Lithuania’s life sciences sector continues its remarkable rise on the global stage, the upcoming Life Sciences Baltics event on September 20-21, 2023, beckons as a prime opportunity to explore this thriving ecosystem. Here, we present six key insights that unveil the essence of life sciences in Lithuania, where scientific excellence, top-tier talent, and entrepreneurial spirit converge to foster groundbreaking biotech solutions.
Accelerating faster than almost anywhere else in Europe, the Lithuanian life sciences sector has demonstrated a tremendous growth rate over the last decade. Since 2010, the sector’s revenue has grown 11-fold. According to the Lithuanian Biotechnology Association, the revenue of the sector’s companies increased by almost 37% between 2020 and 2021, from 1.9 billion to 2.6 billion EUR.
A result of a decade’s worth of fast-paced growth, the life sciences industry currently generates around 2.5% of Lithuania’s GDP. Lithuania hopes to maintain this momentum – life sciences is among the country’s priority economic sectors, receiving considerable attention and support from governmental institutions and decision makers. These efforts aim to increase the sector’s GDP contribution to 5% by 2030.
Renowned gene editing research
Lithuania is home to some of the biggest innovators of gene editing – a technology with the potential to prevent illnesses such as cancer and HIV. Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys and his team at Vilnius University have laid the foundation for CRISPR Cas9 “genetic scissors”, and today the country is making waves in different applications of this trailblazing technology. A prominent hotspot of this research is the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Partnership Institute at VU Life Sciences Center, which hosts 6 laboratories working on targeted genome modification.
The high calibre of academic research in Lithuania is reflected by international recognition. For instance, Dr Stephen Knox Jones Jr, a biochemist at the EMBL Partnership Institute, and his team have recently received a 1.2 million EUR grant from the European Research Council for a project aiming to improve gene editing techniques.
With its long-standing life sciences expertise and a vast pool of scientific talent, Lithuania has attracted a number of big-scale biotech investors. The prominent multinational life sciences players that have established manufacturing and R&D presence here include the Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva and the US-headquartered Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world’s biggest scientific equipment and services provider.
Over 400 companies operate in the life sciences sector in Lithuania. Global biotech giants aside, the sector is home to some promising life sciences startups. Among the best known are CasZyme, which develops CRISPR-based molecular tools for gene editing, Atrandi Biosciences, which commercialises droplet microfluidics technology for next-gen single cell analysis, and Genomika, which is pioneering data storage using DNA molecules. Atrandi Biosciences and Genomika have both recently attracted significant funding, raising 4.5 million EUR and 5 million EUR respectively to accelerate product development.
Strong talent pipeline
Despite being a country with a population of only 2.8 million, Lithuania has no shortage of talented life sciences professionals. More than 15,000 specialists work in the sector – a number that is growing every year thanks to six universities offering biotech-related study programmes.
Arguably, Lithuania’s biggest hothouse for life sciences talent is the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University. A central feature in the country’s research landscape, the LSC is a 1,500-strong team of budding and experienced scientists alike, including over 1,000 students of all academic levels and more than 140 PhDs.