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Benelux vs Boston: The Life Sciences Showdown [Part 3]

08 October 2020

By Jay Freeman

Benelux vs Boston: The Life Sciences Showdown [Part 3]

Over the past few weeks, we explored the world’s hottest life sciences hubs: Boston and Benelux. We’ve talked about growth, innovations, big names, big budgets and work-life balance. 

Now it’s time to bring both clusters together, to understand their similarities, differences and future challenges. 

The similarities between Benelux and Boston

Boston and Benelux are booming centres for the life sciences. Both clusters have earned enviable reputations in the field, pumping out innovations, leading names, thriving start-ups and top talent. They may sit 3,465 miles apart, but behind the success of both lies three significant similarities:


Private and public bodies in both clusters invest top dollar (or big euros) into companies, start-ups and research. This money fuels the business growth and employment opportunities needed to produce life-changing innovations and economy-boosting profits. 

Benelux biotech receives an average €115 million of venture funding and €300 million of public money per year, while last year Boston was the lucky recipient of $5,563 million of VC investment. 

Fresh talent

Both areas are home to leading universities for life sciences, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ghent University and Wageningen University and Research Centre. 

These schools are breeding grounds for top talent - giving local companies and start-ups access to a constant and robust pipeline of employees. Even better, their close proximity lends itself to work placements, sandwich years and graduate schemes that attract and engage top students early in their careers. 


Boston and Benelux have grown impressive life sciences eco-systems, making them attractive locations for employees, businesses and investors. In Benelux, there’s the Luxembourg Center for Systems Biomedicine, the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, and the Oncode Institute. While in Boston, there’s the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. 

The differences between Benelux and Boston

However, being a seven-hour flight away, there are differences between the two hubs. 

Job opportunities

While both clusters have a glowing job market, Boston has significantly more job opportunities, with 6.2 life sciences jobs per thousand inhabitants.  However, Benelux is catching up. The Netherlands and Belgium have 2.2 and 2.5 jobs per thousand inhabitants respectively and this figure is expected to exceed 4.0 by 2030. 

Work-life balance 

An essential consideration for anyone moving their career internationally is how life beyond the lab differs. America is notoriously poor for work-life balance, with Bostonians working an average 34 hours per week, with zero days’ annual leave. 

Over in Benelux, life is much more relaxed. The average working week lasts just 29 hours, and annual leave allowances are as high as 37 days per year.  

Living costs

A significant implication for both job seekers and businesses is the cost of living in Boston vs Benelux. Greater Boston is expensive to live in, which deters many graduates from the area and makes recruitment challenging. 

Rental prices in Boston are 140% higher than Belgium, groceries 37.34% higher and beer 50.45% higher. However, not everything costs more, with Bostonians paying less for taxis, fuel and clothing. 

What challenges does 2021 hold for Benelux and Boston?

The year ahead will be interesting for sure, with both Boston and Benelux battling the aftermath of COVID-19. The global spread of the infection, coupled with an impending economic crisis, has heightened the importance of life sciences, with companies in both regions leading the fight against the virus. 

While this fight spells a promising 2021 for both locations, there are challenges ahead. 

Talent shortages

The creation of talent can’t keep up with the sector’s growth, leading to a potential skills shortage. For example, in Boston demand for candidates at bachelor degree level has grown 120% over the past decade, but there’s only been a 36% increase in life sciences-related graduates. 

Talent war

Leading tech companies and start-ups are hot on the heels of emerging talent - attracting them with big salaries, funky perks and flexible policies. The tech vs life sciences war for employees is a growing problem in both America and Europe, where household-name tech companies are doing all they can to attract new talent. 

For example, Apple’s Health Software team seeks candidates experienced in life sciences, offering them a generous share scheme and enviable product discounts. Google has a dedicated Healthcare and Lifesciences team, with perks including free food and an onsite medical team. And, they’re not the only ones, with MedTech booming and investments mounting. 

Space shortage

The life sciences industry may be growing, but, unfortunately, lab space isn’t growing alongside it. The shortage of lab space is a significant issue for companies in both Boston and Benelux, not helped by the construction and supply chain delays caused by COVID. Boston is particularly feeling the pinch, with lab space not only limited but costly. 

This shortage hasn’t been helped by COVID-19 either, with news reports detailing concerns over the future of lab space and research in the area. 

How Panda International can help

When you’re looking to take your life sciences career to the next step, Panda International is the best agency to help. 

Our life sciences services and expertise span both clusters, allowing us to connect innovation-driven professionals with success-orientated companies.

We provide:


  • Advice on the best location and path for your career, based on your skills, experience and aspirations. 

  • Connection with world-class life sciences opportunities spanning medical devices, biotech, pharmaceuticals and food. 

  • Full application support tailored to your location - from getting your CV seen, acing the interview and securing that dream promotion. 


  • Collaboration with our local recruitment experts to provide a lifetime of talent, opportunities and strategic resourcing. 

  • Access to the highest quality candidates for the job, using our vast talent pools and connections.

  • Expert knowledge of local and global life sciences’ challenges, competitors and opportunities for success. 

Whatever your location or destination, we take you to the next level. 

Ready to start? Get in touch

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