This article was updated by Roohi Mariam Peter on March 15, 2023.
Hungary is famous for many things: thermal baths, goulash, beautiful architecture and, of course, the Rubik’s cube. But, what is going on in the country’s biotech industry?
The answer is: more than you might think. Did you know that Hungary could be considered the birthplace of European biotechnology? A Hungarian agricultural engineer was the first to coin the term in 1919.
Hungary joined the EU back in 2004, alongside countries including the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Poland. The country was primed to take its biotech industry to the next level with a strong background in pharmaceuticals, which began way back in 1901 with the establishment of biopharma Gedeon Richter, which is still going strong today. Now, it is also home to Egis, one of the largest pharma companies in Central and Eastern Europe, which is passionate about continued research and development (R&D) to produce products for patients.
Biotechnology was accordingly made one of the top five priority sectors for national development between 2005 and 2010. A funding program boosted the development of 11 new startups and incentives like subsidies and tax credits encouraged R&D investment. The Hungarian Biotechnology Association also set up a training program with the National Office for Research and Technology to support students planning to develop projects in the field, providing guidance in areas like business management, IP, and technology transfer.
Bay Zoltán Nonprofit was established in 1992 to improve the competitiveness and efficiency of companies in Hungary through successful technology transfer. The institute aims to develop technology that could allow exciting research to be transformed into high-value products in the biotech industry. The country is also home to Aquincum Inkubator, which welcomes applications from the biotech field. Companies receive help to develop a business model, undertake market analysis, prepare for investment and identify business development opportunities.
On the back of the success enjoyed by Gedeon Richter and Egis, a number of biotechs have tried their luck. As the country celebrates its National Day on March 15, here are seven biotech companies in Hungary that you should know about.
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Headquartered in the bustling capital of Budapest, with operations in the U.S., Brazil and the Netherlands, Omixon develops molecular diagnostic tools for clinical and research laboratories. Founded in 2011, the company has gone on to develop a major next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genotyping product that delivers highly accurate, high-resolution results. It is crucial to finding transplantation matches and is used in more than 20 hospitals worldwide.
HLA is a gene complex that encodes the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins on the surface of human cells, which regulate the immune system. These genes are highly polymorphic, varying greatly between individuals. Transplantation sees cells or tissues donated from one individual – with their own HLA – to another, which stimulates an immune response and rejection without immunosuppression. As a result, the careful consideration of HLA is important for transplantations.
The company followed this up with its software, HLA Explore, which analyzes sequencing data and spots HLA genotypes within whole exome/genome sequences. Omixon’s pipeline focuses on pre- and post-transplantation applications, but the biotech is also beginning to consider other applications.
In 2021, the biotech company further decided to expand its commercialization through new distribution channels beyond Hungary and Europe like ExpertLab in Mexico and Biotron HealthCare in India.
Based in Szeged and Budapest, Solvo is active in the commercialization of membrane transporter technologies, diagnostics, and drug discovery assays. The biotech specializes in the development of transporter protein assays to characterize the behavior of drugs inside the body – an important test in preclinical studies. In particular, the company looks at ATP binding cassettes (ABCs), which have been suggested as therapeutic targets for cancer, drug resistance and metabolic disorders.
The company now sells more than 100 products targeted at pharma and drug discovery companies. A big name in Hungary and across Europe, the biotech was named Hungary’s Company of the Year in 2006 and repeatedly included in Deloitte’s 50 fastest growing technology companies.
In 2018, U.S-based pharma Charles River’s Hungarian pharmaceutical Citoxlab invested in Solvo to strengthen its footing in the non-clinical contract research organization (CRO) space where Solvo has a prominent presence in.
BioTalentum was set up in 2005 to focus on medical and animal biotechnology, but has found itself a space in stem cell research and services. It is now a leading provider of stell cem models and transgenic cellular and animal models. The company’s human cellular systems and animal models support biomedical research and drug testing, providing a useful tool for research teams and the pharmaceutical industry.
The company has been involved in more than 30 research projects funded by the European Commission investigating stem cell-based regenerative medicine. BioTalentum was heavily involved in Horizon 2020, a research funding program by the European Union (EU) which ended in 2020, for which it is coordinating the iNanoBIT project, which hopes to develop the engraftment, survival, and function of cell transplants for the replacement of beta- and islet cells in the pancreas. The company has also participated in a number of other projects, including EU-ToxRisk, CaSR Biomedicine, SciChallenge and GROWTH.
BioTalentum has a consulting arm that provides support for companies throughout the development process, from connecting prospective partners to closing a deal. It uses its experience of working on high profile projects with the EU, to support young companies in areas like proposal writing, management and contract negotiation.
In December 2021, the company signed a cooperation agreement with the Chinese FDA and the University of Sichuan to launch a joint in vitro toxicology laboratory.
Founded in 1996, Budapest-based 3D Histech develops high-performance hardware and software products for digital pathology, which is the acquisition and interpretation of information from patient data or microscopy. The company develops and manufactures high-speed digital slide scanners that create high-quality images, digital histology software, and tissue microarray machinery. It was the first European manufacturer of these products and is now a market leader, having sold more than 1,500 systems.
3D Histech’s aim is to fully digitalize the traditional pathology workflow so that it can adapt to the ever growing demands of healthcare today. The company believes that this could be a very useful tool for pharmaceutical companies looking particularly at cancer, neuroscience and developmental biology. It also organizes educational programs to help pathologists learn and master these new technologies with ease.
The company has a long-standing partnership with healthcare company Sysmex Germany for advancing in the field of digital pathology by building reference laboratories.
Soft Flow is a biotech active in various areas of research including antibody development, bioanalytical services, reagents, and software development.
After its acquisition by global agricultural analytics provider FOSS in 2016, the biotech company expanded its base in Pecs, Hungary. The company offers contract research services in the generation of transgenic and knock-out cell lines and immunoassays like flow cytometry and ELISA.
Within its broad pipeline, Soft Flow manufactures and distributes one of the largest selections of anti-mycotoxin monoclonal antibodies for food safety testing, as well as antibodies for antibiotics and hormones.
Mycotoxins are poisonous chemicals produced by fungi that can colonize crops, and are a major food safety concern. They enter the body via contaminated food, and their effects can be acute or chronic, even inducing cancer or immune deficiency. Soft Flow has developed cheap and effective kits that detect the six most important mycotoxins.
The company often partners with the University of Pecs and the Hungarian Dairy Research Institute on R&D projects.
Established in 2015, Turbine has a platform that focuses on drug discovery and medicinal therapies in cancer research. Its project uses a novel simulation technique where cancer behavior and its mechanisms of resistance are observed to identify drug targets specifically for patients who don’t respond well to existing therapies.
The biotech has made a breakthrough in oncology with its AI-powered Cancer Cell Simulations. Its partnership with Cancer Research Horizons will incorporate this technique to identify potential patients who could benefit from CDC7 inhibitor therapy.
The protein CDC7 contributes to DNA replication in cells, however, its overexpression has been regarded as a marker in cancers like colorectal cancer. CDC7 inhibitors target the enzyme CDC7 kinase, which influences DNA replication and repair; making it a promising anti-cancer agent.
Although no CDC7 inhibitors have progressed to phase 3 trials, the collaboration is determined to change this by using the AI simulation to inhibit CDC7 in digital cancer cells and find out which cancer types could benefit from treatment with Cancer Research Horizons’ lead drug candidate.
Turbine has also raised €20 million in Series A funding for continuing research in DNA damage repair and to further develop its AI-run cell simulation platform.
Founded in 2020, Smobya is a biotech startup based in Hungary looking to revolutionize the fashion industry with its novel approach that develops vegan leather alternatives. The young biotech has created Smoby, which is a bio-based material made from cellulose that is fermented by specific strains of bacteria.
Keeping to its mission, Smoby is devoid of any petroleum products and is entirely bio assembled. Strong and durable, the faux leather product could cause a ripple effect in the sustainable clothing industry, particularly now with the startup getting its foot into the Estonian biotech scene as part of an e-residency program that allows companies to operate in Estonia remotely.
Currently, Smobya is developing a product from the waste generated from the popular probiotic-rich drink kombucha. With the allure of leather but unaccompanied by its detrimental effect on the environment, the material is made from bacterial nano-cellulose that grows on the surface of the tea.
As the Hungarian biotech company follows a circular economy approach, it aims to eliminate waste and accelerate the eco-friendly fashion industry.