Top Biotech-Pharma Hubs in the World for International Students

Attending a university for studying Biotechnology or Biomedical engineering close to a biotech hub (also called bio-pharma cluster) can be very advantageous. In this post, we will look at the top biotech hubs (clusters) around the world, particularly in popular study abroad destinations.

While making the university list, the majority of prospective students focus on rankings, departmental profile & reputation, tuition fees, and living expenses and other popular factors. But, for biotechnology and biomedical students, it’s only wise if you choose a university close to a biotech hub.

Advantages of Studying Close to a Biopharma Hub Abroad?

Getting a job after finishing a degree abroad is very important for anyone. With the tightening of post-study work regulations everywhere and increasing competition in the global job market, it’s very critical to choose the location of your university carefully as an international student.

Within a biotech hub, universities have close collaboration with the biopharma companies, spin-out companies, and start-ups. The companies and start-ups also get easy access to qualified and diverse talent. So, the opportunities for doing a full-fledged internship and landing up with a full-time job after graduation are pretty high.

Completing a degree in such an ecosystem also helps students also get real-world exposure to product development, IP & patenting, regulatory affairs, commercialization, business development, and marketing.

The biotech-pharma clusters attract funds from venture capital (VC) firms easily due to proximity to the leading research-based universities and the availability of talent pool. In reality, even these clusters need students.

Best Biopharma Clusters in the World

Top Hubs to Study Biotechnology, Biomedical Science & Bio-Engineering for International Students

Top Biotech-Pharma Hubs in USA

San Francisco Bay Area (California)

The San Francisco Bay Area has been a key hub for the biotechnology and life sciences industry for a long time. In general, the whole Northern California region hosts many biotechnology and life science companies & start-ups. But, the San Francisco area deserves special mention. San Francisco is considered to be the birthplace of the modern biotech industry. The San Francisco Bay Area hosts some of the top tier universities that include Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and USF.

But, more importantly, the biotechnology and life science sector in the Bay Area hosts more than 1,400 life science and biotech companies. Based on a PwC/CB Insights Healthcare MoneyTree Report, in second-quarter 2018 approximately $1.65 billion was invested in Bay area health care companies. The region also hosts top companies like BioMarin Pharmaceutical, Genentech, Novartis, Bayer, and Gilead Sciences to name a few.

Boston – Cambridge Belt (Massachusetts)

The Boston-Cambridge region, also known as the Life Sciences Corridor (LSC), hosts around 450 life sciences and biotech companies. The region is one of the most prolific biotech-pharma hubs in the world. During the second quarter of 2018, $1.62 billion investments were done in the Boston-Massachusetts region.

The region is the home to some of the most prestigious institutes like Harvard & MIT, and also hosts top biopharma companies including Merck, Sanofi, Pfizer, Biogen-Idec, Johnson & Johnson, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Glaxo Smith Klein, Boston Scientific, Haemonetics, and Novartis.

The Boston-Cambridge corridor concentrates more on core biotechnology and pharmaceutical drug research & development. In contrast, the Bay Area has got a broader research base in biotechnology and life sciences. You will find more opportunities in biomedical engineering and medical devices if you are in the Bay Area.

Biotech Hubs in USA
Source: CLSA

Top Universities Close to Biotech Clusters in USA

Bay Area: Stanford University, UC Berkeley, University of San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara, California State Polytechnic University, California State University – Los Angeles, California State University – Fullerton

Biopharma cluster USA
Source: BioSpace

San Diego: UC San Diego, California State University-San Marcos

Boston-Cambridge: Harvard University, MIT, Boston University, UMass Lowell, UMass Boston, Northeastern University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

New York / New Jersey: Rockefeller University, Stony Brook University, Rochester University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Albany, Rutgers (New Brunswick)

Chicago: University of Chicago, Northwestern, UIC

Los Angeles: UCLA, USC, CSU LA

Top US Cities to Consider for MS Biotechnology, Biomedical Engineering, and Biomedical Sciences

  • Denver, Colorado
  • Trenton, New Jersey
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Palm Bay, Florida
  • San Francisco, California
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Austin, Texas
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Washington, DC
  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • San Jose, California
  • California-Lexington Park, Maryland

Top Biotech-Pharm Hubs in Canada

The Canadian biotechnology industry is heavily concentrated in three provincesQuebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. These provinces account for 75% of all biotech companies in Canada. Below are the major biotech clusters in Canada.

Montreal – 70% of Quebec’s biotechnology companies (more than 700 companies)

Hot Sector: Biopharmaceuticals | Verticals: neurology, oncology, cardiovascular disease, virology, epidemiology, and immunology

Top Universities: McGill  University and University of Montreal

Montreal also hosts top global pharmaceutical companies: Merck Frosst, Wyeth, Pfizer, Abbott, and Bristol-Myers Squibb and biopharmaceutical companies such as ID Biomedical.

In 2016, there were 190 businesses and 16,900 employees in the biopharmaceutical industry in Quebec. This includes innovative pharmaceutical companies or those that manage the process of developing a new drug—from research to marketing. Read more about the employment opportunities in Montreal (and Quebec) region.

Toronto – 85% of Ontario’s companies (more than 200  companies)

Hot sector: Proteomics, Genomics, Stem Cell Research, Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering | Top Verticals: Neurosciences, cancer, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system disorders, human genomics, organ transplantation, and women’s health

Top Universities: University of Toronto, York University, and Ryerson University

Toronto’s life sciences sector employs nearly 30,000 professionals and contributes more than $2 billion to the local economy. Top biotech players include Aventis Pasteur Limited, Biovail, Inventis, Lorus Therapeutics, and MDS.

Ottawa – 5% of Ontario’s biotechnology companies (~100 companies)

Hot Sector: Biomedical Engineering, Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine, Bioinformatics | Verticals: Medical Devices, Drug Discovery,  Bio-products

Top Universities: Carleton University and University of Ottawa

The Canadian Capital is better known for the presence of telecom giants such as Nortel and JDS. The Greater Ottawa Area is a well-renowned tech center with 90% of all of Canada’s industrial telecommunications research and development being conducted there.

There are more than 100 life sciences companies in Ottawa employing close to 4,000 related-workers. When considering all levels of employees involved in research institutions, the cluster employs more than 7,000 people.

Overall, four of the top ten Canadian research hospitals can be found in Ontario, attracting over $2.6 billion in sponsored research income. Ontario ranks seventh in North America in terms of life sciences employment and eighth by the number of life sciences establishments, also in North America.

Vancouver – 80% of British Columbia’s companies (~80 companies)

Hot sector: Bio-pharmaceuticals and Biomedical  Sciences | Top Verticals: Genomics, Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical R&D

Top Universities: University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University

The cluster has strength in the areas of health and genomics research with major biotech companies located in the area such as Angiotech, Cardiome Pharma Corporation, AnorMED, Abgenix Biopharma, and QLT. 70% of the biotechnology companies are mainly involved in biomedical and biopharmaceutical applications.

From 2011 – 2013, it was not that good for Vancouver though. Angiotech file for bankruptcy protection and QLT lay off 90% of its workforce. Cardiome Pharma Corp., another public company, cut its entire research staff in 2012. But, now, many small firms that now populate the B.C. landscape fit an emerging model whereby pharmaceutical giants outsource their research and development. As of 2017, British Columbia’s innovation-driven biotech leaders are stepping on to the world stage and generating $14.4 billion a year in economic effect in the process.

Top Biotech-Pharma Clusters in UK

Golden Triangle – London, Oxford & Cambridge

The South East of England has long been a thriving hub for R&D activity in the UK and is home to the ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Oxford, and Cambridge.


Oxford has developed an impressive reputation in the biotechnology space, witnessing more than £1.2bn of investment in biomedical research from 2012 – 2017. The city is host to the Oxford Biotech cluster, one of the most mature life science clusters in Europe, as well as business, science, and technology facility, Milton Park, home to around 250 businesses.


Just 70 miles from Oxford, Cambridge is another exciting place to be for biotechnology and biomedical students and graduates.

Oxford and Cambridge host 600 biotech and medical technology companies and five globally renowned research institutes, along with the UK’s two largest pharma firms. As per experts, Cambridge has the potential to become the top biopharma clusters in the world.

MedCity, London (and Greater South East)

The MedCity is a collaboration between the Mayor of London, Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre, King’s Health Partners, UCL Partners, Cambridge Health Partners, and Oxford Academic Health Science Centre. It was launched in April 2014 to promote and grow the world-leading life sciences cluster of the South East of England.

The greater South East region is home to five out of the UK’s six Academic Health Science Centres and has four universities regularly placed in the global top 10. Over £670 million total investments were made in the London life science space from 2017-2018. Read more about the London Biotech & Life Sciences cluster.


With over 750 life sciences organizations employing more than 39,000 people, Scotland is one of the largest life sciences clusters in Europe. Scotland’s exciting life sciences sector covers everything from agri-tech and aquaculture to medical devices and diagnostics, clinical applications, pharmaceutical services, and healthcare.

The sector contributes £2.4bn gross value added to the Scottish economy and has seen a 7% growth each year since 2010. If Scotland were a US state its biotechnology community would rank seventh in the United States in terms of the number of companies, according to Ernst & Young’s Millennium Report on Life Sciences.

With less than 10% of the UK population, Scotland produces more than 13% of Britain’s biotech-related graduates and over 17% of first degrees in medicine. So, when it comes to biotech, Scotland has always thought much bigger than its borders.

Top cities with biopharma startups: Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow. Read more about the top biotech startups in Scotland.

Biocluster sites in Scotland include:

Hot Verticals: Translational Medicine, Regenerative Medicine, Genomics, Bioinformatics, Drug Discovery, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Clinical Research

Northern Powerhouse: North East, North West and Yorkshire

Global companies including Allergan, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, MSD, Recipharm, and Shire serve the UK and global markets from their key manufacturing and R&D operations based in the area.

Hot Verticals: Immunology, Oncology, Pharmaceuticals, Vaccines, Medical Devices

Biotech-Pharma Hubs in Europe

BioValley Biotech Cluster (Switzerland, Germany & France)

In the heart of Europe, bringing together three regions from France, Germany, and Switzerland, BioValley is one of the leading European Life Sciences clusters in the world.

The main objective is the greater research cooperation between companies and academia involved in the life science sectors, including pharmacology, pharmaceutical biotechnologynanotechnologymedical technology, chemistry, and agricultural biotechnology.

As of 2019, the region includes more than 600 companies (it was only 69 in 2006), 14 Technology Parks, and 10 Universities and Academic Research Institutes.

Biotech Pharma Hot Spots in Europe
Source: NewScientist

Three main international “big pharma” companies are present on BioValley’s territory, with their headquarters: Novartis, Roche, and Aventis. Other global Pharma and Life Science players in BioValley are Eli Lilly, Sanofi-Synthelabo, Amersham, Johnson & Johnson, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, etc. About 40% of the world’s pharma industry is established in BioValley’s territory.

Top Universities: University of Basel, Max Planck Institute and Freiburg University


There are around 700 biotech-pharma companies250 biotech start-ups, more than 400 higher education institutions, and approximately 1,000 public research organizations, including the Max Planck SocietyHelmholtz-, Leibniz-, and the Fraunhofer Associations.

All these organizations absorb graduates holding Masters’s degrees in Biotech and Biomedical Sciences or Engineering. The most prominent ones are BonnMannheim, Heidelberg, Martinsried, Munich, and BerlinMunich is also the hub of academic research in the field of biotechnology and biosciences.

Top Universities: See this article.

Medicon Valley (Scandinavia – Denmark and Sweden)

Biotech-Pharma Clusters in Europe
Map of Medicon Valley Companies (Source: BioPharma Reporter)

The Medicon Valley ecosystem and research infrastructure provide an exceptional environment for science and innovation. There are 20 Pharma, 80 Biotech, and 200 Medtech companies in the valley with R&D and/or Production units. Additionally, there are 435+ life science companies.

The Medicon Valley covers the southern part of Sweden (Skåne-region) and the eastern part of Denmark (island of Zealand). The biotech cluster is home to 9 Universities, 28 Hospitals, 7 Science Parks, and 10 incubators (including 3 life science-focused ones). Know more about the top biopharma companies and startups in the Medicon Valley.

Hot Verticals: Diabetes, Neuroscience, Cancer, Inflammation & Auto-Immune Disease, and Stem Cell Research.

Biotech Hubs in Europe
Map of Medicon Valley Universities (Source: Medicon Valley)

Top Universities: University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark, Lund University, Uppsala University, and Karolinska Institute.

Biocat (Catalonia, Spain)

Catalonia is the most dynamic bio-cluster in Spain and one of the most active in Europe. There are around 1060 companies –  280 biotechnology, 125 pharmaceutical, 176 innovative medical technology, 128 digital health companies, 208 suppliers and engineering firms, 130 consulting and professional services, and 26 active investment organizations.

The Catalan biotech sector is currently in rapid growth, due to a solid scientific base together with the recent creation of industry-driven government instruments and policies. The current trend of the young Catalan biotech sector is to grow up from the base, at a rate of more than 10 companies per year.

Most of the ‘strictly biotech’ firms focus on red biotech (over 58%), particularly on drug development (70%) and to a lesser extent, diagnostics (25%). The cluster currently has 71 products in pre-clinical development, 71 products in phase I development, 33 in phase II development and 19 in phase III developments. The cluster can also boast 20 registered products and 23 marketed products currently in phase IV clinical studies.

The Spanish pharmaceutical sector is mainly concentrated in Catalonia, which accounts for 50% of the pharmaceutical laboratories in Spain, 60% of its production, and 66% of companies working in fine chemicals. There are 125 pharma companies in Catalonia (2017). Within the context of Spain, Catalonia concentrated 71.6% of Spanish pharmaceutical turnover (2017) and 43.7% of Spanish pharmaceutical exports (2016).

Hot Verticals: Pharmaceutical R&D, Digital Health & Big Data, Biomedical Sciences, Genomics, Oncology, and Medical Devices.

Top Universities: University of Barcelona, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Pompeu Fabra University

biopharma clusters in Europe
Source: BioTech

Other Top Biopharma Hubs in Europe to Consider for International Students:

  • Amsterdam & Utrecht (Netherlands)
  • Oslo (Norway)
  • Vienna (Belgium)
  • Basel & Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Lyon & Paris (France)
  • Milan (Italy)
  • Stockholm (Sweden)
  • Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Dublin (Ireland)

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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