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Belgium’s pharmaceutical industry soars

July 1, 2022
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Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin is also known for the strength of its biopharmaceutical industry, and partnerships between companies in Belgium and Wisconsin could prove to be fruitful.


Belgium—and specifically, its northern region of Flanders—has positioned itself as the foremost biopharmaceutical hub in Europe. With a total of €5.2 billion ($5.4 billion USD) invested in 2021, Flanders is a leader in pharmaceutical production and innovation. Thanks to its location, open market economy and business-friendly tax system, the pharma sector increased its exports by 40% between 2015-2020, according to a report by, the association representing the pharmaceutical industry in Belgium.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped fuel the trend, as research and development investments rose 35% and exports soared 70% in the past two years, says.

Belgium played an important role in the production of a worldwide COVID-19 vaccine, and the export of that vaccine amounted to about one-third of Belgium’s total biopharmaceutical exports.

Belgium plays host to many of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Organon and Novartis. In Flanders in particular, top universities and research centers produce a highly educated workforce that drives the pharmaceutical innovation and production ecosystem. In addition, both the pharmaceutical industry and the Belgian government have been investing in the sector’s development through a range of tax incentives.

Wisconsin is also a powerhouse for biopharmaceutical research and a leader in manufacturing lifesaving treatments. Exports of medical and scientific instruments and pharmaceuticals accounted for 16.6% of the state’s total exports in 2021, and they are likely to increase due to major investments in the industry. For example, Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals is building a 160,000-square-foot drug manufacturing facility and a 125,000-square-foot laboratory and office building in Verona, with the help of $16 million in tax incremental financing from the City of Verona and $2.5 million in refundable tax credits from WEDC. Arrowhead is developing drugs to treat diseases by silencing the genes that cause the diseases.

Because Belgium is the fourth-largest importer and the fifth-largest exporter of pharmaceutical products in the world, stronger business partnerships between Belgium and Wisconsin could involve companies of all sizes and could be beneficial to all, both financially and in terms of improving global health.



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