Swiss biotech revels in good mood
16.04.2015 - The Swiss biotech industry can look back on 2014 as a good year, but political uncertainties do remain. This was one of the topics discussed during the Swiss Biotech Day in Basel, which attracted more than 400 participants.
Turnover, capital investments and employee numbers in the Swiss biotech sector increased again in 2014. These were the main findings of the Swiss Biotech Report, presented by the Swiss Biotech Association (SBA) and EY during the Swiss Biotech Day, which took place on 14 April in Basel. As one of the keynotes, Jürgen Zürcher from EY reported the latest developments, noting that the total number of Swiss biotech companies had increased to 264 and the number of employees amounted to over 14,000. In addition, Zürcher spoke of a “special dynamic founding situation” which is especially high in the Lausanne and Geneva area. Domenico Alexakis, Director of SBA, supported this: “The academic world is pushing to have its ideas realised on the marketplace.”
In terms of turnover, the Swiss biotech sector generated CHF4.9bn in 2014, an increase of CHF141m compared to 2013. Capital investments jumped up from CHF418m to CHF719m. “With a total of around 470 Swiss Francs, the private companies have collected the highest amount of money ever”, Zürcher emphasised. But also on the stock exchange a huge amount of capital came in (CHF246m), largely due to the IPOs of Auris Medical on NASDAQ, and Molecular Partners on the SIX Swiss Exchange. Another publicly traded company made strong headlines: With its stock increase of more than 2000% over the course of 2014, Santhera Pharmaceuticals was elected the best performing biotech stock worldwide by US information provider Biocentury. During the Swiss Biotech Day the company presented its financial results of 2014 and gave an outlook of 2015. According to CEO Thomas Maier, the firm is preparing an FDA filing for its Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) drug in summer for which it picked up a fast-track designation from the FDA. To date, the company is evaluating plans to stem the US marketing and sale of this drug independently.
Nevertheless, some uncertainties for the Swiss biotech sector remain, mainly due to the fact that the chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnological industry is the largest export sector in Switzerland, providing 41% of all exported goods in 2014. Therefore the lifting of the cap against the Euro in January 2015 has had a particularly strong impact on the sector. "Many of our members are SMEs with high research and personnel costs," said Alexakis. "Several companies were forced to lower their prices because of the strong Swiss franc. This cannot be kept up for long. But it would be disastrous to reduce the expenditure on research for this reason. The multinational members in the sector also share these concerns."
The problem is compounded by the acceptance of the initiative against mass immigration. “The influx of specialists from abroad is absolutely essential for the biotech sector,” Alexakis said. Although the Swiss biotech companies were once again able to expand their international collaboration in 2014, the acceptance of the initiative means that researchers are still denied access to important research networks and specialists. The association said that it supports the proposals of the leading associations to introduce a protection clause for immigration from EU and EFTA countries, and to reduce the demand for workers from abroad by a systematic deployment of the inland workforce. “But we need new solutions from the political decision-makers,” Alexakis pointed out. Furthermore, the SBA said that it is working to secure the full association of Switzerland to Horizon 2020 (H2020), the European framework programme for research and innovation. In spite of these discussions, pharma giant Novartis emphasised its loyalty towards its Swiss roots. “Most recently, we decided against setting up a plant in China in favour of Switzerland,” said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis AG, during his opening speech. “Labour costs are not a key factor for us.”