• Tuesday, April 23, 2024 @ 11:00 am

Global supply networks must be strengthened and made more resilient in order to ensure an uninterrupted supply of essential medicines and everyday goods. Swiss life sciences companies contribute to this on several levels, from investments in R&D to international cooperation and sustainable production for global markets. Improvements in Switzerland’s framework conditions could further support this role.

Jan Lucht
scienceindustries | Head Biotechnology

Recent events such as the COVID pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have reminded us that an unlimited, reliable supply of goods is an illusion (see also SATW article). Global supply chains can be easily disrupted by many and often unpredictable factors, which makes it all the more important to transform fragile supply chains into more resilient supply networks. This requires cooperation between many partners across international borders.

Biotechnology and biomanufacturing are playing an increasing role in the production of goods ranging from life-saving innovative medicines and vaccines, to bio-based fine chemicals and consumer products, to food and ingredients. As a result, life sciences are becoming an indispensable part of global supply networks. With its thriving biotech and life sciences ecosystem, Switzerland is a reliable partner on many levels.

Swiss scientists and entrepreneurs, and the international collaborations of which they are a part, contribute to global supply security from pioneering basic research at its excellent academic institutions, to the development of innovations in creative startup companies, to research and development and the global supply of goods by established industries. This is illustrated by some examples from scienceindustries member companies.


Biotechnology provides important health benefits to society by enabling innovative therapies for serious diseases. Biotech medicines, including biopharmaceuticals and cell and gene therapies, already account for more than 30% of the global pharmaceutical market and are growing much faster than traditional small molecule drugs. Switzerland is supporting this increasing demand with major investments in healthcare biotech R&D (see Facts & figures, page 8), as well as biomanufacturing infrastructure.

The need for foresight and courage in strategic investment decisions is shown by the Biogen example. Founded in Geneva in 1978, the company has its international headquarters in Switzerland. In 2016, it began construction of a USD1.5 billion state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility in Luterbach, near Solothurn in north-west Switzerland, while the development of potential drug candidates for production there was still ongoing.

Operations began in 2021, but a first biologic manufactured at the site for a neurodegenerative disease failed to meet market expectations. In July 2023, the breakthrough Alzheimer’s drug Leqembi®, developed by Biogen and Eisai (JP), received FDA approval. Biogen is ramping up production at Luterbach, initially the world’s only manufacturing site, to meet expected high demand.

Sustainable flavors

The availability and security of supply of natural raw materials can be greatly affected by external circumstances. Nootkatone, a natural flavor compound derived from grapefruit, is a case in point. Widely used in food and beverages, nootkatone is traditionally obtained by extraction from grapefruit peel or by biochemical conversion of citrus extracts. However, plant pathogens and weather extremes can have negative impacts on the availability and quality of the raw materials, leading to price and supply volatility.

To provide an alternative, reliable natural source of nootkatone, Givaudan, a global leader in the taste and wellbeing industry headquartered in Switzerland, partnered with US-based Manus Bio, a specialist in next-generation industrial biomanufacturing. By combining Givaudan’s analytical, flavor and processing expertise with Manus Bio’s advanced strain development capabilities, a fermentation process was developed to produce nootkatone from sugar, independent of citrus raw materials. The resulting BioNootkatone has a superior taste profile with woody, citrus and peely notes and is reportedly the most cost-effective and sustainable natural nootkatone on the market.

BioNootkatone, a breakthrough ingredient from Givaudan, answers market demand for sustainable, natural, clean-label citrus flavour without the cost and supply volatility of traditional citrus extracts

In addition to increased supply security, BioNootkatone offers reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to citrus-based compounds. The compound will be produced and marketed in partnership between the two companies to meet global demand.

Bio-based vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient in food and animal feed. It supports the immune and digestive systems and contributes to good health. Traditionally, it has been synthesized from petrochemicals. To reduce dependence on fossil fuels while increasing the sustainability of the production process, Swiss-based dsm-firmenich has developed a breakthrough bio-based fermentation approach to produce vitamin A.

It is derived from an adapted yeast strain developed through pioneering research at the company’s US R&D facilities that uses renewable, locally sourced carbon resources as a feedstock.

The process has been refined through global collaboration at six dsm-firmenich facilities in the US, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. It has significant environmental advantages over traditional chemical synthesis, including reduced carbon footprint and waste generation.

While the initial application of bio-based vitamin A is as a potent anti-aging ingredient in environmentally conscious cosmetic products, it has the potential to revolutionize vitamin A production worldwide, including for human and animal health applications. In addition to offering greater sustainability, the biomanufacturing process requires less complex infrastructure than traditional chemical synthesis. This could facilitate decentralized production at multiple sites close to markets, contributing to a robust global vitamin A supply network.

Necessary framework conditions

Although Switzerland is a strong and reliable partner in the global supply network for life sciences products, improvements in the framework conditions would help to maintain and expand its position. Some current supply problems, such as recurrent shortages of some medicines, could also be addressed. Further diversification of production within the life sciences industry would strengthen the resilience of supply networks and reduce dependency on single factors.

This could be achieved, for example, by broadening the technological base. Innovative research in both academia and industry could drive the development of new applications, the use of alternative raw materials, and technologies to support decentralized applications and local production. At the same time, regulatory frameworks should be kept up to date with scientific progress, e.g. for new genomic techniques such as genome editing for all applications, and for ATMPs (see discussion of the Access Consortium, Swissmedic article). In this context, it is relevant that both the US (2023) and the EU (2024) have announced biotech and biomanufacturing initiatives - Switzerland should not lag behind.

Full participation in the EU’s Horizon Europe program would strengthen international research cooperation. Support for international trade, including appropriate conditions for tariffs and intellectual property, is another prerequisite for Switzerland to fulfill its obligations in global supply networks. Last but not least, good framework conditions for the Swiss life sciences industry will also enable a shift towards an even more sustainable economy.

You may also be interested in