You may or may not know that Hungary is famous for a number of things: thermal baths, goulash, beautiful architecture and, of course, the Rubix cube. But, what is going on in the country’s biotech industry?
The answer is: more than you might think. In fact, did you know that Hungary could be considered the birthplace of European biotechnology? A Hungarian agricultural engineer was the first to coin the term in 1919.
Hungary joined the EU back in 2004, alongside countries including the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Poland. Hungary was primed to take its biotech industry to the next level with a strong background in pharmaceuticals, which began way back in 1901 with the establishment of Gedeon Richter, the father of Hungarian biotech, which is still going strong today. Now, it is also home to Egis, one of the largest pharma companies in Central and Eastern Europe, which is passionate about continued R&D to produce high-quality products for patients.
Unfortunately, this has not helped to improve the standard of living for Hungary’s people. Its 2017 GDP per capita is projected to be $28,965 (€24,370), placing it 61st in the current global standings – below Poland and Cyprus. The Hungarian government sees biotechnology as an area with huge potential for the country and has been keen to make money available to it where possible.
Biotechnology was accordingly made one of the top five priority sectors for national development between 2005 and 2010. A funding program helped 11 new biotechs to be created and incentives like subsidies and tax credits encouraged R&D investment. The Hungarian Biotechnology Association also set up a training program with the National Office for Research and Technology to support students planning to develop projects in the field, providing guidance in areas like business management, IP, and technology transfer.
Bay Zoltán Nonprofit was established in 1992 to improve the competitiveness and efficiency of companies in Hungary through successful technology transfer. The institute aims to develop technology that could allow exciting research to be transformed into high-value products in the biotech industry. The country is also home to Aquincum Inkubator, which welcomes applications from the biotech field. Companies receive help to develop a business model, undertake market analysis, prepare for investment and identify business development opportunities.
With all this help and on the back of the success enjoyed by Gedeon Richter and Egis, a number of other biotechs have tried their luck. Some failed, as this industry is very difficult to crack: Velgene, for example, seems to have disappeared. But, there are others that are succeeding.
Here are some of the companies that have found footholds in the Hungarian biotech ecosystem.
Solvo, one of our top 5 biotechs in Eastern Europe, is a pioneer and leader in the commercialization of membrane transporter technologies, diagnostics, and drug discovery assays. The Szeged- and Budapest-based company specializes in the development of transporter protein assays to characterize the behavior of drugs inside the body – an important test in pre-clinical studies. In particular, the company looks at ATP Binding Cassettes (ABCs), which have been suggested as therapeutic targets for cancer, drug resistance, and metabolic disorders.
The biotech now sells over 100 products, which are targeted at pharma and drug discovery companies. The company is a big name in Hungary and across Europe, having been named Hungary’s Company of the Year in 2006 and repeatedly included in Deloitte’s 50 fastest growing technology companies.
Omixon, based in Budapest and Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops molecular diagnostic tools for clinical and research laboratories. Founded in 2011, the company has gone on to develop a major next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genotyping product that delivers highly accurate, high-resolution results. It is crucial to finding transplantation matches and used in more than 20 hospitals worldwide.
HLA is a gene complex that encodes the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins on the surface of human cells, which regulate the immune system. These genes are highly polymorphic, varying greatly between individuals. Transplantation sees cells or tissues donated from one individual – with their own HLA – to another, which stimulates an immune response and rejection without immunosuppression. As a result, the careful consideration of HLA is important for transplantations.
The company followed this up with its software, HLA Explore, which analyzes sequencing data and spots HLA genotypes within whole exome/genome sequences. Omixon’s pipeline focuses on pre- and post-transplantation applications, but the biotech is also beginning to consider other applications.
BioTalentum was set up in 2005 to focus on medical and animal biotechnology, but has found itself a space in stem cell research and services: It’s now a world-class provider of stem cell models and transgenic cellular and animal models. The company’s human cellular systems and animal models support biomedical research and drug testing, providing a useful tool for research teams and the pharmaceutical industry.
The company has been involved in more than 30 research projects funded by the European Commission investigating stem cell-based regenerative medicine. BioTalentum is heavily involved in Horizon 2020, coordinating the iNanoBIT project, which hopes to develop the engraftment, survival, and function of cell transplants for the replacement of beta- and islet cells in the pancreas. The company is also participating in a number of other projects, including EU-ToxRisk, CaSR Biomedicine; SciChallenge and GROWTH.
BioTalentum also has a consulting arm that provides support for companies throughout the development process, from searching for a partner to closing a deal. It uses its huge experience of working on high profile projects with the EU to support young companies in areas like proposal writing, management, and contract negotiation.
Founded in 1996, 3D Histech develops high-performance hardware and software products for digital pathology – the acquisition and interpretation of information from patient data or microscopy. The company develops and manufactures high-speed digital slide scanners that create high-quality images, digital histology software, and tissue microarray machinery. It was the first European manufacturer of these products and is now a market leader, having sold more than 1,500 systems.
3D Histech’s aim is to fully digitalize the traditional pathology workflow so that it can adapt to the ever growing demands of healthcare today. The company believes that this could be a very useful tool for pharmaceuticals companies looking particularly at cancer, neuroscience, and developmental biology. It also organizes educational programs to help pathologists learn and master these new technologies with ease.
Soft Flow is a biotech active in a number of areas including antibody development, bioanalytical services, reagents, and software development. Over the past 20 years, Soft Flow has grown year on year, now with 30 employees and internationally recognized for its R&D operations. Within its broad pipeline, Soft Flow manufactures and distributes one of the largest selections of anti-mycotoxin monoclonal antibodies for food safety testing, as well as antibodies to antibiotics and hormones.
Mycotoxins are poisonous chemicals produced by fungi that can colonize crops and are a major food safety concern. They enter the body on contaminated food, and their effects can be acute or chronic – even inducing cancer or immune deficiency. Soft Flow has developed cheap and effective kits that detect the six most important mycotoxins.
The biotech says it has joined forces with a large, unnamed Danish company to continue the production of analytical instruments for the agriculture and food industry, following the formation of a strategic collaboration in the area of food and feed analysis in 2012.
There you have it, our top biotechs in Hungary. If you have any suggestions, or you’ve managed to track down our missing companies, let us know in the comments below.
Images – Nataliya Nazarova, Vastram, Jamilia Marini, Christoph Burgstedt, nobeastsofierce, Konstantin Kolosov, ustas7777777 / shutterstock.com