biofuels, and even agriculture.

    Ribbon Biolabs secured a U.S. patent for its method for synthesizing double-stranded DNA that makes use of its library of oligonucleotides. Back in 2022, the biotech raised €18 million ($19.53 million) in a series A funding round that has since allowed DNA synthesis at a commercial scale.


    Based in the town of Klosterneuburg in Austria, biotech company Sarcura specializes in cell therapy manufacturing. As only around 3% of patients who are eligible for cell therapy receive the treatment, Sarcura aims to improve accessibility by scaling up production of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T therapies.

    Through machine intelligence, Sarcura aims to improve automation, and through semiconductor technology, it integrates electronic and photonic structures on silicon substrates. This is crucial in the process of miniaturization during cell therapy manufacture. With its closed automated system, it aims to cut down on operating and infrastructure time and cost. 

    In March, Sarcura won a grant worth €1.7 million ($1.85 million) from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency to amplify cell therapy manufacturing. Previously, it was also awarded €7 million ($7.6 million) in a seed financing round that took place in November 2022. The money was used to create its proprietary cell therapy platform.

    Big pharma acquisitions in Austria

    Over the past few years, it seems like the biotech scene in Austria has been taken over by acquisitions by multinational companies. During the peak of the pandemic, local vaccine developer Themis Bioscience was acquired by Merck so as to accelerate the former’s sars-cov-2 vaccine program. PhagoMed, which specializes in antimicrobial treatments, was acquired by BioNTech to go ahead with developing its synthetic lysin technology that aims to evade the challenge of antimicrobial resistance that many antibiotics face. 

    Furthermore, Boehringer Ingelheim snapped up ViraTherapeutics for €210 million ($228.09 million) back in 2018, following a multiyear partnership to further strengthen its oncolytic virus therapy portfolio. To add to that, Sanofi’s buyout of Origimm Biotechnology to guide its immunotherapy candidate to treat acne through the clinic is also proof of this trend. According to a report by Global Competition Review, this trend has been on the rise since the pandemic, and so have cross-border partnerships. However, Austria’s merger control law that came into effect in 2022 in order to prevent a company from gaining too much market power could curb biotech M&A activity in the country.   

    This article was originally published in 2021 by Helen Albert and has since been updated by Roohi Mariam Peter in April 2024.

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