DDW Editor Reece Armstrong takes a look at Lithuania’s life sciences sector and what it means for start-ups operating in the country.
A one to watch, would be my first thoughts when thinking about Lithuania and its start-up sector. After a visit to the country, in which I was able to tour some of the various companies, hubs and universities that are driving the sector, I garnered that what could be an unassuming country in terms of life sciences has a thriving and developing community of start-ups and researchers.
Despite consisting of largely small enterprises, Lithuania is still home to some large players in the life sciences sector including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Teva and Northway Biotech. In terms of its R&D, much of Lithuania’s activity comes from its medtech and medical devices industry. However, pharmaceutical and biotech patents have been rising in recent years highlighting the country’s growing sector.
Investment in life sciences too has risen and 2021 saw €429 million invested into life sciences start-ups across Lithuania. In 2020, investment into start-ups was only €43 million and whilst this would have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the stark rise the following year shows that there’s strong interest for innovation coming out of the country.
And that interest is formed in the government’s own approach to its life sciences ecosystem. In 2018, Lithuania launched its Life Sciences Strategy which put in place ambitions for life sciences to make up 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 20301. Bold ambitions then but Lithuania currently stands as having Europe’s fastest growing life sciences sector with a 22% year-on-year increase fueling the growth. Within this, biotech is becoming a major sub-sector, experiencing an 87% growth since 20211.
Behind all of this activity is Lithuania’s burgeoning academia. The country has six universities in which students can study and many are opting to focus their learnings on subjects related to life sciences. In fact, Lithuania ranks second in the EU when it comes to students choosing STEM subjects, with around 25% of its students opting to focus on STEM disciplines.
Indeed, Grigorij Šutov, CEO at Genie Biotech believes Lithuania’s academic credentials will act as a benefit for start-ups in the future.
“It looks promising,” Šutov says when asked about Lithuania’s academic infrastrcutre and its impact on start-ups in the country.
“There is a substantial amount of academics with specific skills (which may be lacking in a start-up) and willingness to collaborate. In the past there was funding available for joint industry-academic projects, hopefully, they will happen in the future too as it helps to foster industry/start-up-academia relationships,” he adds.
Other aspects driving Lithuania’s life sciences start-ups include a “growing biotech ecosystem, talent pool, reasonable costs, central location in Europe, excellent technical support from the governmental agencies (providing/organising relevant info, conferences, meetings, events,” according to Šutov.
According to Peter Silvester Senior VP and President, Life Sciences Solutions at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Lithuania’s talent pool is a key strength for the country.
“Lithuania has an amazing pool of talent that we access through a strong university network and close government partnership. We are incredibly grateful for that history of collaboration that helped us to be successful together,” he said in a presentation for Invest Lithuania, a non-profit organisation driving foreign investment into the country.
With strong plans from government and an expanding talent base, Lithuania should be a very attractive prospect for start-ups thinking about setting up shop in the country.
Interview with Juozas Nainys, CEO at Droplet Genomics
RA: What are some of the benefits of being a life sciences start-up in Lithuania?
JN: Lithuania has a great talent pool for life sciences. A strong life sciences education with a focus on practical skills (ie. people spend time in the lab during their studies) means that there are quite a few talented people with relevant skillsets.
Moreover, there are world-class research groups specialising in genome editing, single-cell analysis, DNA modification, and other fields, meaning that start-ups have a good opportunity to build impactful partnerships and gain access to cutting-edge innovations.
RA: What are some of the challenges of being a life sciences start-up in Lithuania?
JN: Lithuania is a relatively small country and the life sciences start-up community is even smaller. Therefore, one can feel isolated from the global scene at times. The lack of experience building life sciences start-ups in the Lithuanian ecosystem means that on certain questions (usually related to business aspects of the start-up) advice and expertise cannot be sourced locally and needs to be looked for abroad (although this may not be a bad thing necessarily as it drives for a global perspective).
RA: Could you give a brief description of the start-up culture in Lithuania?
JN: Lithuania has a vibrant and diverse start-up ecosystem. It combines globally successful start-ups from saas, fintech, marketplace, tech, deeptech, and medtech areas. Because the country is relatively small the start-up community is quite tight-knit – it’s easy to get to know other like-minded people and also easy to get advice and help from other founders.
RA: How important is academia in Lithuania to helping develop strong start-ups?
JN: Naturally, having a strong academic community is beneficial to the start-up ecosystem. For one thing, it provides a basis for an excellent talent pool. It can also be a source of ideas for commercialisation. And finally, it can offer access to a global network of key opinion leaders. Examples of all these positives can be found within Lithuanian academia.
RA: In terms of infrastructure, do you have what you need to advance your products to market? Are there any gaps?
JN: Lithuania has a very well-developed life sciences infrastructure mainly thanks to investment through European structural funds. Furthermore, this infrastructure can easily be accessed by start-ups through open-access programmes. Similarly, there are bioincubator facilities available that provide access to lab space. In addition, it is worth mentioning that a lot of small-scale yet highly skilled manufacturing suppliers are also available locally which helps a lot when developing hardware products.
RA: What advancements need to be made in Lithuania to help drive its pharma/life sciences sectors?
JN: Lithuania would benefit from having more global players present locally. Right now, there are a few global brands that have a big footprint in Lithuania and that brings a lot of benefit to the ecosystem as it drives talent and knowledge growth. Another big benefit would be increased investment from professional pharma/life sciences investors or corporate VC arms. This also relates not only to an influx of funding but also to business know-how which may be lacking in certain areas within the pharma/life sciences sectors locally.
DDW Volume 24 – Issue 1, Winter 2022/2023
- Statistics Lithuania, 2022.