Dr. Benoît Dubuis: BioAlps – A focal point for life science

The BioAlps cluster plays a driving role in the Swiss economy, not only by its economic weight (about 500 companies, more than a billion investments in the public research) but by its particular strategic importance due to the con­centrated presence of institutions, peo­ple and know-how. Its growth leans on a triptych industry-research-edu­ca­­tion of top quality and takes advantage not only of intrinsic qualities of each of these three actors but of the quality of the exchanges and transfers between each of them.


Synergies between education, research and economy
Western Switzerland, traditionally de­­d­i­cated to research and interdisciplina­ry research, is home to numerous med­­­­tech and biotech companies.
The BioAlps region acquired full ex­­per­­tise in areas supporting medtech and biotech in­­dus­­­tries. Automation, mi­­cro- and na­­no­tech­­­no­­logy are indispensable ex­­pertise for the medical technology in­­dustry, while cli­ni­cal and translational re­­search as well as ex­­pertise in stems cells, immunology, neuroscience, bioengineering, bioin­for­­matics and many others lead to the emer­gence of many opportunities and support de development of flourishing biotech companies. Nu­­mer­ous well edu­­­­cated workers, supported by very fa­­vour­able work­­ing conditions, in­­­­cluding fi­­nan­cial and tax incentives, work for biotech companies as well as for com­­pa­­nies op­­erating in the sectors of bio­ma­­terials, car­diova­scu­lar, dental im­­plants and de­­vices, diabetes devices, elec­­tro-me­­dical and imaging equipment, orthopaedics, re­­spiratory equipment, surgical instruments, and wound and care management. A large and close­­ly-linked network of university research centres, incubators, and science parks, en­­cour­­age com­­panies in their re­­search and strive for innovation. This support re­­­­sult­ed in the creation of dozens of start-­ups and spin-­off companies which represent no less than the backbone of the life science industry and a trigger mech­­anism of in­­spi­­ra­­tion for in­­no­vative products.
Re­­search and tech­­nology cen­­­­tres in­­clude such renowned names like the Swiss Fe­­deral Institute of Tech­no­logy Lau­­sanne (EPFL), the Uni­­versities of Ge­­­­neva Lau­sanne, Neu­­châtel and Fri­­bourg, the Uni­­versity Hos­­pitals of Lau­sanne (CHUV) and Geneva (HUG), the HESSO the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Mi­­cro­techno­logy (CSEM), the ISREC (swiss institute of applied cancer re­­­search), the LICR (Ludwig institute of Cancer Research; the Institute for Re­­search in Ophthal­mo­logy (IRO), and many other in­­sti­­tutes located in our region.

This fad for life sciences goes to prove that the innovations made by research institutes in the BioAlps region have con­­­­­­tributed towards significant in­­vest­ments that show their potential. EPFL and Nest­­­lé, for instance, have created a partner­ship involving CHF 25 million a year for research work and an­­other one of CHF 12.5 million with Merck Serono. Gates Foun­­dation has offered significant fund­­ing to the CHUV, the University Hospital Cen­tre in Lau­sanne, for a vaccine and new therapies to be researched at their La­­boratory of Im­­munology and Allergy. And Debio­pharm, jointly with the HES-SO Valais, the Uni­versities of Applied Sci­ences in Wes­tern Switzerland, have launched a part­­ner­ship to de­­velop in­­no­vative techno­lo­­gies to encapsulate new biotechnology or oncology products.
In turn, the BioAlps area has motivated foreign companies to settle in these fa­­­vourable surroundings.

On the Medtech sector, a number of mul­­tinationals like Medtronic, Stryker, Ed­­wards Lifescience, Intuitive Surgical, Al­­lergan, Debiotech and Johnson & John­­­son are based in the region, thus turning it into one of the global leaders in the Medtech industry.

On the biotech side, the region host es­­tablished world leading companies as Merck Serono, Ferring, Am­­gen, Cel­­­­­­ge­ne, De­­bio­pharm, UCB and many oth­­ers.
Large com­­panies, how­­­­­ever, are not the only companies con­­tributing to the dense med­­tech network of Wes­tern Swit­­z­­­er­land. Many start-ups born in the re­­gion proved to be very appealing and fund raising is in constant progress.

In 2006 for example, two start-ups alone raised a total of CHF 98 million. One of these, the Geneva-based drug de­­velop­ment company No­­­­vim­­mune. The sec­­ond one, Ad­­dex Phar­ma­­ceuticals, has raised CHF 40 million in 2006 be­­fore making a very successful IPO in 2007.



In addition to raising funds, start-up compa­­nies are in the process of achieving important partnerships with in­­ter­­natio­nal pharma­­ceutical enterprises.

As an ex­­ample, one major financial colla­­bo­­ration between AC Immune and Ge­­nentech totalled US Dollar 300 million. Endoart was recently sold to Al­­ler­­gan for CHF 120 million and the next ge­­ne­­ration of pro­­mising start-ups is at­­trac­­t­­ing more and more interest from investors: GeNeuro, Anecova, Genkyo­tex, Me­­dis­covery, Aris­gen et cetera.

Different private and public initiatives were successfully implemented to support the emergence of new start-ups. Eclosion, was the first life science in­­cu­ba­tor and private seed fund es­­tab­­lished in Switzerland.
Sci­ence and tech­­nology parks in­­clude such names like the PSE situated close to the EPFL which accommodates start-­ups in the high-tech sector; Eclosion; the BIO­­POLE Busi­­ness Park Situated north of Lau­­­sanne; NEODE, the Science and Tech­no­logy Park of Neu­châtel which accommodates start-ups as well as com­­panies ac­­­­tive in the fields of micro- and nanotechno­­logies; or the ARK, in the canton of Valais.

Building value trough partnerships
The BioAlps Association, known across its borders as mainland Europe’s leading biocluster for the life sci­ence in­­-dus­­tries, is taking an ac­­tive part in sup­­port­­­­ing Wes­­tern Eu­­rope’s bio medi­cal in­­no­­va­­tion. Each month its web­­site is visited by more than 27,000 dif­­­­fer­ent vi­­sitors from all over the world (54 per cent form North America, 30 per cent form Eu­­rope) and new in­­ter­est­­ed people continue to access BioAlps’ website. Bio­Alps could participate to a num­­­ber of different con­­­­gresses and events all around Europe that could be­­nefit to numbers of companies and start-­ups to access partners and investors. The Association is eager to stimulate the development of new business­es and will continue to develop the ex­­­­change of in­­for­ma­tion and re­­sources bet­ween all the par­­ties in­­volv­­ed in med­tech and biotech.

bd130-180Dr. Benoît Dubuis held different man­­age­­­­­­ment po­­­­­si­tions in pharmaceutical com­­­­panies. In 2000 he became the dean of the School of Life Sciences at the EPFL (École Poly­tech­nique Fédérale de Lausanne). He is president of BioAlps and founded Excell­gene SA and co-­found­­ed Eclosion in 2004. He is also an ad­­viser for various leading pharmaceutical and biotech companies.