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Why is the life sciences sector in Switzerland one of the best in the world?

Home to one of the most globally renowned life sciences clusters, Switzerland has an impressive variety of biotech, medical devices/medtech and pharma companies that make up an impressive network of innovation.

Around 98% of Switzerland’s life sciences turnover is made abroad, with chemical-pharmaceutical being the most important exported goods in Switzerland.

After the height of the pandemic and the global response to it, many are trying to look forward and predict the future success of the life sciences industry as a whole.

But what is the broader life sciences outlook for Switzerland in its most prominent life sciences industries?

Biotech overview

As one of the strongest biotechnology locations in Europe, Switzerland has strong infrastructure to support more than 300 biotech companies – cooperation between research and development, first-class research facilities, multinational companies – and form a considerable network.

In fact, Switzerland is one of the countries with the highest number of biotechnology patents per capita, with a large range of research laboratories and production facilities to support the sector.

Interestingly in the current competitive hiring environment, Switzerland also continues to be attractive to qualified foreign professionals, ranking 1st in INSEAD’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index for several years in a row, being considered the most attractive destination for talented foreign professionals.

Switzerland’s success doesn’t stop there, though, and there is a continuing positive outlook:

  • Capital investments in Swiss biotech companies reached $3.53bn, with strong international participation
  • R&D investments increased to a record-high $2.71bn
  • The number of employees in Swiss R&D biotech companies increased in 2021 by 9.5%
  • Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) are increasing in importance as drivers of innovation in both existing and emerging areas

The future of biotech in Switzerland seems to be moving further away from Covid-related fields, and more towards immune-oncology and neurology or emerging fields such as the microbiome and cell-based regeneration.

Another area that has received much attention is digital therapeutics and personalised medicine using a data-driven approach, such as that seen in the Floodlight Application from Roche for multiple sclerosis patients, which has received MDR certification.

Medical devices/medtech

The European medical devices market was worth $140bn in 2022 and is estimated to be growing at a CAGR of 4.09%, to reach $171.19bn by 2027.

The highest number of medical technology employees per capita is in Switzerland (and Ireland), with SMEs making up the majority of the medtech industry.

Part of the reason Switzerland has such a strong reputation for medtech is because there is no other country in which medical technology enjoys such high status in comparison with total GDP and the working population than Switzerland.

The proportion of medical technology-related patents in relation to all patent applications is almost 3x higher than the global average in Switzerland, with Swiss companies registering patents for over 1,200 medical technology inventions, both domestically and abroad, each year.

Part of what sets Switzerland’s medtech industry apart is the efficient and straightforward application procedures that are in place to protect intellectual property.

There is one central, internationally valid registration procedure that provides access to international systems for the protection of intellectual property, removing the need for local representatives in other countries.

With around 63,000 employees – a 20% employment increase compared to 10 years ago – and an average annual sales growth rate of 6%, well above the GDP growth rate for Switzerland overall, the medtech picture in Switzerland is highly positive.

Regarding the future of medical technology and devices in Switzerland, there have been efforts to present a vision for ‘Medtech in Switzerland 2030’, outlining strategies to strengthen Switzerland’s attractiveness as a medtech business location.

Pharmaceuticals outlook

Pharmaceuticals is a major industry in Switzerland, accounting for 7% of GDP, 35% of manufacturing, and more than 8% of global production.

High global demand is a key contributor to the success of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry, with pharmaceutical’s value added output forecast to grow more than 4.5% in 2023.

Switzerland’s importance as the country with the largest export surplus of pharmaceutical products cannot be understated – the outstanding infrastructure in place combined with excellent academic institutions make Swiss pharmaceutical companies research-oriented and innovative.

The Swiss healthcare system supports the introduction of new medicines, offering companies access to a streamlined test and sales market through an established framework.

In terms of the hiring landscape, Switzerland has high availability of highly qualified scientists, particularly due to the proximity to globally leading universities.

Much like with biotech and medtech, Switzerland’s pharmaceutical industry has high investment, particularly in R&D of pharmaceutical companies, though much emphasis has been placed on the Covid-19 efforts by Swiss pharmaceutical companies specifically.

What does the future hold?

There has been a lot of concern around ‘post-pandemic’ recovery – in short, would life sciences frontrunners like Switzerland experience a dip after record highs due to pandemic-related efforts?

This seems not to be the case in Switzerland.

In fact, in the Swiss biotech industry alone there has been a record-high revenue figure of CHF 6.7bn, driven by an increase in product sales, favourable one-time events from collaboration and licensing deals (regulatory approvals are also continuing at very high levels).

There was also the EMA approval of 91 new drugs in 2021, with a small number of ‘originated in Switzerland’ drugs, such as Adumhelm from Biogen/Neurimmune.

Other areas of note include a renewed emphasis on sustainability, particularly in Swiss medtech, with high demand from customers and investors for climate neutrality.

Life sciences companies continue to thrive in Switzerland because of its highly skilled workforce, strong infrastructure, and academic/research network.

Amongst a highly competitive hiring market, Switzerland continues to innovate across biotech, medtech and pharmaceuticals, adapting from their swift pandemic response to continue successfully collaborating and researching in emerging areas.

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