Interview with Eleni Pentafragka, project leader of Athens LifeTech Park

ELPEN LifeTech Park

ELPEN is a leading Greek private pharmaceutical company with more than 1250 employees. The annual turnover of ELPEN group is EUR 290 million. With state-of-the-art production and research facilities, the company specializes in the development, production, and commercialization of generic products and value-added medicines and exports to more than 60 countries. ELPEN has an ambitious investment program for 2020-2025 of EUR 125 million. ELPEN is building Athens LifeTech Park, within this program, a Research & Innovation Park dedicated to health and life sciences. The investment budget for the park is EUR 35 million.

We had the chance to speak with Eleni Pentafragka of ELPEN about the plans of the company and Athens LifeTech Park in particular. Eleni is a member of the board and Head of Legal & Public Affairs at ELPEN Pharmaceutical. She is also the project leader for Athens LifeTech Park. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from Athens Kapodistrian University, a B.Sc in International Business & European Affairs from the American College of Greece, and an M.Sc in International Health Policy from London School of Economics (LSE). 

Here's what she told us:

How has the global biotechnology ecosystem evolved in the last decade? 

In recent years, we see the collaboration among academic research, startups, and the industry growing stronger. Pharmaceutical companies outsource more and more of their R&D activities, in an effort to minimize risk and maximize access to innovative ideas and technologies. In fact, only a small number of new pharmaceutical products arise from the industry's internal pipeline- rather, most are developed in their early steps by spin-offs and start-ups. Thus, pharmaceutical companies are enhancing their collaboration with research institutions and are setting up shop within biotechnology incubators, where start-ups and spin-offs are located. At the same time, funding directed towards start-ups in the life sciences has seen tremendous growth.

What should be done to strengthen Greece's role in the global biotechnology ecosystem? How can Elpen's innovation Park contribute toward that goal?

Greece possesses a very strong scientific human capital, active both within and outside the country. The reason why this asset remains largely unutilized lies in the lack of collaboration between the various stakeholders of the ecosystem, including academia and industry. At the same time, life sciences entrepreneurs face more hurdles than in other ecosystems, due to limited access to infrastructures such as wet labs and equipment.

ELPEN’s Athens LifeTech Park has the vision to create an innovation ecosystem around the life sciences, where ideas flow freely between the various activities hosted within its premises. To that end, the Park will host the first of its kind in Greece Biotechnology Incubator a Research Center mainly focused on translational research, a Precision Medicine center including a Biobank, and a preclinical CRO.

Through the collaboration of researchers, startups, investors, and the industry, we hope to accelerate the scientific discovery process for the benefit of patients and society, develop globally competitive partnerships with the big pharma and biotech industry and participate in the development of new pharmaceutical products.

It has been announced that a Biotechnology Incubator will operate for the 1st time in Greece, within Athens LifeTech Park. What is the benefit for start-up companies to locate there? What kind of services will be provided to them?

Biotech incubators are very important components of biotechnology ecosystems globally, reducing the difficulties and start-up costs for new entrepreneurial ventures in the field. By giving start-ups and spin-offs access to state-of-the-art wet labs and equipment for hire, companies can test their business model/ideas without undertaking the costly investment of setting up their own lab and purchasing expensive equipment. This allows them to best utilize their minimal starting resources towards developing their "proof of concept".

The Biotech Incubator within the Park will be able to host 10-15 companies in both shared and private lab spaces. These companies will be given access to state-of-the-art equipment, office space, conference rooms, as well as supporting services, e.g. regarding procurement and IP strategy. What is an important benefit, rare even for advanced incubators abroad, is that companies can also conduct their preclinical studies within the Park. And this is an important step in their development pathway and the road to attracting investment funds.

You participate in a working group for life sciences in the framework of Innovative Greeks. Could you tell us more about it?

The Hellenic Federation of Enterprises - SEV has recognized the growth potential of the life sciences ecosystem in Greece. Through the Innovation Department, SEV supports a working group dedicated to Life Sciences, with representatives from the university, industry, VC funds, startups, and CROs. 

The working group was just recently launched with the goal to a) map the Greek life sciences ecosystem b) bring together its various stakeholders, and c) enhance collaboration in the innovation ecosystem. In parallel, the group will seek to identify areas where policy action would improve the framework conditions in the market, build bridges with international life sciences ecosystems, and utilize the expertise of the Greek diaspora, as this is represented in its Innovative Greeks platform. 

It is a very important initiative toward the faster and more robust development of the Greek life sciences ecosystem. At ELPEN, we believe that Greece can and should have a more visible role in the global life sciences ecosystem and we are happy to work together with SEV and the other member of the working group in that direction.

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