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The life sciences in Western Switzerland: A vibrant economic sector

BioAlps, the fastest growing life science cluster in the world based in Western Switzerland, was created to promote the economic, technological and industrial potential of the many actors in the life sciences in the region, both nationally and internationally. BioAlps is financed by seven cantons, namely Berne, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Valais and Vaud. Also supported by the authorities of the Swiss Confederation, BioAlps exemplifies the will to create world class excellence in the life sciences. Its sister clusters, Micronarc, AlpICT and Cleantech Alps, promote micro- and nanotechnologies, information technologies and communications, and clean technologies respectively. Our mission is to foster and enable innovation and invention by providing the appropriate political and economic environment to achieve just that in the life science sector.

 

Switzerland, nestled in the center of the European region, has the privilege of a stable environment, a strong infrastructure, and an outstanding quality of life, safeguarded by its federal and cantonal structures. A number of sophisticated science parks and incubators foster the development of highly innovative start-up companies. These science parks and incubators provide state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, facilities and resources. With strong links to neighbouring countries and cross-border collaborations, the BioAlps cluster has been referred to in several studies as the most dynamic in the development of the life sciences and is ranked among the top three in Europe in terms of academic productivity. Indeed, the high quality research carried out within the hundreds of research laboratories and more than ten universities, university hospitals and technical schools, led by the rectors and deans in search of excellence throughout their universities and specialised higher colleges of education, has put the BioAlps cluster on the international life science map. The 5,000 people working in research laboratories produce discoveries of value which underlie the innovations that eventually reach the market. Moreover, the density of institutions and the wealth and variety of companies – both multinationals and start-ups - in which some 25,000 people work, facilitate bridges between academia and business, ensuring knowledge and technology transfer for the benefit of all. Innovation is a tradition in Western Switzerland and the life science sector boasts many successes. Merck Serono’s recombinant human follicle stimulating hormone (rhFSH) was the first genetically engineered drug to be approved in the European Union (EU). The combination of technology and science have resulted in completely new products, such as the first interactive contact lenses to measure intraocular pressure in people with glaucoma, developed by Sensimed, a spin-off from the renowned EPFL in Lausanne, and the world’s first force-sensing ablation catheter to treat atrial fibrillation, developed by Endosense. Teams in Western Switzerland are already working on the next generation of innovation, which may well be personalised medicine. In the BioAlps cluster, the future outlook is excellent. Both academia and industry are already working on tomorrow’s discoveries in all fields that the life sciences touch, such as health, environment, energy, food. The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) are carrying out cutting edge research on the mechanisms underlying cancer. The bridges between basic and clinical research are built through the many projects put into place in the three university hospitals of Berne, Geneva and Lausanne. The University of Neuchâtel is leading the national research effort on plant survival. The EPFL’s architecturally innovative Learning Center enables students from its world class institutes to profit from the stimulating atmosphere to further their research into such subjects as environment and energy. Research into food is continuing apace at the Nestle Research Center. The region continues to attract new companies. Shire Pharmaceuticals has recently moved into our region, emulating the companies already based here such as Stryker, Medtronic, Celgene, Baxter and Glenmark. The 750 life science companies in the cluster all contribute to building knowledge, science, and business here and abroad, whether in the field of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology or all three, as technologies increasingly converge in the search for outcomes to the best benefit of humanity.

Our life science sector is a clear example of successful cross-fertilisation between different disciplines. The tightly-knit community provides a network that can deliver what is needed for research and business to generate added value. Cooperation exists at all levels between the private sector, academic institutions, investors and authorities, increasing the attractiveness of the region. Our government actively supports this dynamic sector on a regulatory and administrative level and, with a view to the future, promotes further development and growth. Today’s discoveries will no doubt bring tomorrow’s successful technologies and businesses!

Jean-Claude MermoudMinister of Economy, Canton of Vaud

By Jean-Claude

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