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Ioanna Koukli: “Hbio Cluster’s goal is the development of businesses in Life Sciences and relevant fields in Greece”

The president of Hellenic BioCluster and CEO of Pharmassist Ltd talks to Startupper Mag about the development of Life Sciences in Greece, the role of the cluster in businesses and startups development in the field and at the same time it foresees the future of the field as far as innovation is concerned.

S.M. Hellenic BioCluster (HBio) is the first Life Sciences cluster in Greece and brings innovation leaders together in fields such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and others.How was it created and what is its mission?

Ioanna Koukli: Hellenic BioCluster (HBio) is the first and biggest Innovation Cluster, in Greece in the fields of Health and Biotechnology.It was founded in 2006 as an initiative of the Foundation for Research and Technology and Praxis, the technology transfer network, while it comprises the biggest science and health technologies cluster in Greece.Hbio came to cover the significant gap in the greek bio-pharmaceutical industry and for 15 years has been connecting biomechanical and academic partners aiming to support and promote innovation and science’s tangible support in society and economy.It participates actively in public consultations and in policy planning for “burning” issues, such as the management of the pandemic in our country and in the European Union as well.

In order to respond to the hard demands of the contemporary era, we have created a powerful ecosystem that includes the biggest research centres in Greece (Technology and Research Foundation, National Centre for Research and Technology, Biomedical Research Foundation Academy of Athens, Biomedical Sciences Research Center “Alexander Fleming”, National Center for Scientific Research “Demokritos”), top universities, partners from the pharmaceutical and biotechnological industry with important multiannual presence in the market and innovative medium sized companies including spin-offs and startups.

S.M. How does the cluster promote innovation in the fields of its interest?Which are its activities and where does it focus?

Ioanna Koukli: HBio reinforces the ecosystem by facilitating networking and synergies among its members and supports small and medium sized innovative companies and research organizations since the initial stage when they were looking for funding until the stage of technology dissemination.Also, it reinforces extroversion and entrepreneurship participating in national and international actions and contributes to its members’ business growth through a wide spectre of activities and programs, such as seminars, mentoring and coaching)programs promoting the exchange and the implementation of better practices in the fields of health, biotechnology and entrepreneurship.

In 2020, it was approved by the General Secretariat for Research and Innovation Hbio’s proposal for funding aiming to accelerate development through the interconnection of innovation in the field of health, something that proves the recognition of the essential work that has been offered by our cluster giving at the same time big boost to our activities.

S.M. Today, we know that Hbio has totally 65 members.Could you tell us some “demographics”? From which fields do these members come from in general and what are the prerequisites to become a member?

Ioanna Koukli: Our members come from the fields of health, biotechnology and life sciences in general, as well as from the industrial, business and academic field.As I mentioned previously, the ecosystem we have created includes the biggest research centres and universities in Greece, important partners from the industry of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and innovative medium-sized businesses as well.

Prerequisite for the participation in our cluster is the strong research and development activity as well as the interest for economy.The majority of our members employ more than 10 people, while multinational companies with activity in Greece are playing now an important role as well as starups and spinoffs.50% of the members come from different regions of the country.

Our objective is to develop a bigger partnership network in the field of life sciences in Greece, aiming to their development, the reinforcement of their potentials in innovation and their extrovesion.

S.M. When a company joins your network what does it gain?What are the advantages of the participation in such ascheme in your opinion?

Ioanna Koukli: HBio offers its members the essential networking as well as the participation in important extroversion activities in order to ensure publicity and the interconnections they need to promote their products and their services.

Also, our members have access to a series of consultant services and multiple useful tools ( Innovation assessmenttools), aiming to strengthen them with new skills and abilities, in order to make them more competitive, participate in synergies and find new funding opportunities or commercial and research collaborations.There is strong interaction among our members and among our members and external bodies of international standards with which we cooperate aiming to create high qualtity products and services and promote excellence.

It is important to mention that Hbio is the first greek body to become member of EuropaBio. EuropaBio incudes more than 2,600 life science companies and has strong activity in policy planning in Europe.So our members have direct access to hundreds of potential partners in Europe and participate through us in consultations about important issues concerning biotechnology in Europe.

S.M. You have been president of Hbio since 2019, with huge experience in the field of pharmaceuticals and your own company, Pharmassist Ltd. Tell us a few things about your career so far and how you became president of the cluster.How did your experience in the field help you lead such an effort?

Ioanna Koukli: Entrepreneurship came up gradually.First of all I am a scientist.After 11 successful years in Pharmaceuticals as Regulatory Affairs Director και R&D Manager, I decided in 1999 to establish Pharmassist, the first company that provides consultation services on regulatory affairs, an innovative idea back then for Greece.After 20 years of successful course as Pharmassist’s CEO, with important collaborations in Europe and internationally, I felt it was the right moment for a new venture in the field of health.

I strongly believe in Hbio’s vision and the potentials it offers to its members and to Greece as well.Since 2013 I was a member of Hbio’s board and contributed significantly to acquire the dynamics it has for the support and reinforcement of innovation, main pillar of my business mentality.Without a doubt, my multiannual experience, my collaboration with companies from the full spectre of the health sector and with government bodies and academic institutions as well , contributed significantly to my business maturity and led me gradually to Hbio’s presidency.

S.M. During your tenure so far and in the future as well, what are your personal goals? What do you want to achieve and what’s the timescale?

Ioanna Koukli: When I took over my new role, at the end of 2019 , I pointed out to all the members of the cluster that I personally, the members of the board and the whole Hbio’s team, we are all here to cover their needs, listen to their ideas and transfer their expertise with a common goal: the development of the businesses in Life Sciences and relevant fields in Greece through our cluster.

My personal goal, until the end of my tenure, is the rise of extroversion of the innovative medium-sized business members of our cluster.Greece can and should properly leverage the exceptional research community and the unique human resources, with the high quality scientific expertise it owns.It is important to highlight that the picture of the business landscape today depends on the scientific achievements of the last two decades.

S.M. Finally, tell us how do you see the field of life sciences in Greece nowadays? There are data that show a huge growth, especially on the level of startups. Do you confirm this upturn and where do you spot the biggest progress?

Ioanna Koukli: All the data we have confirm this upturn of Life Sciences field and the development of entrepreneurship in Greece.In our cluster there are exceptional examples of startups that started from Greece, developed significantly within the last years and now operate abroad as well.

The recent initiatives of the state, such as Elevate Greece and the new institutional framework about spinoffs, in combination with the increased funding opportunities from greek venture capitals, as well as the creation of more technology transfer centres to greek universities, have cοntributed significantly to this upturn and the creation of a remarkable innovation ecosystem.
All interested parties have now realized that synergies and collaborations are of high importance and that clusters’ role is crucial for the desired progress and development.

S.M. How do you believe things will evolve in the field in the following years? Can you distinguish, because of your experience, sectors that are expected to attract our attention on the level of innovation?

Ioanna Koukli: I am optimistic and I believe that the field of Life Sciences will be reinforced and developed even more the following years.The support and promotion of innovation in the sector of health and Life Sciences was highlighted because of the pandemics.

The need for better prevention, management and treatment of chronic diseases (such as heart diseases, dementia, autoimmune diseases and cancer) is big and is expected to become even bigger as life expectancy is rising.The eyes are turned towards individual medicine, where Life Sciences’ techniques will play a crucial role.

Finally, it is expected that the field of digital health will be transformed soon, since other emerging fields in Greece, such as green biotechnology are leaving their footprint on economy.

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