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Partnering opportunities in the life sciences between Boston and the Netherlands

Posted by Chad O'Connor  August 7, 2012 11:00 AM

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Boston Scientific

Boston Scientific distribution center in Kerkrade, the Netherlands

BIO 2012, the truly global Biotech Convention, was held in Boston from June 18-21. More than sixteen thousand people from all over the world attended the conference.

During the convention my focus was on international collaboration in the life sciences. A personal highlight for me was moderating a panel on exactly that topic (see my earlier GBH blog). I visited many international pavilions, as well as several cocktail parties (a tough job, but someone had to do it …). At these occasions, I spoke with representatives from many nations and regions.

Now, the booths have been taken down, the convention floor has been cleaned, and the out-of-town visitors have left. Next is the hard part: converting all the contacts into lasting business relationships.

An area of focus for my company, Launch in US Alliance, as well as for my involvement in Boston World Partnership (BWP), is to strengthen the business relationships between the Life sciences Industries in Boston and Europe. A logical starting point for me is the Netherlands, were I grew up and went to school.

I spoke with Annemiek Verkamman, Managing Director of BioFarmind, an association for the Dutch medical biotech industry, to discuss what the Netherlands have to offer to the Boston life sciences community.

The Netherlands have a long history of innovation in the life sciences, starting with Zacharias Jansen building the first compound microscopes in the 1500s, the discovery of micro organisms by Antony van Leeuwenhoek in the 1600s, continuing to Herman Boerhaave, who in the 1700s came with the then novel idea of teaching students in a clinical environment, introducing the concept of teaching hospitals. In the 1900s the Electro Cardio Gram (ECG) and the artificial kidney were developed in the Netherlands. There are many other examples.

The tradition of innovations in the life sciences forms a solid foundation for education and research in the Dutch universities and hospitals. In general, the Dutch are known for a model where different parts of society work together for the common good. Some say this is grounded in their long-time struggle against the sea. This model forms the foundation for public-private partnerships where private enterprises, academia and the government work closely together. The result is a unique medical biotech cluster with 19 research universities, 8 University Medical Centers (UMCs, similar to our Teaching Hospitals), all within a radius of 120 miles.

Specialties in which the Dutch life sciences are particularly advanced are Translational (clinical) research, Virology, Oncology, Rheumatology, Cardiovascular research, and Diagnostics and Imaging.

In medical technology, the Dutch excel in nano-medicine, which enables diagnosis on the molecular level and new minimally invasive technologies; 3 D printing, enabling “printed” bio implants; and robotics, used in minimally invasive surgery and revalidation; and imaging enabling improved diagnostics

In a 2010 report by the Commonwealth Fund, which is based on OECD data, the Netherlands ranked number 1 overall in a comparison between the healthcare systems of seven developed nations, including the United States. By law, the Dutch are required to obtain mandatory medical insurance through private insurance companies, not unlike the Massachusetts healthcare model. Healthcare costs per capita are about 40% lower than in the United States.

Annemiek stated that the Dutch life sciences industry recognizes Boston as a center of innovation in the life sciences, and sees it as an important entry point for the business of the Dutch life sciences companies in the United States. Philips Healthcare, which has its global headquarters in Andover, MA, is a prominent example of an established Dutch life sciences company that made Boston its home, but also several startups have chosen Boston for their U.S. business such as Virtual Proteins and recent arrival Batavia BioServices.

Many personal relationships exist between the Netherlands and Boston. Many executives in the life sciences industry in the Netherlands worked in Boston earlier in their career, and several Dutch entrepreneurs have founded biotech companies in the Boston Area, among them Henri Termeer, who founded Genzyme.

At any given time, hundreds of Dutch PhD students and researchers are working at Boston hospitals, Harvard Medical School and other universities.

These close personal relationships have fostered a mutual understanding of each other’s business cultures, which forms a solid basis for productive collaboration.

Several Massachusetts life sciences companies are using the Netherlands as part of their European operations. For example, Boston Scientific has established a distribution center for Europe and the Pacific Rim in the city of Kerkrade in the Netherlands, close to the border with Germany. Read here about other U.S. life sciences companies in the Netherlands.

Peter Abair of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, better known as MassBio, shared with me that his organization closely works with the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency to grow business between the biotech clusters in Boston and the Netherlands.

There are many opportunities to grow the partnership between Boston and the Netherlands in life sciences:

• Connecting with Dutch life science companies that are looking for business partners in greater Boston
o More than 70 Dutch biotech companies attended BIO 2012 looking for partners and business in the U.S.

• Massachusetts life sciences companies may want to explore setting up a presence in the Netherlands, e.g. for their European HQ, customer support center or distribution center

• Massachusetts life sciences companies finding partners in the Netherlands, and potentially want to use their new partners to branch out to other parts of Europe
o Susan Windham-Bannister, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center tells me her organization is very interested in co-investing in joint development projects between companies from Massachusetts and the Netherlands!

• University to University collaboration.
o Although many informal, personal contacts exist, there probably is room for formal agreements

If you want to explore how your company would benefit from expanding its operations into the Netherlands, then I recommend that you contact Katja Berkhout at the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency in Boston. To explore business and technology partnerships with Dutch life sciences companies or universities, contact Martijn Nuijten at the Netherlands Office for Science and Technology in Washington, DC. Martijn helped me with information for this article.

Or, of course, you can contact me if you want to chat with a Dutch Bostonian.

I am convinced there are great opportunities for international collaboration between the life sciences communities of Boston and the Netherlands!

Jos Scheffelaar is CEO of Launch in US Alliance, Chairman of the Boston Chapter of the Netherland-America Foundation, and a Boston World Partnerships Connector. He can be contacted at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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