Global biotech industry continues to attract financing despite reimbursement, regulatory and political challenges

New York, 19 June 2017

  • Share
EY - View the online version
EY - Download the PDF
  • 2016 biotech revenue growth inches up while net income drops sharply
  • US still biggest source of innovation capital but China and UK stepping up 
  • Research and development investment up, but firms need to use new artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to remain productive and relevant

Global biotech companies continued to invest in new treatments despite a pull back from capital markets in the US and the EU, lower valuations and increased pressure from payers, according to the 31st annual EY report Beyond borders: staying the course. Still, revenue growth for public biotech companies failed to reach double digits for the first time in two years and net income plummeted by 52%, as the industry continues to be challenged by R&D productivity and the emergence of new business models.

Glen Giovannetti, EY Global Biotechnology Leader, says:

“Despite a marked slowdown in top-line growth driven in large part by aggressive cost containment efforts by payers, the global biotech industry displayed notable resiliency to ongoing reimbursement and regulatory and political uncertainties in 2016. In particular, the ability of early-stage biotechs to attract sizeable amounts of venture capital coupled with a record level of investment in R&D show that the industry is still poised for growth.

“At the same time, the industry continues to shift from a clinical science supported by data to a data-driven science supported by clinicians. And, because of this change, biotech companies need to adopt emerging technologies as well as business model innovations to help ensure their continued success.”

Key results highlighted in the report include:

  • Revenue growth slows, net income and financing decline: Revenue for US- and Europe-based biotech companies totalled US$139.4b in 2016, up just 7% from the prior year. Net income dropped 52% year-over-year to US$7.9b, while financing dropped 27% to US$51.1b in 2016 – the first decline in four years, yet still the third highest industry total.
  • Early-stage venture capital remains plentiful: Investment in seed and Series A biotech venture rounds totalled US$3.6b in 2016, a record 36% of the total US$10b of venture capital raised, and higher than the previous 15-year averages of US$1.3b.
  • Capital flows emerge from the East, while innovation capital goes global: As many traditional forms of capital became more difficult to access in 2016, biotechs are considering Asia, particularly China, as a potential source of capital. These companies are also exploring additional sources of innovation capital – cash raised by biotechs with revenues of less than $500m. While US biotechs raised 81% of the US$26.3b total innovation capital in the US and Europe, the UK and China each raised more than US$1b in innovation capital.
  • M&A activity strong, but guaranteed money drops: Seventy-nine deals in 2016 totalled US$94.4b, a decline from 2015's record year but still the second-highest total ever for both value and volume. Meanwhile, guaranteed money in alliances dropped sharply, with 17% of all M&A value being tied up in milestones that may not materialize. Still, this was higher than the previous year’s 12% of deals with these earn-out payments.
  • R&D spending up, industry market cap and valuations decline: R&D spending, a key indicator of the future health of the sector, hit a record high of US$45.7b in 2016 – a 12% jump from the prior year. However, the industry's cumulative market capitalization slipped under US$1t for the first time in three years to US$863b – a 17% decline. In the US alone, 29 companies each lost more than US$1b in market capitalization.

Pamela Spence, EY Global Life Sciences Leader, says:

"The biotech industry's financial commitment to R&D, while impressive, needs to be coupled with efficiency improvements to achieve better returns and ultimately to drive greater affordability of its products. With pricing pressures expected to escalate, firms will need to incorporate new digital and artificial intelligence technologies into their traditional drug target selection and overall R&D processes to achieve those returns or risk being outdone by firms that do.

"Furthermore, the payer-driven slowdown in revenue growth industry-wide provides further evidence of the need for companies to accelerate their shift in business models to fee-for-value from fee-for-service. Fundamental to the success of this transformation will be to form data-focused partnerships with the digital technology companies increasingly entering the health care space."

- Ends -

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. For more information about our organization, please visit

This news release has been issued by EYGM Limited, a member of the global EY organization that also does not provide any services to clients. This news release has been issued by EYGM Limited, a member of the global EY organization that also does not provide any services to clients.

About the report

The key findings from Beyond borders: staying the course are based on an EY analysis of companies whose main business purpose is the commercialization of modern biotechnology as applied to health care, with a focus on biotech companies in the US and Europe. EY primary research is based on publicly available information and is supplemented as needed with data published by third-party databases, as well as regional information resources. Specific references are cited in the source notes for each chart.

How EY’s Global Life Sciences Sector can help your business

As populations age and chronic diseases become commonplace, health care will take an ever larger share of GDP. Scientific progress, augmented intelligence and a more empowered patient are driving changes in the delivery of health care to a personalized experience that demands health outcomes as the core metric. This is causing a power shift among traditional stakeholder groups, with new entrants (often not driven by profit) disrupting incumbents. Innovation, productivity and access to patients remain the industry’s biggest challenges. These trends challenge the capital strategy of every link in the life sciences value chain, from R&D and product supply to product launch and patient-centric operating models.

Our Global Life Sciences Sector brings together a worldwide network of 15,000 sector-focused professionals to anticipate trends, identify their implications and help our clients create competitive advantage. We can help you navigate your way forward and achieve sustainable success in the new health-outcomes-driven ecosystem.

For more information, visit