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How is Switzerland Innovating the Cell and Gene Therapy Field?

Few life sciences locations are quite as renowned or respected as Switzerland.

With over 98% of Switzerland’s turnover made abroad, there is clear international interest in Swiss life sciences, and chemical-pharmaceutical products are the most important exported goods in the region.

There are a multitude of factors contributing to the success of Switzerland as a life sciences location – leading universities, innovative research-based pharmaceutical companies, a highly skilled workforce – that have also laid the foundations for its success elsewhere.

Though cell and gene therapy is still a fairly new field, Switzerland is undoubtedly at the forefront of innovation and developments in CGT.

But how exactly is Switzerland innovating the cell and gene therapy field, and which factors are influencing this shift?

Let’s take a look.

It’s a hub for innovation

There are many locations across the globe that have an association with cutting-edge developments in varying fields of life sciences.

The Swiss city of Basel has a significant reputation as a leading European hub for innovation, in part due to it being home to over 700 companies across biotech, medical technology, chemistry, and digital health.

What truly sets it apart, however, is the multitude of leading pharmaceutical giants that have international headquarters in Basel, or substantial facilities.

The likes of Roche, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson have international headquarters in Basel, and these are some of the largest companies by both market capitalization and sales.

Novartis in particular has been expanding its production sites across Europe, with a 90 million Swiss francs investment in Switzerland to build a production site for innovative CGTs.

Additionally, there are the hubs of Zug/Zurich and Lausanne/Geneva that are also significant to Switzerland’s presence in the CGT field.

These hubs contribute significantly to Switzerland’s approach to CGTs because they provide prime locations for businesses small and large to thrive in.

Network of support

Beyond its innovative hubs, there is also the dedicated level of support offered for businesses in the CGT space in Switzerland.

From accelerators and incubators to dedicated programs and networks, businesses aren’t short of options to provide them with support.

The Basel area in particular offers significant support and success, with over $550m in venture capital and private equity secured in 2021 alone, and 235 patent applications per capita every year (making it the most innovative region in Europe).

There are other factors contributing towards the high level of support offered, such as:

  • R&D investments in Swiss biotech increased to a record high of CHF 2.56bn in 2022.

  • The majority of R&D investment is directed to areas such as immune-oncology, personalised medicine and cell-based regeneration.

  • Training initiatives to boost capabilities in manufacturing cell and gene therapies, such as The Biofactory Competence (BCC), the Bertarelli Foundation Gene Therapy Platform, the University of Zurich Center for Therapy Development/GMP, and the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel.

The presence of (and support for) leading companies

A prime example of an innovative company capitalising on Switzerland’s unique approach to CGT is T3 Pharma, a clinical-stage startup focusing on the natural behaviours of bacteria.

Based in Basel, it is one of many companies focusing on cell and gene therapies as a route to treating or curing diseases, with T3 Pharma having developed a cancer therapy platform that uses genetically engineered bacteria to target and deliver specific protein payloads into the cells of solid tumours to stimulate an immune response.

T3 Pharma originated as a spinout from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum and utilised the help of BaseLaunch (a biotech accelerator and incubator) to successfully raise 40 million CHF in funding from venture capital firms and investors, whilst also benefiting from strong academic research links.

This is only one example of the way in which Switzerland offers a comprehensive range of support and investment on the doorstep of businesses in the region.

Other cutting-edge businesses also promote Switzerland as a key CGT location, such as Limula, headquartered in La Tour-de-Peilz, developing personalised cancer treatments with a mission to do so at a reasonable cost.

Limula’s team provides a technology that enables the production of CAR T-cell therapies at scale, through automation and standardisation.

Companies such as T3 Pharma and Limula are prime examples of the types of CGTs thriving in Switzerland that will also attract other companies to the region.

Cutting-edge technology and developments

Though the cell and gene therapy space is already one of advanced developments, in Switzerland, there is a large number of businesses using cutting-edge technology to help in areas such as drug discovery and design and to improve processes.

Companies such as SOPHiA GENETICS, headquartered in Switzerland, combine expertise in life sciences with data and use technology to offer healthcare organisations insights into diseases such as cancer or inherited disorders.

SOPHiA GENETICS uses artificial intelligence (AI) and a number of hospitals across 80 countries use its platform, which has diagnosed a number of patients, and the company was ranked among the ’50 Smartest Companies’ in the world according to MIT Technology Review.

As more innovative startups and businesses continue to thrive in Switzerland’s CGT space, it is likely that the use of AI and other technology-led solutions will also adapt and evolve to further this innovation.

What does the future hold for cell and gene therapy in Switzerland?

The cell and gene therapy market size is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22.41% during the forecast period from 2022 to 2030.

In a market set for considerable growth and continuing investor interest, Switzerland is only likely to continue thriving as more businesses set up headquarters in the region and benefit from the wealth of opportunity it has to offer.

These life-changing ventures are only going to positively influence the broader life sciences industry further, and Switzerland can be expected to play a significant role in exactly how the industry continues to improve.

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