Bogota's Biopharma Breakthrough: A Strategic Dialogue with Isabella Muñoz, Executive Director of Invest In Bogota

17 November 2023 | Friday | Interview

Exploring the Factors Behind Bogota's Rise as a Biopharma Hub, Success Stories, and Future Initiatives
 Isabella Muñoz, Executive Director of Invest In Bogota

Isabella Muñoz, Executive Director of Invest In Bogota

In an exclusive interview with BioPharma BoardRoom, Isabella Muñoz, Executive Director of Invest In Bogota, shares insights into how Bogota has positioned itself as a thriving hub for the biopharmaceutical industry. From strategic advantages to success stories and upcoming events, Muñoz delves into the city's dynamic landscape and its appeal to international investors and corporation


Can you tell us more about the key factors that led to Bogota being recognized as the leading business travel destination in South America by the World Travel Awards? How has the city created an environment conducive to attracting businesses, particularly in the biopharma industry?

The city benefits from its strategic geographic location, situated at the center of the continent, that at the same time serves as the gateway to Latin America. It has excellent air connectivity with numerous daily direct flights to major cities in the Americas. El Dorado International Airport is one of the busiest in South America, both for passenger and cargo traffic.


Bogota Region (the city and surrounding area) possesses a highly skilled and efficient workforce, 6 million of its inhabitants are part of the active labor force, that seems a very attractive number to the companies that wants to contribute to the country’s pharmaceutical safety, job creation, technology transfer, and good manufacturing practices, among others. Related to the educational excellence, we are home to 3 of the top 15 universities in Latin America, including a public one, Universidad Nacional, and two privates, Los Andes and Javeriana, along with significant research groups, PhDs, and skilled professionals.


Bogota is a very attractive city for pharmaceutical companies that appreciate the city’s geostrategic location in the continent, in which they have developed administrative and distribution hubs for Colombia and the Region. We have examples such as Pfizer and Roche.

Colombia's pharmaceutical market has seen substantial growth, with sales accounting for 19.2% of the country's GDP in 2022. What do you attribute this impressive growth to, and how does it compare to other markets in Latin America?

Colombia is the third largest pharmaceutical market in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico. According to WHO, Colombia has the best health system in LATAM and the 22nd in the World. Health coverage in Colombia is near to 98% of the total population, which in turn demands pharmaceutical products for Colombians. Its pharmaceutical market has substantial growth due to the increase of the investment of the government in healthcare services, that has driven the demand for pharmaceuticals, in special for generics. In addition to this, the growth of Colombia´s population and the growing burden of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, has increased the demand for medical treatment. Also, its geographic position that makes it an ideal center for production and distribution, the qualified human talent and its ecosystem of government agencies, guilds, and associations have attracted projects from foreign companies that have boosted the pharmaceutical ecosystem.


Can you share some notable success stories of biopharma companies that have invested in Bogota and the impact they have had on the local industry and community?

BogotaBio is, by far, one of our most successful and recent cases. SINOVAC, the leading provider of biopharmaceutical products in China, announced its appointment as a strategic partner of BogotaBio, which will be inaugurated as the first local human vaccine production facility to be established in Bogota. BogotaBio, through a collaborative innovation model between the public and private sectors of the pharmaceutical sector in the city, seeks to develop vaccines for Colombia's Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), necessary for the prevention of several infectious diseases.


This type of public-private partnership is an innovative model in the pharmaceutical industry. The city and SINOVAC will allocate nearly USD 200 million to BogotaBio between 2021 and 2026; these resources will focus on the production of pharmaceuticals and all the research, development, technology, knowledge, and patents around them.


Another success case is Novartis, which in 2021 announced the beginning of clinical researches of 20 active molecules to investigate lung cancer, breast cancer, pediatric psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis, hidradenitis suppurativa, multiple sclerosis, COPD, spinal muscular atrophy, IgA nephropathy, lupus nephritis, chronic spontaneous urticaria, fascioliasis, sickle cell disease, myelodysplastic syndrome, atherosclerosis, sjogren's syndrome, nash and psoriatic arthritis. By linking 1,095 patients and more than 100 specialized physicians.


Roche recently inaugurated its very own distribution center in Cota, a municipality of Bogota Region. From this point, Roche distributes medicines with high medical value and innovation each year for the treatment of diseases such as breast cancer, lung cancer, multiple sclerosis, hemophilia and spinal muscular atrophy, among others. Also, diagnostic tests for pathologies such as breast cancer and HPV, focused on women's health and the value of diagnosis, which allows it to effective solutions to improve the quality of life of patients. Only in 2023, they already invested more than 40 million dollars and they are planning to invest 240 million more in the next 5 years.


What specific initiatives or incentives does Bogota offer to attract life sciences corporate companies to establish headquarters or expand their operations in the city?


One of our most attractive initiatives is Bogota Bio, which will help us strengthen our position as a pharmaceutical hub in Latin America, by producing vaccines for Colombians and inhabits from other regions. This initiative seeks to attract new businesses around vaccine development and complement the actual market with new suppliers that can complement the actual supply chain.

As per our incentives, Free Trade Zones in Colombia apply the following legal benefits for companies: 

  • Single income tax rate of 20%.
  • No customs duties (VAT and tariffs) are levied or paid on the goods that are introduced into the Free Trade Zone.
  • Possibility of exporting from the Free Trade Zone to third countries and to the national market.
  • The goods of foreign origin introduced to the Free Trade Zone may remain in them indefinitely.

To encourage investment in research, development and innovation and promote competitiveness in companies and the development of high impact research for the country, the national government grants different benefits such as:

  • Tax discount quota of 30% of the value invested in the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) project.
  • Tax credit for a value of 50% of the investment made in STI, applicable for the compensation of income tax and other national taxes, for micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) taxpayers of income tax.

Regarding local incentives, Bogota recently implemented the “Empleo Incluyente” (Inclusive Employment) incentive. This incentive rewarded the companies that hired youngsters, women and disenfranchised population. This means that the city gives tax cuts and subsidies to the payroll of each company who hired that population. In addition, in different municipalities near Bogota there are some tax benefits for projects that support the development of the municipality by hiring locals, handicapped population, among others. 


In addition to the growth in sales, what other significant developments have been observed in the Bogota biopharma sector in recent years?


In terms of Bogota Region, it is considered a pharmaceutical hub in Colombia, since 47% of the country's pharmaceutical exports are made from here, 66% of the drug manufacturers are located here and it has a highly qualified workforce in careers related to the pharmaceutical sector. Also, it has a favorable climate with an average annual temperature of 14 °C and quality water sources that favor costs and product quality. In addition, Bogota serves as an administrative and distribution hub for several pharmaceutical companies, which appreciate the city's geostrategic position to do business with North, Central and South America. 


How important is the emphasis on science, technology, and innovation in Bogota's biopharma landscape? Are there specific innovation hubs or programs that support this sector's growth?


The emphasis on science, technology and innovation turns relevant in Bogota´s biopharma landscape since it is one of the pillars to stablish Bogota as a pharmaceutical hub for the region. That is why, the Mayor Office, Bogota´s Chamber of Commerce and the Government of Cundinamarca are promoting the District of Science, Technology and Innovation. This project will focus on promoting and facilitating the interaction of talent, knowledge and resources between the private sector, the public sector, academia and citizens to promote science, technology and innovation in Bogota and the region. In 10 years, this District is expected to generate 25,000 skilled jobs, through 4,000 companies installed and connected as nodes.

As previously stated, to encourage investment in research, development and innovation and promote competitiveness in companies and the development of high impact research for the country, the national government grants different benefits such as:

  • Tax discount quota of 30% of the value invested in the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) project.
  • Tax credit for a value of 50% of the investment made in STI, applicable for the compensation of income tax and other national taxes, for micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) taxpayers of income tax.

Several companies are betting on the startup and healthtech ecosystem of Colombia, most of which is located in Bogota. For example, Astrazeneca recently inaugurated its innovation center directed to promote innovative culture and develop initiatives to meet the challenges of the health sector, thus contributing to the sustainability of healthcare systems for the benefit of patients. Also, Europharma from Brazil, recently announced it’s Europharma Ventures initiative. This seeks to empower the colombian startup and healthtech market with 100 million USD to help develop innovative health solutions for the country.

Can you provide some insights into the challenges and opportunities that Bogota's biopharma sector offers to international investors and companies looking to expand in the region?

Bogota and Colombia’s pharmaceutical capabilities are centered around over the Counter products and generics. There is a large opportunity to develop the biosimilar market in Bogota and Colombia, which has begun with the project BogotaBio. One of the biggest opportunities in Bogota and Colombia is to develop clinical studies, which is also a huge challenge as well as to have them fully developed and carried out in our country. Additionally, thanks to the geographical position of Bogota and the specialty of El Dorado Airport in flight connectivity and cargo movement, Bogota has a big opportunity to locate distribution and administrative hubs. 


What are some upcoming events or activities related to the biopharma industry in Bogota that our readers should be aware of, and how can they get involved or stay informed?

Innovapharma is a major meeting between the industry and academia, organized by key actors of the industry. This event is a unique space for pharmaceutical companies to connect and network directly with academic researchers, professors and students. For 2024, it is expected to have 2 more editions. 


In addition, Bogota will host the 30 Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Hypertension, that will be held on September 19th to 22nd 2024. This event will cover topics such as: treatment compliance, clinical trials, sport/exercise and hypertension, atrial fibrillation, among many others. You can get more information in their official website

A very important event regarding medical devices is the Meditech International Fair which will take place from July 9th to the 14th. Meditech 2024 "Powered by Medica" is the scenario that brings together the main actors and representatives of the most important institutions of the health sector in Latin America. It will show the most complete commercial sample of products and services related to medical and clinical technology, generate business and learn about the trends and priorities of the health sector. It is a space for updating and showcase of launches of the health sector in Colombia and the Andean Region, Central and South America.

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