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Top of the world and nobody knows it

Biotechnology is one of the most successful sectors in Switzerland and makes a major contribution to global health. However, this is little known to the public and decision-makers. Michael Altorfer wants to change this. He has been CEO of the Swiss Biotech Association (SBA) since January and wants to use "success stories" to help biotechnology gain the recognition it deserves.
Michael Altorfer, CEO of the Swiss Biotech Association

Michael Altorfer, you have been CEO of SBA since the beginning of 2018. How would you like to further develop the association? Where will you make your mark?

Switzerland is one of the world's leading biotech hubs and attracts many foreign companies, professionals and investors. As a result, the local biotech industry has grown by over 50 percent in the last 10 years and is now one of the most innovative and valuable industries in Switzerland. It provides 50,000 jobs and, together with the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, is responsible for more than 40 percent of exports. This is only possible thanks to its excellent educational landscape, political and legal stability, excellent infrastructure, attractive regulatory and fiscal framework conditions and high quality of life. With the SBA, I will work to ensure that the economic environment remains attractive so that Switzerland can maintain and expand its leading position.

This requires first and foremost that we create understanding for the concerns of the industry among decision-makers and the general public and make its importance known. But we must also help biotechnology to emerge from the shadows of other industries and show that its performance significantly improves health and quality of life far beyond Switzerland's borders.

The added value and innovative power of biotechnology are outstanding. But are there still challenges that lie ahead for the industry and the SBA?

The biggest challenge will be to maintain and improve the above-mentioned good framework conditions. But we do know of other challenges that we are facing. For example, although in recent years around CHF 1 billion a year has been invested in Swiss biotech companies, it is remarkable that the majority of this capital comes from abroad. In order to change this, we are working with financial institutions to develop attractive investment opportunities that meet the different risk requirements of investors.

Finally, we are striving to harmonize regulations internationally. The main concern here is that various countries want to weaken patent protection and impose price caps on medicines. In view of the high costs of research and development, such efforts are fatal because investments no longer pay off and investors lose interest.

On Swiss Biotech Day 2018 you launched the "Success Stories". What are they about?

In order to make the industry more visible, we use concrete examples to show how companies are helping to help patients and improve healthcare worldwide - and thus also making a valuable contribution to the Swiss economy. This year's success stories are from five companies: Biogen, Roche Glycart, Okairos, Selexis and Vifor Fresenius Medical Care Renal Pharma. They impress with new business models, innovative technologies and revolutionary active ingredients.

Over the next few months, we will publish the stories to show the public the importance and success factors of the biotech industry. As I mentioned, it is vital that decision makers understand what it takes for the industry to develop and remain competitive. At the same time, we also want to inspire young talents for our industry and motivate them to take a closer look at the professions in our industry. As a successful and booming industry, we are dependent on many enthusiastic and well-trained young people.

The Success Stories 2018

  • Biogen is one of the global pioneers in the biotech industry, employs more than 7,500 people worldwide, has its international headquarters in Zug and is building a huge production facility in Luterbach for around 1.5 billion Swiss francs, which is scheduled to go into operation in 2019.
  • Roche Glycart impresses with a story out of a picture book: a new technology for improving antibody drugs was developed at ETH Zurich, which resulted in a spin-out under the name Glycart. Roche discovered the value of the technology and bought the biotech company. Today, Glycart's technology is used in the development of Roche Glycart products and brought to market.
  • Selexis does not itself develop new drugs, but provides research-based biotech and pharmaceutical companies with a technology that enables the manufacture of innovative products and is now used by over 100 research-based companies.
  • The Italian company Okairos had developed a new type of vaccine and came to Switzerland in order to develop optimally in the innovation-friendly Swiss biotech environment. In the meantime, Okairos has been discovered and acquired by GSK.
  • A biotech and a medtech company have joined forces with Vifor and Fresenius to create a joint company that will provide new therapies for patients with kidney disease. As a platform, it supports the clinical development of drugs and provides patients with easy access to the drugs they need. Today, the platform is also used by large pharmaceutical companies that license their products to Vifor/Fresenius.

Published on 06. July 2018 by Maurice Desiderato