Life Sciences Press Tour

In October I went on a press tour of the life sciences industry in the Netherlands, which will soon be home to the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

15 November 2018

Written by Rob Wright

In October I went on a press tour of the life sciences industry in the Netherlands, which will soon be home to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Sponsored by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), the tour was a well-organized, four-day whirlwind. We toured university medical centers in five cities, and we heard presentations from academic thought leaders, biopharmaceutical executives, entrepreneur, 3D imaging innovators, and surgeons. We also toured several of the country’s life sciences parks, which is when I found myself pondering the saying, “When one door closes, another opens.” Let me explain.

On the evening before a trip to Pivot Park, a life sciences park that opened in Oss in February 2012, I met Greetje de Kleuver, senior life science international advisor for Oost NL, an agency assisting international companies in East Netherlands. I shared with her that I had worked for Organon Pharmaceuticals (in the States) for 10 years. Organon’s global headquarters, along with much of its manufacturing and R&D, were located in Oss. Following the company’s acquisition by Schering-Plough in 2007 and merger with Merck in 2009, I, along with thousands of my colleagues, got laid off. But it was this door closing that opened up the opportunity I now enjoy as chief editor of Life Science Leader.

In 2010, Merck announced cost-cutting measures that would close the door on more than 2,000 jobs at the company’s former Oss campus. According to Kleuver, the declaration was devastating to the Netherlands at large, as well as the community of Oss, and many didn’t know how or if the area would ever recover. But she went on to say that thanks to the advent of Pivot Park, it was more like one door closed and 50 doors opened — for that is about how many new life sciences startups now call Organon’s former Oss campus home.

As I toured Pivot Park, I marveled at how many former Organon employees still work on the campus. For example, Alexander Willemse, Ph.D., is the CEO of BioConnection, a CMO; Brigitte Drees is the CEO of Pivot Park; and Tjeerd Barf founded Acerta Pharma there. In fact, Acerta is one of the brightest Pivot Park success stories, at least thus far; just three years after being started, AstraZeneca invested $4 billion to acquire a 55 percent stake in the company. Two years later, Acerta’s lead compound, acalabrutinib, received FDA approval for the treatment of adult patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). While it was disheartening when the doors were closed on Organon, it’s exhilarating to see how many others (many by former employees) have been opened via Pivot Park — to the benefit of workers, the Netherlands’ economy, the life sciences industry, and most importantly, patients around the world.