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BioArk: Build to last in Valais

When you bet on new technologies, life sciences are undoubtedly the most risky. The realization of a biotech project is indeed on a different scale, both in terms of time and resources, than information and communication technologies or engineering venture. Aware of this difference, The Ark Foundation for Innovation in canton Valais has not hesitated to commit itself, setting up a complete economic development tool to meet this “biotech” challenge.

Clearly supported by the city of Monthey and its region, the enterprise come true in 2004 with the creation of BioArk – a 2500 square meter facility equipped with modules to be used as laboratories and offices as well as shared equipments necessary for the development of the companies to be. While ultimate changes in the construction were finalized in 2009, a first company, ExcellGene, moved in already in 2005. Since then, more than a dozen start-ups or SMEs have already benefited from this exceptional environment.

 

TOOL  State of the art labs, tailored coaching and support for fund-raising attract biotechs in Valais.

 

Targeting for long term

If during the last twenty years, the most prominent success of Western Switzerland advanced research in Life Sciences mainly occurred in towns like Lausanne or Geneva, the fact is that Valais remains the second Swiss canton in terms of jobs in biotechnology and fine chemistry. Promoting innovation in life sciences through the Ark Foundation and BioArk, is therefore a consolidation process to capitalize, thanks to new technologies on what has already been achieved, particularly in terms of manpower and infrastructures. For example, the Company of Chemicals Plants (Société des Usines Chimiques), that will become later Ciba-Geigy, and Lonza, today’s leader of life science active ingredients and custom manufacturing, opened up the way in Valais, more than a century ago.

The objective of the Ark Foundation is to develop and to dynamize the business landscape in Valais through the creation of companies and jobs with high added value. With special facilities dedicated to biotechnology,  tailored business coaching, active support in seeking funds and access to a network of specialists, the Ark’s and BioArk’s incubator are essential partners to support start-ups in their long-term development needs. Accordingly, The Ark and BioArk act neither like a financial investor looking for short term return on investment nor like a real estate investor. BioArk is a real tool for economic growth. Its goal is to ensure the long term existence of the companies on its setting. This approach is significantly different from traditional incubators, allowing entrepreneurs to hope for a different future for their start-ups.The answer to expansion needs

This long term strategy is the reason why BioArk, which started with a focus essentially on start-ups, has now opened its site for industrial production. It is also consistent with the environment provided by Monthey. Its workforce, its location and its policy make the city an exceptional place for both start-ups and SMEs to grow. Secondly, although the site remains «Life Sciences» oriented, all kinds of complementary technological innovations deserve to find a structure for their development at BioArk. Therefore, the site has welcomed Cortex-IT, a local start-up with a very strong growth potential. Finally, economic expansion, even when focused on technological innovations, inevitably responds to critical mass factors. Allowing BioArk to become a global site for industrial implementations triggers an innovation dynamic hence feeding the global concept of economic development in Valais.

Today, BioArk gathers eight companies (ExcellGene, SwissBiobank, Augurix, Swissaustral Biotech ASSCO, Human Haptics, Cortex-IT and CimArk) and about 60 people. To meet BioArk’s initial objectives – ensuring the long lasting existence of companies and jobs – it is now time to launch the project’s second phase: BioArk2. These new facility of about 6000 square meters will offer customized premises for industrial production, modular constructions for “wet” as well as “dry” labs and offices. Taking into account the average life cycle of a start-up, BioArk wishes to offer them expansion prospects. Therefore, BioArk2 is more than just an extension to the former premises: it is a response to the existing needs of business developments.

Today’s BioArk’s companies in residence profiles sustain that bet on their growth fed by technological innovations dynamic. ExcellGene, the first company to settle, was a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). It has developed proprietary clean technologies resolving problems of expression and manufacture of recombinant proteins from mammalian cells. Nearly one hundred customers worldwide have already been satisfied with its services.

Originally from Chile, Swissaustral Biotech is exploiting ten years of research on micro-organisms living in extreme environments into the discovery of new bioactive compounds. Swiss BioBank mainly focuses its activities on cryogenic preservation of umbilical cord blood, a starting point to the regenerative medicine of the future. After marketing its first product, SimtomaxTM, Augurix, a medical technology company, is fast moving in the field of “Point-of-Care” diagnoses, an essential component of the personalised medicine of tomorrow. ASSCO Engineering is a leader in chemistry and biotechnology productions planning. Human Haptics SA specialised in the promising field of biomechanics. In short, there is today in BioArk a strong sense of technological innovation among the companies in residence. For them, the BioArk2 project will soon become a key asset.

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