Switzerland: Europe's Brain

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An increasing number of pharma MNCs are looking towards Switzerland for their European base. Despite high costs compared to elsewhere in Europe, Switzerland’s infrastructure, location, and R&D ecosystem make it a compelling choice.

“Switzerland was actually the obvious choice for kick-starting our international operations because the local ecosystem is so perfectly geared up to supporting a highly specialized activity like ours”
Tuomo Patsi, Celgene

One notable trend in recent years has been the sheer volume of multinationals – whether big pharma, specialty outfits or biotechs – electing to base their European headquarters out of Switzerland. MSD, Novo Nordisk, Takeda, Amgen and Biogen are all cases in point, while another eye-catching development has been Bayer’s 2015 decision to repatriate the management of its Global Consumer Health division from the US to Basel. As such, Switzerland can credibly be considered the “nucleus and brain” of many pharma firms’ European activities. In accordance with the same logic, the country is fast becoming a popular choice for well-esteemed non-European actors to establish a first foothold on the continent. One of America’s most renowned biopharma success stories, Celgene, constitutes one such example of an iconic pharma brand identifying Switzerland as a natural first stepping stone for launching and rolling out their ‘Europe and beyond’ overseas expansion strategy.
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“Switzerland was actually the obvious choice for kick-starting our international operations because the local ecosystem is so perfectly geared up to supporting a highly specialized activity like ours,” reveals Tuomo Patsi, Celgene’s president for Europe, the Middle, East and Africa (EMEA). “When you’re engaged in the business of high-end, sophisticated products, your overriding priority is actually to ensure that you have a secure, reliable environment at your disposal and easy access to top talent in different functions and we are convinced that Switzerland excels on all of these fronts,” he explains. “Indeed many of our peers have no doubt undergone similar thought processes and reached the very same conclusion, because it can be absolutely no coincidence that so many other big-name pharma actors are simultaneously so deeply embedded here.”
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Others strongly concur. “The Swiss research, chemicals and life sciences arena is pretty much like its railway system: that is, high-tech, well organized and dependable,” muses AMGEN country manager, Andre Dahinden. “The infrastructure, itself, is really second to none which is a huge plus factor,” agrees Biogen’s country manager, Natascha Schill, when pressed to explain what makes Switzerland so attractive for big-ticket investments and regional leadership. “Geographically we are positioned right at the beating heart of Europe with great connectivity by train and air to many of the most valuable and significant European pharma markets…and then there is the ready access to clean water and reliable electricity all of which are going to be tremendously important if you’re planning to put in any kind of high-end R&D capabilities where you’ll be developing and handling complex medicines such as biologics that are sensitive to changes in temperature and pressure,” she reasons. “Ultimately it’s about having the sort of advanced and secure ecosystem around you that assures you will always have the necessary power supply even in a storm, and where you are able to maintain the highest level of standards, synonymous with your brand reputation, at all times,” she adds.

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