The construction of the Gene Therapy Centre in Vilnius is at the finish line, with commercial operations planned already in 2025. Photo: Celltechna

23 May 2024

Vilnius aims to become Europe’s new biotech hub

“Together, we are poised to create something truly remarkable that will positively impact not only our company but also the broader community in the Nordic-Baltic region,” says Prof. Vladas Algirdas Bumelis. His company Northway Biotech is finalising the first stage of their plans to build Europe’s largest biotech hub in Vilnius, fuelling Lithuania’s ambition to become global leaders in life sciences.

With more than 250 million people grappling with some form of rare genetic disease globally, it is difficult to exaggerate the significance and possible impact of gene therapy. Lithuania is tapping into this potential with the Baltics’ first Gene Therapy Centre taking shape just a 20-minute journey away from the centre of its capital.

Backed by NIB’s financing, the state-of-the-art construction will provide facilities for both research and manufacturing processes, creating more than 100 new high value-added jobs. This will be a new boost to Lithuanian’s rapidly growing life sciences’ sector.  Currently, it generates approximately 2.5% of the country’s GDP, but the Lithuanian government is eyeing to increase this share to 5% by 2030.

Yet, the project’s nominal impact reaches far beyond healthcare or economic outcomes. The new Gene Therapy Centre lays the foundation for the company’s plans to build BIO CITY. Spanning an area equivalent to—depending on your preferences—10 football fields, 175 basketball courts or 40 ice hockey rinks, it is set to become Europe’s largest biotechnology hub hosting four manufacturing facilities and two research centres.

To learn more about these EUR 7 billion worth ambitions, Lithuania’s strategic aims, and the role of gene therapy in improving global health, NIB newsletter spoke with Northway Biotech CEO Prof. Vladas Algirdas Bumelis.

Let’s start with what gene therapy is—could you briefly explain how it works, and where it stands in the overall field of medicine?

“Gene therapy represents an increasingly significant facet of modern medical science in the 21st century. It aims to rectify genetic abnormalities at their core—the genes themselves.”

“Specifically, gene therapy involves the delivery of a functional gene housed within a harmless virus into cells with defective or missing genetic material. When the virus is integrated into the target cell, the encapsulated gene is released, prompting the cell to produce accurate and functional proteins.”

“This approach offers a revolutionary avenue for addressing genetic disorders by either replacing defective or absent genes, or by introducing specific genetic sequences tailored to combat diseases, including various forms of cancer.”

“With more than 2,000 potential therapies in development, spanning early-stage research to the final stages before regulatory approval, the outlook for gene therapy is optimistic.”

Your Gene Therapy Centre is the first of its kind in the Baltics. Tell us about the reasons behind its development, and what do you expect its impact to be?

“We’ve become leaders in the contract development and manufacture of protein-based therapies, and expanding into gene therapies is a natural progression as we seek to diversify and capitalise on synergies across different therapeutic areas. By leveraging our expertise and experience, we aim to drive innovation and create more value in biotechnology.”

“We anticipate that the Gene Therapy Centre will foster technological advancements and medical breakthroughs. By creating 100 new high-value jobs, it also will further bolster the local workforce and support Lithuania’s biotechnology sector.”

NIB’s ten-year EUR 22.5 million loan finances the construction of the Baltics’ first Gene Therapy Centre in Vilnius. From left to right: Jeanette Vitasp, Vice-President and Head of Lending at NIB, Vladas Algirdas Bumelis, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Celltechna and Northway Biotech, Seppo Halttunen, Senior Banker at NIB.

The centre is the first building in the ambitious plans to establishing BIO CITY—the largest European biotechnology hub. What stage is the development at and how much in investments will be needed?

“Alongside finalising the construction of the Gene Therapy Centre, we are energetically crafting plans for several other exciting BIO CITY buildings.”

“The project’s scope is immense, estimated to require over EUR 7 billion over the next decade, and we’re delighted by the enthusiastic response from investors who are actively seeking to be part of it. We welcome conversations with all interested parties because we believe that this venture thrives on collaboration. Together, we are poised to create something truly remarkable that will positively impact not only our company but also the broader community in the Nordic-Baltic region.”

“Moreover, we’re thrilled to announce our expansion into the Vilnius City Innovation Industrial Park, where we’ve acquired land for two additional manufacturing and innovation centres. This expansion is poised to bring an additional 300 talents to our workforce, augmenting the 2,100 already planned.”

What role do institutions like NIB play in attracting such immense capital?

“NIB plays a pivotal role in catalysing the flow of capital into transformative projects in the Nordic-Baltic region. By providing financial support for the development of our greenfield gene therapy manufacturing facility in Vilnius, NIB shows its confidence in the potential of the Lithuanian biotechnology sector.”

“At the same time, such an endorsement not only amplifies the attractiveness of our region but also underscores the significant impact such investments can have on our local economy and beyond.”

Last year, the Lithuanian Government revised its long-term strategy with an increase ambition to double the contribution of Life Sciences to the country’s GDP to 5% by 2030. From your perspective, how feasible are these statewide goals?

“The target is not only achievable but also a strategic goal. The growth of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector in Lithuania speaks volumes about its potential and trajectory. In 2022, its combined revenues reached EUR 1.5 billion with a growth rate of 87%.”

“This success is testament to the nation’s strength in biotechnology-related education programmes, which have cultivated a pool of talented individuals capable of pioneering and embracing cutting-edge technologies in the life sciences domain.”

“We are optimistic about the future of the life sciences sector in Lithuania and the value it brings to the broader Nordic-Baltic region. The development of the biotech campus in Vilnius is a strategic move towards nurturing new collaborations with cutting-edge startups, esteemed research institutions, and leading pharmaceutical companies worldwide.”

Watch a short video interview:

Prof. Vladas Algirdas Bumelis

CEO and Chairman of the Board of Northway Biotech

Prof. Vladas Algirdas Bumelis is a chemist, enzymologist, biotechnologist, habilitated Doctor of Physical Sciences, scientist-practitioner, and a member of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. The scientist is the co-author of over a hundred scientific publications, with dozens of inventions and patented products associated with his name. Bumelis is the pioneer of gene engineering pharmacy in Lithuania, having created gene engineering-based drug production technologies and laid the foundations for the Lithuanian biopharmaceutical industry. Today, Bumelis is the leader of the “Northway” group of companies, which comprises 17 companies operating in the medical and biotechnology sectors.


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