Life Science in Italy

The life science sector is evolving rapidly in Italy and in the world. Major changes are under way in the doctor-patient relationship and in patients’ needs and expectations. One of the challenges in the next few years will be to shift from a “traditional medicine” to a 4P medicine: predictive, preventive, personalized and participative.


detailed analyse to prevent diseases or decrease their effects.

Preventive: to favour effective prevention with regard to diseases for which a person may be predisposed, thus moving the focus from a disease-driven medicine to a medicine of well-being.

Personalized: personalized treatment based on individuals’ detailed features.

Participative: patients will be able to make choices based on precise information.

The life science sector, which includes the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, manufacturing of biomedical devices and health services, is one of the leading high technology sectors in Italy and can bring a significant contribution to the Country’s economic development.

Life sciences are increasingly looking for a multidisciplinary approach which goes beyond traditional medicine, through cooperation between doctors, mathematicians, and bioinformatic experts to improve knowledge on the relationship between DNA, lifestyle, environment, and diseases.

The life science sector in Italy ranks high in terms of competitiveness, productivity and investment in R&D and can rely on an active and dynamic ecosystem to promptly respond to the economic and technological challenges of a market where growth and innovation go hand in hand.


The numbers of the life science chain

  Pharma Biotech Medical devices
Number of Companies 291 696 4.323
Value of Production (bln €) 32.2 12.1 11
Investment in R&S (bln €) 1.65 2.3 0.934
Number of Employees 66,500 13,313 94.153

Source: processed by The Europea House–Ambrosetti on Farmindustria, Assobiotec and Confindustria Dispositivi Medici, 2020 and BioinItaly report 2020 data



The Italian biotech industry, after going through a period of strong growth thanks to the scientific excellence developed in the academic and industrial perimeter and the ability of companies in the sector to absorb innovations and develop new promising products and technologies,  counts today 696 companies. Among them, 344  are part of the Red Biotech sector, representing about half of the Italian biotech companies (49%).

The health sector generates a major share of turnover, corresponding to over 9 billion euros (75% of the total), which determines most of the overall investments in R&D (91%) and employing over 75% of biotech R&D workers in Italy.

There are 208 companies dedicated to biotech R&D, i.e. that commit 75% or more of their intra-muros research costs to biotech activities, of which 92% are Italian-owned: a figure that highlights how biotechnologies have opened up important opportunities in the early-stage research phase within the pharmaceutical supply chain.

375 are the new therapeutic projects that are being studied in Italy by biotech companies with Italian capital: approximately 131 in the discovery phase, 171 in the preclinical development phase and 73 in clinical development (14% in Phase I, 11% in Phase II and 5% in Phase III). The Italian biotech invests heavily in those pathologies that do not yet find adequate therapeutic responses. The interest of national biotech research is strongly oriented the development of therapeutic solutions for oncology. 2019 saw a great development of products being tested and developed also in the area of ​​infectious diseases. Attention to diagnostic products is also significant: in the complex of Italian biotech companies, as many as 199 develop diagnostic products and services for human health.


Medical Devices 

Dispositivi Medici

The medical devices sector identifies all those technologies for health and well-being (biomedical, in vitro diagnostics, imaging equipment or e-health devices, aesthetic equipment) used to diagnose, monitor, evaluate predispositions and / or patients suffering from a wide range of symptoms and pathologies.

It is a sector with a high content of technology and research and, to date, together with the entire white economy supply chain, has the possibility of becoming one of the excellences of Made in Italy: Italy is at the forefront on a the technological  point of view and can rely on productive realities and districts of excellence.

The sector includes 4,323 companies, 95% of which are classified as SMEs, of which about 2,354 are engaged in production, 1,689 in distribution and 280 offer services. The sector employs a total of 94,153 employees, of which 46% are women. Employees in Italy are 14% of the total number of employees at European level, while 15% are employed in R&D.

In 2019, the medical device industry generated a market worth € 16.7 billion considering exports and the internal  market (€ 11 billion). The export value, which sets at 5.7 billion euros, is currently increasing by 7.9%, compared to the previous year. The sector invests approximately 934.5 million euros in R&D, rising by 4.2%.



The pharmaceutical industry in Italy is one of the leading sectors in the country and is a national leader in terms of competitiveness, productivity and investment in R&D.

With 291 companies, the Italian pharmaceutical industry in 2018 reached an all-time record in terms of production value, equal to 32.2 billion euros, with a growth of 3.2% compared to the previous year, which confirms  Italy as the first country in Europe.

The growth was accompanied by an increase in the number of employees, which grew by 1.7% in the last year, reaching 66,500 workers.

Export market is worth 26 billion euros correspondig to 80% of its entire production, with a rise of 4.7% in 2018 compared to 2017. 

Also in terms of Research & Development, the Italian pharmaceutical sector currently invests 1.65 billion euros,  with an increase of 7.8% compared to 2017 and 35% to the last 5 years. This growth allowed a significant increase in the R&D number of  employees, which rised by 3.1% reaching 6,600 units.


Health  Services

Servizio Sanitario

Health Services are part of the life science sector and include private and public hospital services, specialized medical services, social and health services. The value of production at national level amounts to about € 135 billion.

This sector employs about 1.4 million people. The number of employees within the National Health Service dropped to 648,000 while the number of people working under agreement with the National Health Service (general practitioners and paediatricians) has remained unchanged at 55,000.

About 120,000 people are employed by private hospitals and about 600,000 people work in medical clinics, medical laboratories, dental practices, residential and home services within the health and social system.

The Health Services sector employs highly qualified personnel: more than 246,000 are graduates, corresponding to 37% of all National Health Service employees and of 22% of all graduates working within the public administration sector in Italy. 

Many women are traditionally employed in this sector. Women’s employment in the National Health Service accounts for 65%, as opposed to 56% in the public sector as a whole and an average national women’s employment of 47.2%.