Back 2021.07.20

Biotech: a new label of Lithuania’s economy

The biotechnology and life sciences have been among the fastest growing and most productive industries in Lithuania. Last year, a great many Lithuanian biotech companies have come up with a number of solutions addressing pandemic issues. For example, Vilnius-based Lithuanian company Northway Biotech developed, in cooperation with its Swiss colleagues, an anti-coronavirus drug, which is now in clinical trials in Switzerland.

With biotechnology and life sciences gaining firmer ground, the Government has set a goal to increase its GDP share to 5% by 2030, thereby placing Lithuania alongside Singapore, which is one of the global leaders in the field.

In 2020, Lithuania’s biotechnology sector grew by almost 87%. Businesses in the sector generated revenues of close to €2 billion and contributed around 2.5% to the country’s GDP. Overall, the revenues of Lithuania’s biotech sector have seen a nine-fold increase over the last decade, from 226 million euros in 2010 to nearly 2 billion euros in 2020, according to Lithuanian Biotechnology Association (LBTA).

Lithuania’s biotechnology sector is hoped to continue its upward trend, particularly as a result of the growing demand for industrial, agro and marine biotechnology solutions in the context of the European Green Deal, which involves  bringing down the use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics in agriculture, also combating pollution caused by microplastics, chemicals and other particularly harmful sources of pollution, and of other measures related to the development of the bioeconomy, including significant investments in the new European Horizon research and innovation programme.

Lithuania’s biotechnology industry stands out in Europe, particularly in the field of the development of enzymes and micro-organisms for the production of biological products used in chemical, food and feed, paper, textiles, other industries, and bioenergy. EuropaBio-commissioned survey reveals  that, in 2019, Lithuania’s biotechnology production generated  almost 400 million euros, which was 75.6% up on 2010.  This was a period where much lower figures were observed across the EU (16.6%). The growth in demand for biotechnologies has also been driven by Lithuania’s edge in biomass production and processing industries. This is evidenced by the Lithuanian Bioeconomy Development Opportunities Study conducted in 2017 on behalf of the Ministry of the Economy and Innovation.

Life sciences and genetic editing

Over the past decade, Lithuania has developed a great infrastructure for life sciences and biotechnology. Six universities offer biotechnology and life sciences courses. As part of this effort, a partnership institute of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) opened up in the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University to focus primarily on the advancement in genetic editing technologies.

The fact of establishing this centre in Lithuania shows the highest recognition of Lithuania’s scientists, particularly Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys and his team and their excellence in world-class research.

According to Director of the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University Prof. Gintaras Valinčius, the Centre builds on its achievements and solid expertise in genome editing which was developed by Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys group over the last years. The Centre has an ambitious goal to take it further with the best scientists from all across the world.

‘Last year we signed up an agreement with EMBL providing for an establishment  of an EMBL-VU LSC Partnership institute for Genome Editing. This year, six new international research groups focusing on genome editing-related topics have been launched. They will be led by researchers from different world universities including one scientist from Jeniffer Doudna lab in UC Berkeley. The newly hired young research leaders are expected to address important problems of humanity across various fields of biomedicine, safe food, and cleaner environment. I have no doubts that world-class scientists at VU LSC will generate life-changing discoveries and make Lithuania a covet destination for young researchers from Europe and the world to pursue their academic carriers. I am sure that VU LSC will be a place where the most ambitious scientific ideas can come to fruition’, says Prof. Gintaras Valinčius.

Photo Credits: Vilnius University