Belgium’s government and life sciences industries have launched a campaign to attract international investment and research into the country’s biopharmaceutical R&D and manufacturing sectors.

In absolute terms, Belgium in the world’s leading exporter of medicines, the seventh largest investor in R&D and the global leader by numbers of drugs being developed per capita, according to essenscia, the country’s federation of life science and chemical companies. As well as world leaders such as GSK Biologicals, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Pfizer and UCB, Belgium has over 200 small and medium-sized enterprises in the life sciences sector specialising in fundamental and clinical research, says the industry group, which also points to a number of recent economic measures taken by the government to encourage inward investment.

“Companies now pay 65% less in withholding tax on professional revenue for their researchers and the country benefits from the lowest level of taxation on patent receipts in Europe. These measures are essential for our sector, which last year invested a record amount of 2.32 billion euros in research, accounting for half of all private R&D expenditure,” said essenscia’s managing director, Yves Verschueren.

Among a range of recent measures introduced by the government to boost R&D, last year saw the launch of an 80% tax exemption on “new” patent income generated during the financial years ending on or after December 31, 2007. These reductions, which were originally put forward in 2005, should amount to 47 million euros annually, according to a new report from Research and Markets.

Belgium’s Council of Ministers has also recently ratified the London Protocol, a voluntary accord between members of the European Patent Organization (EPO) which seeks to reduce the translation costs of European patents granted under the European Patent Convention (EPC).

“The Protocol provides for far-reaching simplification of the language system applied for patent protection in several countries. This produces average savings of 3,000 euros per patent. In this way, hundreds of thousands of euros can be saved and reinvested directly in R&D,” said Belgium’s Minister for Enterprise and Simplification, Vincent Van Quickenborne. The government is backing the initiative with trade visits to China, India, Indonesia and Singapore, among other measures.

However, a new report from Business Monitor International (BMI) warns that the health sector in Belgium is likely to be severely affected by the country’s current political turmoil, with concerns that the nation may split into separate French- and Flemish-speaking entities.

These concerns are reflected in BMI’s new Business Environment Rankings for western Europe, in which it places Belgium in joint last position out of eight countries, partly as a result of poor economic indicators and continuity of policy.