As we enter 2021, the biotech industry is already bustling with activity. Here’s a list of 21 European biotech companies likely to make a big splash in the biotechnology sector over the next year.
There were many memorable moments for the European biotech industry in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic took over the media and many biotech companies changed their focus to develop vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics for the novel disease. Others were busy in the background with impressive funding rounds, marketing authorizations, and exciting trial results.
As the new decade rolls out, it will be fascinating to see how European firms shape emerging biotech trends such as advances in immuno-oncology and gene therapy. Together with biotech industry experts, we have compiled a list of the top 21 biotech companies that have exciting developments to look forward to in 2021. The companies are listed in alphabetical order.
Location: Paris, France
AB Science ended 2020 on a high after its drug masitinib prevented patients with moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease from progressing to severe dementia in a phase IIb/III study. If the results hold up in a follow-up phase III trial, this could become a huge breakthrough for the Alzheimer’s disease treatment field, which has seen a number of late-stage trial failures in recent years. One recent example is the phase II failure of AC Immune and Genentech’s drug in September last year.
Location: Oxford, UK
As a company that focuses on automating drug discovery workflows, Arctoris is worth watching as the Covid-19 pandemic forces people to conduct experiments remotely. Arctoris has developed a robotic lab platform that allows researchers to design, simulate, and run experiments remotely. In 2020, the company entered a number of collaborations to develop drugs for Covid-19, including with the Korean company Syntekabio and with the Hong Kong-based artificial intelligence (AI) specialist Insilico Medicine.
Location: Rotterdam, The Netherlands
The Dutch heavyweight argenx develops drugs inspired by llama antibodies. In 2020, results of a phase III trial showed that its lead candidate efgartigimod improved motor symptoms of patients living with myasthenia gravis, a rare, chronic autoimmune disease. The company followed up by topping the public fundraising charts with a whopping €785M in May. Argenx is now waiting for a potential FDA approval of efgartigimod and is planning to file for approval in Japan and Europe this year.
Location: Mainz, Germany
For a long time, BioNTech was a well-known company in the European biotech space for its work with a wide range of technologies including antibody drugs, CAR T-cell immunotherapies, and messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutics. As the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year BioNTech caught the attention of the general public when, together with its US partner Pfizer, it became the first to commercialize an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, driving RNA therapeutics into the mainstream in the process.
This year, BioNTech’s role in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t over. As the largest vaccine program in Europe’s history begins, it remains to be seen how BioNTech and other biotech companies in the field handle the challenges of large-scale production, mass vaccination, and gaining the public’s trust.
Location: Saint-Beauzire, France
In a world where plastic recycling and zero waste are becoming increasingly important, Carbios is one of the most advanced biotech companies developing ways to produce and recycle eco-friendly plastics The company has already created 100% recycled plastic bottles using its enzyme technology. In June 2020, Carbios announced the construction of its industrial demonstration plant, which will allow it to commercialize its PET recycling technology. The company expects to begin the first phase of operations in the first quarter of 2021.
Location: Altrincham, UK
Compass Pathways is developing psychedelic treatments against clinical depression using psilocybin, the main ingredient found in magic mushrooms. Psilocybin has been found to have long-lasting therapeutic effects in small studies, and it potentially has fewer side effects than traditional antidepressants. In April last year, the company successfully completed a €68M Series B funding round, followed by a €108M Nasdaq IPO in October to support the commercialization of its drugs. This year, we can expect data from the phase IIb study of its psychedelic treatment for depression.
Location: Tübingen, Germany
CureVac made headlines last year as one of the first biotech companies to announce the development of a Covid-19 vaccine based on mRNA vaccine technology, allowing for a faster and cheaper vaccine manufacturing process. After CureVac was swept into an international scandal involving an alleged buyout attempt from US President Donald Trump, the German government invested €300M in the company. Not long after, CureVac raised €180M in a Nasdaq IPO and received a valuation of €2.3B. The company’s Covid-19 mRNA vaccine is currently in phase III trials; CureVac is collaborating with Bayer to further develop its Covid-19 vaccine candidate and enable the production and supply of millions of doses.
Location: Zug, Switzerland
CRISPR Therapeutics develops treatments based on the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. Its most advanced program is a gene-edited stem cell therapy for the blood diseases sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia, which the company is co-developing in phase I/II with US partner Vertex Pharmaceuticals. At the end of last year, the two biotech companies shared promising interim results of their trials. Another phase I trial for CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene-edited CAR T-cell therapy is currently enrolling patients and first results are expected in 2021. In addition, we could see major fundraises following on from CRISPR Therapeutics’ €400M public offering on the Nasdaq last year.
Location: Bagneux, France
DBV Technologies is developing a skin patch against peanut allergy in children. The company had a troubled year in 2020. In August, the FDA rejected DBV’s marketing approval application, demanding more data and changes to the design. Meanwhile, DBV’s US rival Aimmune Therapeutics went from strength to strength, achieving approvals of its peanut allergy treatment from the FDA and EMA. In November 2020, DBV Technologies filed its peanut allergy skin patch for marketing authorization with the EMA, with a decision due this year.
Location: Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France
The global Covid-19 pandemic has affected important processes in research and development, including the synthesis of DNA, which is mostly outsourced to third-party suppliers on an on-demand basis. DNA Script aims to decentralize supplies and reduce disruption from future pandemics by equipping labs with their own DNA printers. In July 2020, the company raised €80M in a Series B financing round to boost the commercialization of this benchtop DNA printer.
Location: Oxford, UK
The AI company Exscientia started off last year by launching one of the first phase I clinical trials of a drug discovered with AI tools. The trial, run by the company’s collaborator Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, is testing a drug against obsessive-compulsive disorder. It took the partners only 12 months to start human testing, rather than the several years it normally takes. Exscientia is a member of numerous drug discovery collaborations, including with Celgene, Bayer, Sanofi, and a UK initiative to develop drugs against Covid-19. In May 2020, Exscientia closed a €54M Series C financing round to further expand its AI drug discovery technology.
Location: Stevenage, UK
Freeline Therapeutics is one of the participants in the race to develop an effective gene therapy for the blood clotting disorder hemophilia B, competing against well-established biotech companies like uniQure and Spark Therapeutics. In 2020, Freeline closed a €106M Series C financing round and a €130M IPO on the Nasdaq to bring its gene therapy for hemophilia B to a pivotal phase IIb/III trial, which the company is preparing to launch in the second half of 2021.
Location: Lund, Sweden
A women’s health company, Gedea Biotech is developing an antibiotic-free treatment for bacterial vaginosis, a common vaginal infection. The treatment targets the vaginal microbiome by restoring the acidity in the vagina to healthy levels, preventing recurrences of the infection. In March last year, Gedea’s treatment had cured 18 out of 22 patients in a clinical trial. This paved the way to a larger clinical trial in 150 patients, which started in late 2020. Topline results are expected in late 2021.
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Genmab develops anti-cancer antibodies that recruit immune T cells to trigger an immune response against the tumor cells. One of its most famous approved drugs is the blockbuster Darzalex, which it developed with the big pharma Janssen. In June 2020, Genmab struck gold when it signed a huge deal worth €3.4B with the US pharma company AbbVie. The deal with AbbVie will see the two companies developing and commercializing three of Genmab’s antibody drugs, which are all currently in phase I clinical trials.
Location: Delft, The Netherlands
The European Green Deal was implemented last year to boost Europe’s sustainability, and the construction industry is searching for ways to become less polluting. Green Basilisk aims to meet this need by making self-healing concrete using bacteria that produce limestone. This material has a longer lifespan than regular concrete and requires less maintenance. Last year, the company began proof-of-concept demonstrations with Deutsche Bahn with the aim of launching railway construction projects such as a tunnel in Munich. Green Basilisk will also be looking for new investments in 2021.
Location: Little Chesterford, UK
NodThera develops inhibitors of a multi-protein complex called NLRP3 inflammasome, which plays a role in a wide range of inflammatory conditions. In June 2020, NodThera raised €49M in a Series B financing round to progress its lead candidate through clinical trials. In recent years, the anti-inflammatory drug development field has seen several large acquisitions, including Roche’s €380M acquisition of Irish company Inflazome in September 2020.
Location: London, UK
Gene therapy developer Orchard Therapeutics had a tumultuous year in 2020. In November,a patient who had received its gene therapy Strimvelis against the rare genetic disease adenosine deaminase deficiency, developed leukemia. The leukemia is thought to be linked to the gene therapy, originally developed by GSK, which was taken off the market as a result. In December, Orchard Therapeutics had a big boost when the EMA approved a different gene therapy, Libmeldy, for the rare disease early-onset metachromatic leukodystrophy.
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Oryzon Genomics develops epigenetic drugs for the treatment of neurological diseases and cancer. Last year, the company’s Alzheimer’s drug reduced patient aggression in a phase IIa trial, and showed early signs of tackling the inflammation underlying the disease. In December, Oryzon also published preliminary positive phase II results for one of its anti-cancer agents, with the trial continuing into 2021. Over the coming year, the company expects updates on its phase II-stage Alzheimer’s drug candidate as well as clinical trials to treat borderline personality disorder and Covid-19.
Location: Grimmen, Germany
Prolupin is a food-focused biotech that extracts valuable proteins from the lupin plant and turns them into nutritious oils and vegan foods, such as ice creams. As the market for vegan and sustainable alternatives to traditional farming kept growing, investor interest in food biotech companies exploded in 2020. In October, the European Investment Bank established a €250M fund to support bioeconomy companies in scaling up their technologies; Prolupin will be one of the first companies to benefit from the fund.
Location: Lausanne, Switzerland
In October 2020, data-driven genomics company Sophia Genetics raised over €90M in a Series F funding round. The company has developed a collaborative AI platform that helps healthcare professionals and drug developers to translate and analyze complex medical data. The funding will allow the company to expand into the US and Asian markets and to further optimize its AI platform for the development of novel targeted therapies.
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Originally a developer of immunotherapy vaccines to treat cancer, Valo Therapeutics changed tack in 2020 to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Its technology places cancer antigens on the surface of a modified virus, which then presents them to T cells. With the help of these antigens, the T cells then learn to identify the cancer cells as though they were a viral threat, and attack them. By translating this process into the development of Covid-19 vaccines, the company expects to be able to rapidly manufacture Covid-19 vaccines based on existing vaccines for similar viruses. Valo Therapeutics is planning to use this technology in its first clinical trials in early 2021.
Cover image by Elena Resko