Fewer regions in life sciences are quite as important as Switzerland.
As a global leader in life sciences, particularly pharmaceuticals, Switzerland is renowned for its world-class startups and academic institutions, alongside its expertise and innovative approach across biotech, pharmaceuticals, and medtech.
In the last 10 years, the number of companies in the biotech, medical devices and technology sectors has doubled in Switzerland.
But what makes Switzerland such an attractive life sciences market, and what are the market trends impacting the future of Swiss life sciences?
High R&D investment
As a market leader in pharmaceuticals, it’s unsurprising that Switzerland invests heavily in research and development.
In fact, Switzerland is the 4th-highest ranked nation in terms of R&D investment, according to Deloitte, with the Basel pharma sector investing around 6 billion francs each year into research and development.
There has also been a particular focus on areas such as immune oncology, neurology, and emerging fields such as cell-based regeneration for R&D investment in Switzerland.
Part of what sets Switzerland apart from other life sciences locations is its excellent R&D infrastructure – R&D and innovation have been identified by Deloitte as crucial elements to ensure ongoing Swiss competitiveness and prosperity in the life sciences market.
Much of Switzerland’s R&D focus relies on high R&D expenditure of its pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors, which have kept the country at the top of the board for R&D competitiveness and expenditure, even when other countries continue to rise as well.
This trend is likely to continue due to Switzerland’s repeated success using its dual-track education system, combining on-the-job training and academic input, alongside its outstanding academic institutions.
It’s not just the strong life sciences culture in Switzerland that makes it an attractive location to work in, but also its cities and approach to working.
With such a high demand for life sciences talent that inevitably outweighs the supply, it has been important for Switzerland to attract skilled talent to relocate to the region.
Switzerland’s high living standards and high salaries are the most obvious benefits to those looking to relocate – though the country has high living costs and expenses, the high salaries and opportunities often outweigh this.
This high remuneration is competitive, with salaries ranking highest compared to the top 20 European economiesfor entry and mid-level roles.
Work-life balance is also a key benefit of relocating to Switzerland, with Zurich and Geneva ranking in the top ten for quality of life in the world, and a shorter average working week (35.2 hours).
As Switzerland continues to dominate the life sciences industry, the need for talent to provide the foundation for growth will likely mean that the international workforce will continue to expand.
Moving from reactive to predictive healthcare
Technology is driving change across the life sciences industry, and these changes apply to Switzerland, too.
As the digitalisation of the life sciences industry continues, including the collection of even larger amounts of health data (e.g. data from ‘wearables’), traditional healthcare will move towards a more predictive, proactive approach.
In other words, larger amounts of patient data will change not only the advances made in healthcare, but also the impact on health in a broader sense.
Research into the long-term megatrends affecting the evolution of healthcare, conducted as part of the Swiss National Science Foundation’s National Research Programme, indicated ‘broadening meaning of ‘health’’ as a megatrend, as well as:
Empowered patients and service users
Digitalisation in healthcare
Emergence of new models of care
These shifts mean that there is a focus in the healthcare sector on lifestyle and the way that health is pre-emptively promoted.
The pandemic response in Switzerland (and in many senses, worldwide) showed the combination of tech companies and public health responses as a means of creating new tools for treatment, and this is only likely to increase as these trends manifest over time.
Though Switzerland may have been quite slow on the uptake of digital health data, as the shift occurs there is the potential for earlier detection of health conditions, finer prediction of the success of treatments, and more adequate monitoring of health parameters.
Strong biotech performance
Though Switzerland’s reputation is associated heavily with pharmaceuticals and broader healthcare, there has been an increasingly positive shift in Swiss biotech.
Capital investments in Swiss biotech companies reached CHF 3.33bn, and the number of employees in Swiss R&D biotech companies increased in 2021 by 9.5%.
Emerging fields, such as those mentioned above – microbiome and cell-based regeneration – and immune-oncology have all been areas of interest for investors, alongside more data-driven business models, with the purpose of developing digital therapeutics and personalised medicines.
Take the success of companies like Zurich-based Araris Biotech as an example.
The company has been working on antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) and raised CHF 15.2m in a seed round to boost the preclinical and clinical development of its ADCs.
Luzern-based company Scailyte has been using AI tools to speed up the discovery of biomarkers from clinical data and single-cell sequencing data, which could analyse large datasets in minimal time to deliver key insights into molecular cell-identity signatures.
These developments could be used to help with the diagnosis of complex diseases such as cancer, and Scailyte has entered into two partnerships to further its research in other areas.
All in all, Swiss biotech is set to continue growing and evolving, especially due to the digitalisation occurring in the wider industry.
What does the future hold for Swiss life sciences?
Alongside the above factors, Switzerland may be looking towards a more competitive approach to life sciences.
Despite its highly successful market, there are still improvements to be made when it comes to the use of technology across the sectors of life sciences and processes.
Fully embracing the opportunities offered by digitalisation will help Switzerland’s life sciences market to stay agile, innovative, and competitive.
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