Cathy Kroll & Jonathan Buckley

Swiss biotech is extraordinarily vibrant and these are exciting times, some might say too exciting. As industry commentator DrugPatentWatch puts it, “the way human beings are being medicated is witnessing a change that closely resembles what the internet has done so far to change our lives”. And the internet is not just changing our lives but also the very way in which we do business.

It is a fact of nature that with the passage of time everything is subject to change. As we grow and learn so we change and adapt to changes in our environment. This is true not just for individuals but also for societies, nations and organizations. Just look at our industry. New, life-saving drugs are coming on to the market and investment in biotech is strong. At the same we are grappling with a host of new issues and concerns around biotechnology and we have similar new and evolving challenges at an industry level. Even the things that we create are transformed and changed through their lifecycle.

Change is not only constant but it is also happening very fast. This speed of change, and the shortened lifecycles it generates, create enormous challenges which we have to engage with.

Survive and grow

To maintain our status or position in the hierarchy of things, we cannot rely on old routines; falsely believing that if we do the same today as we did yesterday we can maintain our status quo. As an industry we have to be ready to change often in response to the constantly changing social, regulatory, geopolitical, ecological, economic and technological environment.

"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." Winston Churchill

At the same time we must also recognize that rapid change and shorter life cycles are creating feelings of insecurity and powerlessness in society. And without a clear and positive vision of what future societies will be like, this sense of helplessness can become resistance to change. To change, we need to see why it is important and where it will lead us to.

Power to adapt

To respond effectively to change, we first have to realize that it is happening and then we need to understand what difference it is making. Switzerland is too small a country to shape the world on its own but we do have the power to adapt to change by setting our own standards and rules.

Constant vigilance and regular benchmarking can identify where ground has been lost and where measures to adapt must be taken. This comparison or competitive analysis with the outside world has to be matched up with the expectations, convictions and visions within the country.

The fragmented and federalist system of Switzerland has always guaranteed that the political will to change was balanced with expectations and convictions from the base. This might be a slow system for change management, but tries to keep everyone onboard which is important. On top of this, Switzerland realized early on that providing the best possible education to its people provided the best possible foundation for reacting to change and proactively shaping the new world.

Shaping the future

Change can be, and has been, seen as an opportunity to learn, grow and to create and shape a better future. However, to shape the future one requires a vision and strategy, as well as sufficient time to get there. In addition the impact of measures and the reaction to change have to be known.

On a global scale, the task seems enormous and the required competences are numerous. Professionals from all branches of science are needed to interact with society and government to define goals and visions. On a smaller scale, the way forward seems easier when all stakeholders are involved in jointly formulating a desirable future based on shared principles.

Enabling change

Stephen Sherwin, former chairman of BIO, describes biotechnology as “a horizontal technology used in a variety of industry segments to help heal, fuel and feed the world”. Such a dynamic industry sector needs stakeholders to come together to plan and deliver a best possible future. The contributors to the Swiss Biotech Report represent the Swiss biotech ecosystem.

Our funding agencies Swiss National Science Foundation and Innosuisse influence the direction of basic and applied research with their funding instruments and regulations. The industry associations scienceindustries and Swiss Biotech Association interact with policy makers to improve framework conditions and with academia such as biotechnet Switzerland to maintain joint R&D in Switzerland. The critital analyses of our innovation potential by the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property and the industry statistics by EY help us to benchmark with global biotech. Switzerland Global Enterprise supports the industry by communicating the benefits and USPs of Switzerland as a business location and SIX provides the financial platform to grow and prosper.