life science companies in Western Switzerland
cutting-edge life-science research institutes
jobs in the life sciences
The life sciences encompass a very diverse array of skills, including neuroscience, immunology, endocrinology and metabolism, oncology, diagnostics, cardiology, medical technologies, biomaterials, bio-computing and more.
The Lake Geneva region is home to a rich fabric of businesses, including major companies and venture capital funds in the life sciences. Heavyweights such as GSK, Medtronic, Becton Dickinson, BMS, OM Pharma, Merck, Ferring, UCB Farchim, Takeda, CSL Behring, Lonza, Incyte, Debiopharm and Nestlé Health Science, to name but a few, rub shoulders with large numbers of start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Western Switzerland is home to 1161 companies, 61 research institutes and two cutting-edge university hospitals: Lausanne University Hospital and the Geneva University Hospitals. It draws on higher-education establishments that are very active in research and development (EPFL, universities, HES-SO), playing an important role in technology transfer. To support innovation and turn it into economic value, the region can count on numerous incubators and support structures. This interaction and the diversification among life-science stakeholders have propelled the Lake Geneva region to among the top-ranking names in the BAK Technology Leadership Index's International Ranking.
life science companies in Western Switzerland
cutting-edge life-science research institutes
jobs in the life sciences
Now this very propitious environment has to be maintained over the long term. This will involve encouraging more major corporations to set up their decision centres there, and turning start-ups into scale-ups or even unicorns. "The Lake Geneva region will need to position itself in relation to very high added-value niche markets, such as digital therapy, or specialize in technologies and treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and immuno-oncology," says Claude Joris, Secretary General of the BioAlps Association, which aims to promote life sciences in Western Switzerland at national level and abroad. Financing remains a crucial issue, too. "We need to find a way for companies to be able to put down roots. What we still need in Switzerland is a means of raising sums of between 3 and 15 million francs."
The EPFL’s School of Life Sciences enables researchers to “combine deep and persistent questions in biology with the knowledge and expertise of other disciplines,” says Andrew Oates, the School’s Dean.
Institutions will in future integrate across disciplines, modelled on existing examples: the Institute of Bioengineering at EPFL, which has garnered European grants and spawned many life sciences start-ups; and the Swiss Cancer Centre Léman in which EPFL, CHUV, UNIL, the Ludwig Institute for cancer research, UNIGE and HUG bring together fundamental, translational and clinical researchers to improve cancer care. Several more centres will emerge in the future.
UNIL is part of the collaborative National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) on microbiomes.
Research in the biomedical field will increasingly depend on state-of-the-art, highly complex and expensive equipment. The region should pool its resources to ensure that basic research is translated into clinical applications. Technologies used for new immunotherapies, cellular and gene therapies require highly skilled professionals. To remain competitive, Western Switzerland must access national and European research teams, projects and grants.
Currently, instrumentation is well ahead of analysis. The amount of data generated poses ethical questions about data protection and challenges about how to process and meaningfully analyse high volumes of data. “The mastery of data for healthcare, and the stakes involved in AI and ML require better interoperability,” states Antoine Geissbühler, Vice-Rector of the University of Geneva.
“We have a clear priority, with the HUG, to develop platforms for translational research and innovation, to improve the links between research, entrepreneurs and industrialists.” It is important to train professionals in areas beyond their subject, and to factor in issues related to high dependence on technology, privacy and ethics. The independence of researchers must be safeguarded.
Western Switzerland’s institutions have expertise in bioinformatics, with the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, for example. Modelling, such as the embodied consciousness models in the Laboratory of Multimodal Modelling of Emotion—feeling or the Human Brain Project in the Geneva Campus Biotech, will continue to take an increasingly important role in the life sciences.
Current research covers biotechnology, AI and medical imaging for diagnostics, advances in immunology, microbiomes and macrophages, cell therapy and wound treatment. Stem cell and organoid development for use in personalised medicine offer great perspectives. Monoclonal antibodies and advances in the vaccine field open a wide scope of applications.
The HES-SO are invested in the articulation of patient, physician and public health policy. Working with La Source, a training clinic based in Lausanne, one focus is on the intersection between technological and patient innovation. HES-SO has programmes in place to bridge applied research and industry, notably in medtech and healthcare.
Interdisciplinarity, innovation and interoperability are key elements for the future of the region, and of Switzerland.
Western Switzerland is committed to creating a bench to market, state-of-the-art value chain in the life sciences. Conditions are conducive to open innovation, research and development (R&D), and business development in medtech, pharma and biotech. A small territory and stable economy, open markets, and government investment in R&D contribute to a strong life sciences industry.
“We seek to remain at the forefront of innovation through leadership in the scientific poles,” says Philippe Leuba, Vaud State Councillor. “The region boasts multiple production sites, such as Lonza, Ferring, UCB Farchim and Merck, Incyte and Celgene. The ability to ramp up facilities with turnkey technologies makes the region attractive. The density of production sites is unique in Europe.”
As Neuchâtel State Councillor Alain Ribaux comments, “three of the world's top 10 players (Takeda, Johnson&Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb) and other important players (e.g. Stryker, Integra) are located in the region. New companies such as WuXi are being set up, demonstrating the attractiveness and suitability of the region to many companies from different countries, with varied business models and products.”
Swiss Innovation Park West, at the EPFL, and Swiss Innovation Park Biel/Bienne, incubators, and accelerators all boost the sector economy. Mass Challenge, Eclosion, Fongit, Fri Up, Fusion, Y-Parc, InnoBe and The Ark foster innovation and entrepreneurship by connecting start-ups with experts and resources.
Different cantons house Centres of competence, including Campus Biotech Geneva, a one-stop shop focusing on pure science and its translation into practical outcomes. Biopôle in Vaud groups together immunology specialties and is developing the Superlabs project (labs made to measure). Biofactory Competence Center in Fribourg provides training at all levels to the biopharmaceutical industry, services and research collaborations and designs and builds modular infrastructures for the production of biopharmaceuticals. Microcity in Neuchâtel takes advanced manufacturing forward. BioArk in Valais offers clean rooms, shared equipment facilities and plug and play laboratories.
The Western Switzerland Regional Innovation System (RIS-SO) for the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Jura, Valais, Vaud, and the Swiss association of Western Switzerland Innovation Networks (ARI-SO) offer local support to SMEs and start-ups. A concerted effort should be made to increase early-stage investments, supported by cantonal grants and mechanisms. Improved access to major funding for life sciences scale ups is needed. A focus will be put on collaboration between start-ups, who innovate, and large companies who seek innovations.
A robust trend in the life sciences towards open innovation exists. The e-health sector is growing with creative solutions for patients, governments, and healthcare professionals. Continuous product innovation, improved manufacturing processes, new diagnostics and robotics are trending in medtech. Personalised medicine is increasingly relevant. Artificial intelligence (AI), big data, medical imaging and diagnostics are changing the face of healthcare.
people employed in the life sciences in Western Switzerland
0% work in medical technologies
0% in biotechnologies and the pharmaceutical sector
0% in life science-related services (specialists in intellectual property, market launches, third-party research, etc.)
The Lake Geneva region is one of the leading regions for medtech and biotech
Source: BAK Economics, IGE, 2019.
“More than CHF 3 billion of investments are planned in the region over the next few years.” Olivier Curty, Fribourg State Councillor, states. Nutraceuticals, agriculture and precision fermentation will determine the future of food. Animal health may take a larger place in the life sciences; the recent pandemic has shown how intricately related human and animal lives are.
The future of the life sciences depends on the openness of the ecosystem, on international collaborations and opportunities, and the ability to tap into the international talent pool. “The challenge in terms of training and employability is crucial. To this end, it is necessary to continue to support academic institutes and research and training centres, as well as to strengthen the link between the latter and the industrial ecosystem,” states Alain Ribaux.
Exciting life science innovations are coming out of the start-up and scaleup sector in Western Switzerland, a region in which many large pharma, medtech, diagnostics and biotech international and local companies have settled.
As Thierry Mauvernay, President of Debiopharm states, “several pharma and biotech companies in the region are at the very cutting edge of certain therapeutic areas such as oncology”. Start-ups in oncology are finding funding and several have had successful exits over the past few years (Amal Therapeutics, Covagen). “Technology change is driving investments in the life sciences. There are two main barriers to entry in this industry: the clinical and regulatory development of molecules and the experience and knowledge of patients. Today the second of these barriers -which is one of the historical main strengths of the pharma - is developing and being garnered by the digital giants because of the huge volume of data that they collect about people. We may soon see the conjunction between these sciences and knowledge and maybe between pharma and digital giants.”
While all the major companies work with the research institutions and hospitals, and the technology transfer offices of the academic institutions are active, there is still some way to go. Companies in Western Switzerland include dynamic start-ups like Abionic, creating a 5-minute Covid severity test, and large multinationals like Becton-Dickinson producing a diagnostic kit for Covid. Sophia Genetics uses its AI platform for generating data sets for different life science companies and research institutions. Medtronic uses its facilities to train physicians in cardiac surgery, as well as to develop new technologies to treat neurological and cardiac disease. Women’s health is coming to the fore, with start-ups such as Aspivix and Annaida being supported by the Tech4Eva acceleration programme. Vifor Pharma Group has evolved constantly and continues to transform from a single-brand company to a multi-brand organization active in iron deficiency, nephrology and cardio-renal therapies. “Geographic expansion, partnerships and in-licensing are cornerstones of our growth strategy. Working with others enables us to continually expand our innovative portfolio of iron deficiency, nephrology and cardio-renal therapies, acquiring and in-licensing novel late-stage assets and creating mutually beneficial joint ventures,” says CEO Stefan.
On the therapeutic side, according to Lonza’s Visp Site Head Renzo Cicillini, “companies are looking to partner with organisations that can support with expertise and manufacturing capacity and who are also willing to share the risks associated with manufacturing. In the biopharmaceutical industry, there has been a change in the traditional drug and discovery development model with many small biotech companies stepping up to be at the forefront of innovation.” In 2021 alone, Lonza will be creating 1200 new roles in the Valais to meet customer demand and support growth projects. Amongst the new investments at the Visp site is a CHF 200 million, 2000 m2 molecule manufacturing site with a dedicated manufacturing line for antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs).
Long-standing companies like Ferring, UCB Farchim, Celgene and Medtronic have already invested millions in their Swiss sites, where they will continue to produce for world markets. Incyte Biosciences has made a CHF 130 million investment in a monoclonal antibody production and administrative site. The region will continue to attract and retain companies, talent and knowhow in the future.
A number of members are actively engaged in strengthening dialog between ecosystem stakeholders. BioAlps, which is celebrating 20 years in existence, is one of them. The association was launched in 2001 to promote life sciences in Western Switzerland to a national and global audience. On the international scene, it takes part in fairs and exhibitions in Asia, the United States and Europe with representatives from business or research institutions.
BioAlps creates synergies among the academic, business, finance, media and policy-making communities. "We connect people, we help businesses in the region find the skills they need locally, we build bridges with various public and private-sector bodies through a network of contacts and partners," explains Claude Joris, Secretary General of BioAlps, whose association is actively involved in over 40 events per year as either organizer or partner.
BioAlps is launched at the initiative of the University of Geneva and the new Life Sciences Faculty of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).
BioAlps becomes a non-profit association registered in the canton of Vaud. Founding members: the academic institutions and university hospitals of Western Switzerland, with the support of the 7 cantons in French-speaking Switzerland (including Berne).
BioAlps is included in the New Regional Policy aimed at encouraging innovation, industry and competitiveness in various regions of Switzerland. As such, it is appointed by the seven cantons of Western Switzerland and the Secretary of State for the Economy to foster synergies.
BioAlps relocates to the Biotech Campus in Geneva and the BioPole science park in Epalinges, which also becomes its head office.
BioAlps is celebrating 20 years in existence.
To forge ties between the cluster's stakeholders, the association organizes an annual "BioAlps Networking Day". It has also organized networking events and company visits for cluster members, such as the "4 to 6" afternoon gatherings.
Recently, it launched "Connecting Life Sciences Innovators" to foster transfers of innovative technologies and skills to key accounts through thematic workshops and one-on-one networking.
Under its president, Claude Clément, the association awards the BioAlps Prize in tribute to a prominent figure from the research community and to a life sciences industry.
BioAlps has 1161 affiliated members. "We accept all stakeholders who contribute to innovation in the life sciences," notes Claude Joris. "That includes companies involved in medtech, biotech or digital health, as well as subcontractors or consultants and service companies. Not forgetting all of the stakeholders who contribute to value creation in the sector's innovation ecosystem. These companies represent close to 37 500 jobs, compared with 25 000 in 2009." The BioAlps website provides access to a database of over 1000 life science stakeholders based in one of the seven cantons.
Number of annual events
Every year, between 120 and 150 of the companies in the cluster derive some direct benefit from BioAlps, and between 2000 and 3000 people attend its events.
BioAlps collaborates with the other bodies working to support the economy, such as the other industry platforms, coaching bodies, canton offices and endogenous and exogenous business promotions, Switzerland Global Enterprise (export support) and the Greater Bern Geneva Area (which attracts foreign companies to the region).