Switzerland may soon be known more for its biotech innovation than for watches, bank accounts and chocolate. Michael Altorfer is the CEO of the Swiss Biotech Association, and he wants to embolden his country to push even further into the life sciences sector. Already established as part of a thriving European ecosystem, the nation’s biotechnology industry is continuing to expand.
It's an essential industry for the Swiss as its exports in pharmaceutical and biotech goods accounted for 40 percent of total exports in 2019. "The great strength of the Swiss biotech sector is its continuity. There is constant growth, and we continue to succeed in attracting specialists and young talent to Switzerland," Altorfer said.
By the numbers, Switzerland’s biotech industry is generally on its way up. The number of people employed in the Swiss 250 biotech firms and 62 supplier companies increased by 5 percent to 15,070. Research and development spending rose 7 percent to CHF 2 billion, with initiatives being funded by robust and broad financing sources.
The funding pool is evolving, as well. While investment in both private and public biotech reached CHF 1.2 billion last year, it was a significant decrease in funding compared to the previous two years. Despite the downward move, the number is still north of CHF 1 billion, which is higher than the country's historical average annual raise amount of CHF 800 million.
New Swiss-based funds like Meicxi, ND Capital, Pureos Bioventures, and Bernina BioInvest, combined with an influx of foreign money, brought new opportunities for Swiss startups. Altorfer observes there were no IPOs in 2019 but believes that because the financing options have become more plentiful, companies are less pressured to go public.
In terms of money made, Swiss biotech brought in CHF 4.8 billion in total revenue, CHF 800 million more than last year. Much of this can be attributed to profitable partnership and licensing agreements for products like AC Immune, Basilea, and CRISPR Therapeutics in addition to increased revenues for those firms already offering products and services on the market.
The biotech industry itself has diversified. Companies like Biogen, Novartis, and Merck are expanding production capabilities as more complex therapies and treatments are approved. Other companies like SOPHiA Genetics, Genedata, and SimplicityBIO are creating innovative ways to leverage artificial intelligence technology for genetic research.
"These companies make up a new segment, as they are tapping and analyzing data pools and thus substantially changing clinical development and the design of studies," observed Altorfer. The wider biotech scene is also changing fast. A patent analysis completed for the Swiss Biotech Report shows that there are already more than 3,000 patent families that deal with innovations that sit between artificial intelligence and biotechnology.