Switzerland: A Hotbed of Innovation

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Switzerland’s especially fine reputation for research impact and innovation generation is attracting a host of MNCs to base their European headquarters in the mountain nation and spend big on world-leading cutting-edge R&D.

“Switzerland represents an extremely fertile ground for scientific findings”

Walter Steinlin, CTI

According to the yearly European and Global Innovation Indices, Switzerland ranks as a world-beater for innovation, demonstrating particular strength in the volume of patent applications registered, the number of scientific studies published in international journals, and in its overall high employment ratio for knowledge-intensive activities. “Switzerland represents an extremely fertile ground for scientific findings … we boast some of the very best researchers in the world and crucially possess all the relevant skill sets at every level from PhD holder to machinery operator so cover the entire spectrum of functions across the R&D value chain,” proclaims Walter Steinlin, president of the Federal Commission of Technology and Innovation (CTI), the government agency responsible for the promotion of science-based innovation.

 

“Our exceptionally high performance today in terms of research impact is partly down to our historical legacy as a nation: Switzerland was never blessed with natural resource wealth, so its people instead had to rely upon their brains and technical competencies as a top-notch service provider in order to survive,” reflects Robert Riener, head of the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. “Nor should we underestimate the effect of our rather distinctive national education system in which only 20 per cent of students go on to university, with the remainder instead undergoing apprenticeships in which they develop, through intensive practical work, a particular skill over a three or four-year period,” he adds. “What this system means for Switzerland is that the country is made up not just of academics, but also people that possess the skillsets to produce things; people not only driven by intellectual skills, but also by the technical know-how when it comes to production.”

This is certainly something that the pharma industry seems to appreciate. “You have to remember that as a biopharma pioneer, we operate in a very specialized and technologically complex field that requires ready access to a highly skilled workforce. Switzerland, with its dual education system and multilingual, multiethnic talent pool, most definitely provides this human resource asset at a point in our lifecycle where we are looking to continually ramp up our workforce. Moreover with its lengthy tradition in pharmaceuticals, this country offers a wealth of talent not just in skilled academics and scientific researchers, but also in the very categories of experienced craftsmen and lab operators that we will be seeking to propel the company forward, and all of this was instrumental in our original decision in the mid 2000s to relocate our International headquarters from Paris to Zug,” notes Biogen Switzerland managing director Natascha Schill.

 

For his part, Celgene’s president for EMEA Tuomo Patsi very much concurs. “As a leading actor in biologics, we appreciate the fact that Switzerland offers an excellent enabling landscape that fosters innovation and a truly international, high-skilled and multilingual human resource pool across the full range of job categories. For a firm of our caliber and bent, this all matters a great deal.” In the words of Kari Sarvanto, chairman of Primex Pharmaceuticals, “Given that the Swiss hold all the requisite know-how, employing experts is easier here than anywhere else in the world!”

The statistics would certainly appear to back up these assertions with the latest INTERPHARMA figures demonstrating that, last year, the association’s 24 members spent no less than 6.9 billion Francs (USD 7.0 billion) on in-country research and development (R&D) between themselves, more than twice as much as they achieved in sales Swiss sales revenues. This high level of financial investment thus underscores the importance of Switzerland as a cutting-edge research centre and magnet for innovation related activity.

“We consider Switzerland to be a trailblazer in innovation-friendliness and this is something that we are very keen to leverage and contribute to. R&D is an incredibly important part of our activities, particularly as we seek to gain entry into new fields. Even though we are a US-based global player, there is a clear appreciation at our global management board level of the world-class research and science being conducted in Switzerland and we see collaboration with leading academic institutions and actors here as absolutely essential to our future success,” reveals AbbVie’s general manager, Olaf Weppner. “It is therefore no coincidence that we have established a strong unit here to run our clinical trial programs, most of which are performed in-house and are collaborating with more than 40 sites in Switzerland, running 20 different clinical development programs,” he adds.

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Carolin Hillebrand, country manager of Israeli neuroscience specialty outfit Neurim Pharmaceuticals, is even more ebullient about Switzerland’s superlative innovation capacity. “The development of our highly acclaimed, star product Circadin, the only IP-protected product providing a prolonged release formulation of melatonin for insomnia, came about as the result of an immensely fruitful collaboration with Basel’s Centre for Chronobiology, one of the world’s leading centers of excellence for melatonin research,” she recalls. “The innovation mindset over here is simply breathtaking,” she gushes. No surprise then that Switzerland enjoys the distinction of hosting Neurim’s only affiliate outside of Israel and one of the company’s key production sites.

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