The Belgian chemicals and pharma sector is by far the largest investor in research and development (R&D) in the European Union. With an R&D intensity of 17.7% (the ratio between R&D expenditure and added value), Belgian chemicals and pharma lead the rankings, ahead of countries including Germany, Sweden and France.

This was the result of an analysis of European statistics recently carried out by the industry federation essenscia.  The chemicals and pharma sector in Belgium accounts for two thirds of all industrial R&D investment, and one third of patents granted. At a time when a vaccine against the coronavirus and solutions to climate change are actively pursued, the importance of innovative companies and government support for innovation is all the more evident.

 €4.5 billion: that was the record amount invested by companies in the chemicals and life sciences sector in 2019 in research and development in Belgium (intra- & extra-muros). That equates to more than €12 million per day, a rise of almost 50% in ten years. The sector therefore accounts for two-thirds of all industrial R&D expenditure in our country. Most of this investment comes from the pharma and biotech industry, but chemicals also makes a significant contribution.

Frédéric Druck, Managing Director of essenscia Wallonia-Brussels

"Belgian chemicals and life science companies have never invested so much in research and development. The sector has therefore become the champion of innovation in Belgium, but also throughout the European Union."


At the international level, the sector also stands out in terms of innovation. With an R&D intensity of 17.7% (the ratio between R&D expenditure and added value), the Belgian chemicals and life sciences sector ranks ahead of the 26 other European Union countries (excluding the United Kingdom).



These results are based on intra-muros R&D expenditure - within companies (excluding R&D expenditure of other parties) and come from the Chemdata statistics of the European chemical federation Cefic.

R&D expenditure

In 2019, 466 patents were granted to the Belgian chemicals and life sciences sector, representing almost two inventions per working day. The sector therefore generates one third of all Belgian patents granted by the European Patent Office. Compared to the rest of the world, the contribution of chemicals and life sciences is significantly higher in Belgium.

In absolute figures, in the technological domain of chemicals and life sciences, our country is among the top five in the European Union (EU 27) and ranks eleventh in the world, just behind China. In terms of patent applications per million inhabitants, the Belgian chemicals and life sciences sector ranks fourth in the world. The chemicals and pharmaceutical industries are therefore the mainstay of innovation in Belgium.

This is also reflected in the employment figures. The chemicals and pharma sector has more than 11,000 employees active in R&D. This means that one out of every eight employees in the sector is involved in research. Of all the scientific researchers working in Belgium in the private sector, one quarter work in the chemicals and life sciences industry. Almost half are women.

 "Innovations are more than ever essential in finding solutions to climate change and public health challenges. To achieve this, we need the authorities to continue providing maximum and targeted support for innovation. This support is also necessary for our country to reach the European target of investing 3% of GDP in research and development", explains Frédéric Druck, Managing Director of essenscia Wallonia-Brussels.

Wallonia is a key player in the life sciences sector. Numerous assets have thus encouraged companies to set up their research and production units there. Find out which ones.

Strenghts of the Life Sciences Ecosystem in Belgium-Wallonia
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