Switzerland has developed a reputation as an ideal location for global pharmaceutical companies and one reason for this, is access to funding for research and development. There are now over 250 Pharma companies, with several world-renowned companies being headquartered there.
And in addition to Pharma, Switzerland is also now home to over 330 biotech companies. For the uninitiated amongst us, the main difference between Biotech and Pharma, is that medicines made by biotech companies are derived from living organisms, while those made by pharmaceutical companies generally have a chemical basis.
Traditionally, the USA is recognised as the world leader in biotech innovation, with over 1’200 biotech companies employing almost 200’000 workers located there. These companies are involved in fields ranging from human product development to food and agriculture services. So how has Switzerland with a population of only 8.6 million developed into one the most reputable and innovative biotech hubs globally?
Some facts and drivers behind this phenomenon:
- Swiss based biotech companies hold leading positions throughout many sectors and thus attract capital, partnerships and talents from all regions.
- Capital investments in Swiss biotech companies has almost tripled in recent years and reached USD3.7 billion in 2020.
- Increased R&D spending and high-quality patent output has contributed to Switzerland maintaining its position at the top of the Global Innovation Index for the tenth consecutive year.
- All through the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a positive trend in the value of pure research and the willingness to invest in biotech, spearheaded by the development of vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna amongst others.
- While the recent spotlight has been on Covid-related projects, Swiss based biotech companies have reportedly not lost sight of other medical needs as they continue to invest heavily and expand their R&D and manufacturing infrastructure.
One of the main support organisations for biotech in Switzerland, is the Swiss Biotech Association which was founded in 1998. This is a non-profit organisation representing the interests of the Biotech industry. One of its core objectives is to enable Switzerland to be a key player at the forefront of bio-science innovation. The organisation also develops partnerships, fostering international collaboration and trade.
Drug Discovery World which describes itself as “the multi-platform global voice for the drug discovery community,” recently published an article featuring industry leaders, amongst which – the CEO of the Swiss Biotech Association, Mr. Michael Altorfer.
Under the headline “Switzerland: punching above its weight as global biotech hub”, the publication asked a series of questions regarding the Biotech Sector and Switzerland’s position and contribution to that. Some of the main takeaways from that interview:
- One of the most significant changes for Biotech has been the arrival of the new enabling genome editing tools for R&D. This means that decoding one section of DNA, can be performed in a matter of hours, whereas 20 years ago, this took weeks.
- The trend for multinational Pharma corporations and their reliance on smaller Biotech companies to complement their product portfolio.
- According to Michael Altorfer “The number of parties that have “skin in the game” in developing new therapies is increasing. This includes universities, hospitals, biotech SMEs, service providers, consultants and AI/data analysis companies that are often involved alongside “big Pharma”.
- Personalised medicine is a major trend supported by new modalities and business models. These have generated increased options to solve problems and to focus a therapy on a distinct patient group.
- Cell and gene therapies have the potential to cure diseases, rather than just treating symptoms. The global cell and gene therapy market was valued at USD2.6 billion in 2020 and this is predicted to grow to USD25 billion by 2027.
- Since 2018, half the European biotech companies have been based in France, Germany and the UK – but for the last three years, we are seeing the strongest relative growth in Switzerland.
- Capital investments in Swiss biotech companies almost tripled from 2019 – 2020 and reached USD3.7 billion.
- As highlighted in the global innovation index, favourable conditions for work in Switzerland including a highly qualified and accessible workforce, stable economic and political conditions, supported with a network of research institutes, companies and government institutions, have all supported a strong development of the biotech sector.
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