In many aspects, the life sciences industry is at the forefront of the national economy. It is the most R&D intensive industry and features some of Slovenia's best performing companies. It is one of the fastest growing and the second highest exporting sector. In relative terms (production per capita), Slovenia is one of the five largest drug manufacturing nations in Europe, according to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).
Slovenian medical equipment producers were pioneers in the use of laser technologies and continue to keep the leading position in the field. Companies in Slovenia also produce high-end equipment for physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and aesthetic medicine and world’s best laser medical devices. They develop systems for stem cell isolation and bacteriophages, high quality software for laboratory instrument manufacturers, and control and measurement systems used in radiation therapy. The production of some of the most advanced medicines, like COVID-19 vaccines, was made possible by the large biomolecules’ purification technology developed by a Slovenian biotech SME.
Successful R&D in the life sciences industry would not be possible without a supportive ecosystem, provided by the strong research and educational institutions. This ecosystem, connecting established industry, universities, scientific institutes, and centers of excellence, enables fertile growth of spin-off companies, start-ups and finally successful fast-growing companies operating on a global level.
15 years ago, the total sales of Slovenia’s pharmaceutical industry reached 1 billion euros – today it is approaching 3 billion. The two generic drug manufacturers have leading positions in the markets of Central and Eastern Europe. The foundation of these market positions is strong R&D, backed by a constant focus on innovation.
Sandoz, the world’s second largest generic pharmaceutical company, placed one of its leading global competence centers for products and technologies in Slovenia. Two special competence centers focus on biosimilar drugs and on vertically integrated products.
It is no coincidence that Ljubljana’s airport became the leading logistics hub for pharmaceutical products in Central and Eastern Europe: in fact, medicine represents almost one half of the cargo passing through the airport.
A Slovenian company started to develop laser-based solutions in the early sixties, only a few years after the invention of the “optical maser”. The company is now the global tech leader in solid state laser systems used in surgery, gynecology, dentistry, and aesthetic medicine. Another company is the leader in laser systems used in ophthalmology: its unique devices are used in a non-invasive treatment of glaucoma for example.
Companies in Slovenia produce not only the world’s best laser medical devices but also a wide spectrum of innovative devices used in diagnostics, cancer therapy, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and aesthetic medicine.
The presence of small, flexible, and highly innovative companies from Slovenia are particularly strong in a few niche areas like:
The backbone of thriving health related manufacturing is an ecosystem of good research and educational institutions. This ecosystem, connecting established industry, universities, scientific institutes, and centers of excellence, enables the fertile growth of spin-off companies, start-ups and finally successful fast-growing companies operating on a global level. Small research companies are active in neuroscience, oncology, genetic testing, and analysis of raw biological data. Some of these SMEs are working on the most state-of-the-art solutions such as cell therapy. A research group at the Ljubljana University’s Clinical Center developed a unique AI based solution that could diagnose brain tumors using normal blood tests.
Slovenia is one of the three European countries with the largest percentage of territory covered by forest: it is no surprise that Slovenia has a long tradition of the use of medicinal plants. This traditional knowledge is now a basis for many natural health products. It also influences the philosophy of the life sciences sector in Slovenia, providing a focus on the research of phytochemicals, biosimilars, and bionics. Areas like biopharmaceutics, biomedical engineering, and regenerative medicine are well developed, while research is putting an increased focus on methods like cell and gene therapy. Slovenia is also a global leader in beekeeping and in apitherapy, honey-based therapy methods and health products.
Beyond the two local pharma champions, there has grown a small yet powerful cluster of companies that develop and supply products and services for the pharmaceutical industry. These suppliers provide both local and global industries with the engineering of product lines, process systems, cleaning, and sterilizing equipment, and highly specialized scientific devices.
One of the local ICT companies became a global leader in management software services for the life sciences industry. Another is the leading developer of processes in analysis and manufacturing of bacteriophages as a basis for a new and potentially revolutionary therapeutic method.
And finally, a crucial technology for during a time when vaccine production is of the utmost importance: a Slovenian company is a leading provider of advanced cleanroom technological solutions in Europe: their products are used by top European pharmaceutical companies.