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.
Dr. 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.