While 2020 will forever be remembered as one of the most challenging years in our lifetimes, all of us in biopharma can take tremendous pride in the vital role our industry is playing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of this unprecedented health crisis, the industry has worked at lightning speed to develop treatments and vaccines that provide the first significant promise in this long fight. And the resolve, dedication and ingenuity we have demonstrated will forever shape our industry going forward. The theme of the 2021 Swiss Biotech Report – "agility, leadership and innovation in the time of COVID-19” – is indeed appropriate.
George Scangos, Ph.D.
President and CEO, Vir Biotechnology, Inc.
The biopharma industry’s response has truly been a global one – with Swiss companies and academic institutions at the forefront. This comes as no surprise to me. With its academic and research excellence, the presence of leading universities and research-oriented pharmaceutical companies and a competitive nature, Switzerland has long served as a hub of scientific innovation.
I have been fortunate in my career to experience these riches firsthand. First, during my tenure as CEO of Biogen, Biogen’s international headquarters were based in Paris, but we moved them to Zug. And, after an international search to select a site for a large manufacturing plant, we located that plant in Solothurn, it is important to note that Solothurn was not the lowest-cost location. Rather, the decision recognized the incredible scientific expertise and the talented workforce in Switzerland, among other factors. The result was a USD 1.2B investment for a plant that is now coming online.
Now, at Vir Biotechnology, we are benefiting greatly from the discoveries brought forth by the brilliant scientists at our subsidiary, Humabs Biomed SA, which is based in Bellinzona. The Humabs scientists discovered an antibody that reduces mortality in Ebola patients, and this was approved by the US FDA in December 2020. In addition, the Humabs team discovered this differentiated monoclonal antibodies that are currently being evaluated in clinical trials for patients with COVID-19.
Indicative of a larger global trend, Switzerland’s outstanding response to COVID-19 has emerged not only from industry, but also from its universities and institutes, including ETH Zurich, EPFL in Lausanne and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have witnessed extensive collaboration between biopharma companies and academic and government partners – as well as within the industry, such as Vir’s own collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline to evaluate and advance our monoclonal antibodies. These partnerships facilitated the unprecedented success of our response, and bode well for our ability to address other global infectious diseases and prepare for future pandemics.
The pandemic forced the industry to rapidly construct new approaches for developing therapies and vaccines, taking what was previously perceived as impossible and turning it into reality. As we look to the future, I am optimistic that our global scientific, biopharma and healthcare community will take the lessons from COVID-19 and apply them to our world’s most urgent patient needs, including future pandemic preparedness.
“The biopharma industry’s response to COVID-19 has truly been a global one – with Swiss companies and academic institutions at the forefront. Swiss-based biopharma players are contributing across the spectrum of patient needs, including Roche with diagnostic solutions, Novartis with treatments and Lonza with manufacturing and logistics”