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 3,957
Value of Production (bln €) 32.2 12.1 11.4
Investment in R&S (bln €) 1.65 2.3 2.2
Number of Employees 66,500 13,313 76,400

Source: processed by The European House–Ambrosetti based on Farmindustria, Assobiotec and Confindustria Dispositivi Medici 2019 data



Biotechnologies are technologies involving the use of living organisms (such as bacteria, yeast, vegetable and animal cells) or subcellular components (such as organelles and enzymes) to commercially manufacture products that can be useful for man or to develop microorganisms for specific use.


Biotech companies can be divided into four main sectors:

  • Red Biotech, operating in the human health field
  • White Biotech, operating in the industrial and environmental sectors
  • Green Biotech, which focuses on the application of biotechnologies to the agricultural and livestock industries
  • GPET, which deals mainly with basic research, services associated to bioinformatics and analysis of Big Data.

After a period of strong growth due to scientific excellence developed by universities and industries and to the companies’ ability to take in innovations and develop new products and promising technologies, Italy’s biotech industry has stabilized in terms of number of companies working in R&D: 641 companies in total, of which 321 in the Red Biotech sector. The number of employees grew to 12,950 people in the last year and the number of R&D employees increased by 24% to 4,317 researchers.

Revenues in the biotech sector amounted to € 11.5 billion in 2018, up by 72% compared to 2012 and € 2.1 billion were invested in R&D..


Dispositivi medici

Dispositivi Medici

The biomedical sector includes any technologies (medical devices, in vitro diagnostic devices, imaging or e-health devices) used to diagnose, monitor, assess predispositions and/or patients affected by a wide range of symptoms and diseases.

It is a highly technological and research-based sector whose potentials are not much known to the general public in Italy. And yet our Country is at the forefront of technology and it can rely on excellent manufacturing companies.

The biomedical sector includes 3,957 companies, 95% of which are classified as medium and small-size companies. About 2,100 of them work in manufacturing, about 1,660 in distribution and about 200 provide services. This sector has about 76,400 employees (12% of the total number at European level), 9,200 of whom in R&D.

Revenues in the medical device sector in 2018 amounted to € 11.4 billion, with an export value of € 5.1 billion, up 4.7% from the previous year. About € 2.2 billion were invested in R&D in 2017.




The pharmaceutical industry is a driver for Italy’s development and a leading industry at national level in terms of competitiveness, productivity, and investment in R&D.

With 291 pharmaceutical companies, Italy’s pharmaceutical industry reached a historical record in terms of value of production in 2018, totalling € 32.2 billion, up by 3.2% compared to the previous year, thus confirming the Country’s leadership in Europe.

The industry’s growth was accompanied by an increase in employment levels, up by 1.7% in the last year to a total of 66,500 employees.   

Exports grew by 4.7% in 2018 compared to 2017, to € 26 billion. This result is especially important for a sector in which 80% of products are exported.

The pharmaceutical sector invests € 1.65 billion in R&D, up by 7.8% compared to 2017 and by 35% in the last 5 years. This increase has produced a 3.1% growth in employment levels totalling 6,000 employees.


Health  Services

Servizio Sanitario

Health Services are an integral 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 € 127 billion (+4.4% compared to the previous year).

This sector employs about 1.4 million people, about the same number as in the previous year. 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 graduates work for the National Health Service, equal to 37% of all National Health Service employees and of 22% of all graduates working within the public administration sector in Italy, second to schools where the number of graduates amounts to 469,000.

More women are traditionally employed in this sector, in a Country where gender inequalities in the workplace are often high. 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%.