The takeover of the Spanish firm Sanifit by Vifor Pharma in Switzerland marks a high point for the life sciences sector in Spain, which has seen a burst of acquisitions this year.
Last month, Vifor Pharma acquired Sanifit in a deal worth up to €375M, hailed as one of the biggest-ever biotech acquisitions in Spain. The aim was to get hold of Sanifit’s lead drug: a first-in-class treatment to prevent the buildup of mineral deposits in the blood vessels of patients with advanced kidney disease.
Sanifit’s landmark acquisition comes two years after the Mallorca-based company raised €72.2M in 2019, a record private round for Spanish biotech. The company’s success has proved pivotal for increasing investor awareness of Spanish life sciences companies.
“When we started Sanifit in 2004, we faced a completely different situation: there was no biotech ecosystem in Spain and most investors were based abroad,” said Sanifit’s CEO, Joan Perelló. The increasing tally of Spanish venture capital (VC) firms over the years helped to change the tide.
Historically, most European biotech investors have focused their attention on countries including the UK, France, and Germany. Spain, in contrast, has taken longer to put its biotech startups on the map.
“One of the reasons for being less in the biotech limelight is that Spain has been focusing for many years on other sectors, such as tourism, infrastructure, etc. Dedicated resources to R&D in Spain are far behind those in the UK, France, or Germany,” said Pablo Cironi, Director of Life Sciences Investments at Caixa Capital Risc, the VC arm of Barcelona-based firm CriteriaCaixa and an investor in Sanifit.
However, life sciences research in Spain remains competitive. The country also hosts the major pharmaceutical players Almirall, Esteve, and Grifols.
“It just took us some time to create the appropriate ecosystem to help emerging pioneering biotech startups and spin-offs flourish,” said Joël Jean-Mairet, Managing Partner at the Spanish venture capital firm Ysios Capital, which has previously invested in Sanifit.
In 2020, the acquisition count of Spanish life sciences companies dropped heavily, possibly due to the fallout of the pandemic. These deals include the acquisition of biopharma companies in addition to diagnostics providers, life sciences CMOs, and CDMOs.
However, this year has seen a dramatic reversal, with eight acquisitions of life sciences firms in the bag so far. The last two months alone have seen takeovers of Sanifit, Origo Biopharma by AgomAb Therapeutics in Belgium, and the acquisition of the cultured meat player BioTech Foods by the Brazilian meat giant JBS.
“The Spanish biotech ecosystem is stronger than ever and our acquisition by Vifor Pharma, just like those other recent deals, represents a huge win for Spain’s life-science sector and a validation of the incredible work that is being done in the country,” said Perelló.
While Sanifit can claim the biggest biopharma company takeover, it comes second in the ranking of life sciences company acquisition deals. The first was the acquisition of Igenomix, a provider of reproductive diagnostics based in Valencia, by Vitrolife in Sweden, with up to around €1.2B ($1.4B) changing hands in July this year.
Since 2016, Spanish life sciences firms have been acquired predominantly by other companies in Spain. However, big interest also came from acquirers in the UK, Germany, and the US.
“I wouldn’t call it a trend, but surely the Spanish ecosystem is maturing,” said Cironi. The big acquisitions of STAT-Dx, Palo Biopharma, Mosaic Biomedical, and Cellerix in the last decade serve as prime examples of the impact of Spanish biotech companies in Europe.
“We are positive we will see more deals in the near future. For example, another company from our portfolio that could be a potential target for an M&A process in the coming years is Minoryx, which is also in the central nervous system rare disease space, in the late clinical stage,” added Cironi.
Continued growth is expected in the Spanish biotech and life sciences sectors going forward, with big shifts anticipated in the coming years. This growth will require encouragement from local companies and investors, with one principal goal being to attract entrepreneurial talent to the country.
In any case, Spain demonstrates the potential for growth in the biotech sector, especially in European countries that have so far dedicated less funding to the industry.
“Other countries can learn from our experience and realize that it is possible to generate a rich ecosystem for biotech and take it to the next level,” said Jean-Mairet. “It takes time and persistence though.”
Cover image via Elena Resko