Lyon’s monuments may not have Paris’ grandeur, but the city makes up for it by being the “gastronomic center of France.” It’s also a hotspot for research in infectious diseases. What’s the impact on Lyon’s Biotech scene?

France’s third largest city is the home to some big names in health. Lyon is also the birthplace of the Institut Mérieux,  now the holding company of big names like bioMérieux, a multinational Biotech with a market cap of €5Bn.

Lyon also boasts big pharma. Through a contrived history of acquisitions, the legacy of Institut Mérieux and the Pasteur Institute was channeled into Sanofi Pasteur, now the largest vaccine company in the world. This Sanofi subsidiary is headquartered in Lyon, where it has two research centers. In addition, Lyon is also home to a Genzyme production site.

Perhaps because of the solid presence of pharma, Lyon has taken off as a biotech hotspot. Here we take a look at 11 interesting biotechs based in the city.

biotech-lyon-adocia

Lyon’s largest biotech with a market cap of €347M, Adocia is a clinical-stage company exploring protein delivery with its BioChaperone technology. Thus far, it seems to be successfully developing two ultra fast-acting insulin analogs for diabetes, which became the centerpiece of a huge deal with Eli Lilly in late 2014. Adocia has now turned its attention to glucagon in addition to continuing work on insulin-based medicines.

biotech-lyon-poxel

Poxel is working to fight type II diabetes. It carried out a successful IPO in early 2015 and now has a market cap of €152M. In July, it raised an additional €26M to fund its move into the profitable Japanese market for diabetes.

Its strategy focuses on a new class of oral antidiabetic therapies called glimins. Glimins target mitochondrial respiration, which plays an essential role in the pathophysiology of diabetes. Its leading candidate is Imeglimin, for which a Phase III trial is being prepared.

biotech-lyon-alize-pharma

Focused on metabolic and rare diseases, Alizé Pharma is in fact 3 different Biotech companies. The latest one is Alizé Pharma III, which raised €1.8M in its first round and is currently in pre-clinical development of I-HBD1, a peptide with potential to treat osteoporosis and other bone diseases.

The 1st Alizé Pharma is tackling Prader-Willi syndrome and type II diabetes with AZP-531, another peptide that acts as an unacylated ghrelin analog, versus a short one. The middle child, Alizé Pharma II, was developing a therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and was acquired by Jazz Pharmaceuticals (US) this May.

biotech-lyon-orega-biotech

Orega Biotech is partly responsible for the hype of immuno-oncology. The Biotech was set up in 2010 and attracted support from Inserm Transfert, a subsidiary of the French institute for medical research that provides seed money. It also reeled in local investors, such as the VC Rhône-Alpes Création, SHAM (an insurance company) and Octalfa, a Life Sciences VC.

Its research focus is on first-in-class monoclonal antibodies. One success story is its candidate against a novel checkpoint inhibitor (CD39), which was licensed to Innate Pharma. Orega is also developing candidates against a family of cancer-related inflammatory cytokines (IL-17).

biotech-lyon-apcure

Apcure is a Biotech focused on the preclinical stage and active in cancer immunotherapies. Founded in 2012, it’s based on research developed at Grenoble’s TheREx laboratory. The company is aiming to raise its first financing round, armed with patents for its BacVac platform and early promising results for safety and efficacy.

BacVac uses engineered bacterial vectors (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) to activate patients’ immune systems against cancer targets. Its first product is LTVax, which targets an oncovirus (MCPyV) associated with Merkel cell carcinoma and some types of lung cancer.

biotech-lyon-imaxio

Founded in 2000, Imaxio is a spin-off of UK’s Medical Research Council and the University of Cambridge. The company has one approved drug against leptospirosis, which was acquired a few years ago, and other vaccines in development. The second clinical project focuses on malaria and is in Phase I trials.

Imaxio’s candidates are based on improving immune responses to promising antigens by genetically fusing special domains. This opens up target possibilities in infectious diseases, as well as in oncology.

lyon-biotech-fabentech

Fab’entech was created in 2009, with its first project tackling the influenza virus H5N1. Since then, the Biotech has attracted €5M (including from the VC Auriga), completed the development of its anti-H5N1 candidate (FB001) and is now working on other infectious diseases like avian influenza H7, Ebola and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Though the company is on the secretive end of the spectrum, its candidates are based on technology from Sanofi Pasteur. It’s able to produce purified fragments of antibodies, F(ab’)2, coupled with fast development and production – key in tackling emerging epidemics.

biotech-lyon-kallistem

Since 2012, Kallistem is developing a solution for the growing trend of male infertility. The goal is to develop in vitro spermatogenesis. In 2014, the Biotech succeeded in obtaining functional spermatozoa from immature cells in a biopsy. This could help both children undergoing aggressive treatments that may result in sterility, as well as adults suffering from non-obstructive azoospermia.

Preclinical trials of Kallistem’s process are expected to last until 2016, with clinical trials starting in 2017. If successful, it could tap into a market worth over €2.3Bn, with 50,000 new patients each year.

biotech-lyon-maat-pharma

Founded in 2014, MaaT Pharma is one of the most advanced companies in fecal transplantation worldwide, and its focus is dysbiosis, a microbiome imbalance that can lead to opportunistic infections. The company struck a partnership with the French National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA), a key player in microbiome research, to develop its preclinical research and raked in a further €2M from the world’s first Microbiome Fund and later another €10M in a Series A round.

biotech-lyon-enyo-pharma

Enyo Pharma was founded in 2014, with a team from the Infectiology Research Center in Lyon and licenses from several Inserm patents. In February, it raised a massive €22M from investors like Sofinnova, in order to fund its first clinical trial. The leading candidate targets Hepatitis B, one of the more problematic infectious diseases nowadays.

The biotech has developed a library of virus-host interactions, which allows it to identify promising targets in the virus replication process. Besides its work in Hepatitis B, Enyo also has early programs for influenza. Just today, Enyo announced it has received a grant of €2.5M for its project, MIMESIS, to investigate new mechanisms of action to treat infectious diseases and cancer with viruses.

biotech-lyon-calixar

Founded in 2011, Calixar isolates membrane proteins that could yield novel therapeutic target. Half of the company is based on a service activity and the other half on its own pipeline. In 2012, it closed a €875k funding round, followed by €1M last year.

Calixar was able to isolate targets like A2A, a GPCR receptor with potential for the treatment of drug addiction and Parkinson’s disease, and TWIK1, an ion channel that could yield a candidate for cardiac diseases. The Biotech also has a vaccine program, studying potential targets for HIV and influenza viruses.

biotech-lyon-amoeba

This list’s lonely representant of industrial biotechnology is Amoeba. The Biotech wants to make a splash in the €21Bn biocide market with its surprisingly robust species of amoeba, which eat bacteria and biofilms and thus act as water treatment. You can read more about it in our interview with Amoeba’s CEO.

Amoeba has partnered with Toulouse White Biotech (TWB) to industrialize the process and create a commercial product. In September, it obtained R&D market authorization for 20 industrial sites in Germany and SpainAmoeba’s market cap on the Euronext Paris is at €162M.

biotech-lyon-erytech

Focused on rare cancers and orphan diseases, Erytech is listed on the Euronext Paris with a market cap of €98M and has struck partnerships with names like Teva Pharmaceuticals (Israel) and Orphan Europe. Although its plans for a NASDAQ IPO appear to be on hold and despite recent regulatory setbacks, Erytech maintains its pioneering status with an exciting technology.

Erytech’s ERYCAPS platform use red blood cells to deliver drugs, which has potential applications in tumor starvation, enzyme replacement and immunotherapy. The technology has been used in clinical trials for acute lymphoblastic leukemiaacute myeloid leukemia and pancreatic cancer.


Lyon has quite a developed ecosystem for medical biotech, with good partnerships with research centers like Inserm and Institut Pasteur, and even a local VC, Octalfa, specialized in Life Sciences. As could be expected, infectious diseases are the scene’s specialty, though companies are now expanding to immuno-oncology and the microbiome. The specialized VC, Auriga, told us more in an interview. Overall, while it isn’t as big as Paris, Lyon represents one of Europe’s largest biotech ecosystems, and it’s one of the most exciting places to work in the industry!


Images from company websites and shutterstock.com, courtesy of Jezper and crystal light

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