As one of the leading global biotech hubs, Switzerland was well positioned to facilitate international collaborations and to develop solutions to combat the COVID pandemic. This report highlights the ways in which Swiss universities, research centers, hospitals, diagnostic companies, biotech SMEs, drug manufacturers and multinational pharmaceutical companies worked with their partners around the world to deliver an effective response to limit the spread and impact of the virus.
While the spotlight was on COVID-related projects, Switzerland and Swiss biotech companies did not lose sight of other unmet medical needs. Over the year they continued to invest heavily to expand their R&D and manufacturing infrastructure, and to advance and broaden their portfolio of drug candidates and new modalities. Investors also contributed new funds at record levels (CHF 3.4B), investing into the promising pipeline of the Swiss biotech hub.
CEO, Swiss Biotech Association
The COVID pandemic clearly demonstrated how much damage the uncontrolled spread of a pathogen can cause and how quickly it can sweep across the globe, affecting people’s health and livelihoods and overwhelming healthcare systems even in the most developed countries. But the pandemic also showed that research capabilities and platform technologies developed over decades can be effectively used to respond rapidly to emerging medical needs and to provide therapeutic options to address them. The biotech and pharmaceutical industry's response to the COVID pandemic is multifaceted: diagnostics to detect the virus or virus-specific antibodies, COVID-specific vaccines and therapeutics which aim to combat the spread of the virus and strengthen people's immune system, and the use of established drugs that can alleviate symptoms. As a result of their success, the importance of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries became evident to decision makers around the world.
Several articles in this report outline projects and companies that were part of the response, as the life science industry applied its R&D and manufacturing capabilities to deliver effective solutions in record time. International scientific cooperation and coordination was clearly essential, and Switzerland's global networks proved to be an important strength, even when the borders were closed. We exemplify how Switzerland played a role in basic research (e.g. cloning and 3D structure of the virus), in manufacturing of vaccines (e.g. Lonza, Bachem, Janssen Cilag), providing diagnostics (e.g. Roche, Quotien, Ender, MosaiQ, Biolytix) and the development of COVID-specific therapeutics (Humabs Biomed/Vir Biotechnologies, Molecular Partners/Novartis).
While all eyes were focused on the COVID pandemic, the Swiss biotech industry also made significant progress in other areas. Investor interest was demonstrated by record levels of financing and the creation of new biotech-specific investment funds (e.g. Pureos Bioventures, Bernina Bioinvest). ADC Therapeutics completed a very successful IPO, raising more than USD 470M including follow on and dozens of private Swiss biotech companies closed financing rounds, with SOPHiA Genetics and VectivBio each raising about CHF 110M.
For all the record-breaking success stories in the first eight months of 2020, a note of caution may be warranted. While the pandemic highlighted the importance of the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors, and interest from investors in the biotech sector remains very high, most of the funding and new partnerships were based on pre-COVID era data. Many companies have suffered significant delays in their R&D pipeline and require bridge financing to complete the delayed studies. If this additional funding can be secured and projects can get back on track, it is very likely that the biotech industry in Switzerland will continue its impressive expansion which has been seen in recent years.