Western Switzerland: Collaboration is the key to a robust life sciences sector

Photo of Lac Leman from BioAlps

According to the European Innovative ScoreBoard (EIS), the level of innovation in a country is particularly relevant for life sciences companies when choosing a new R&D or manufacturing location. The reason why Switzerland was ranked first place in its 2021 assessment as the clear innovation leader in Europe—and one of the most innovative and diverse hubs globally in the pharma and biotech sectors—can largely be attributed to the country’s rich pharmaceutical heritage, strong infrastructure supporting industry development, and a Swiss tradition of collaboration.

western switzerland, bern
Bern, the capital city of Switzerland

With its over 1,000 life sciences companies, from cutting-edge startups spun off from local universities and polytechnical schools to large multinational pharmaceutical companies such as CSL Behring, Takeda, Lonza, Incyte, and UCB, it’s not surprising that the western part of Switzerland, which regroups the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel, Bern, and Fribourg, is today referred to as the “Health Valley.”

Innovation bolstered by a strong quality of life

Western Switzerland boasts a deep talent pool, a crucial factor for companies looking to establish themselves in the region. This can be attributed to the region’s excellent quality of life, attracting highly skilled foreign workers. The educational system in Western Switzerland is also highly efficient. It caters to market needs, producing a steady supply of STEM undergraduate and graduate students, including those trained in laboratory work.

Incyte is a prime example of a company that has significantly benefited from the talent pool in the region. In 2020, Incyte opened its second headquarters in Switzerland with 150 employees based in the area, and today, it has over 400 employees. According to Jonathan Dickinson, Incyte’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Europe, talent recruitment has been overwhelmingly easy—and the key reason why Incyte has doubled down on its Swiss investment with the expansion of its European HQ in Morges.

Switzerland’s advantageous trade agreements also contribute to the success of the industry. With free trade agreements with the EU’s European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and 43 other partners, companies in the region enjoy unimpeded access to lucrative markets. This facilitates the export of pharmaceutical and chemical products, resulting in significant cost savings and promoting the efficient organization of cross-border value chains. Direct financial incentives provide further support for businesses operating in the cluster. Companies engaged in biomanufacturing activities are eligible for financial incentives and tax relief, and newly established companies can benefit from an exemption from cantonal and municipal taxes on profits and capital for up to 10 years.

The region’s excellent technology transfer infrastructure helps bridge the gap between academia and business. Through a network of high-quality technological parks and incubators, innovative companies can flourish in Western Switzerland. In addition, the region offers comprehensive entrepreneurship coaching programs that cater to each stage of the company creation process and has led to the creation of numerous startups each year. The cluster also offers valuable support to startups through access to finance, legal counsel, and R&D expertise.

BioAlps and GGBa connect key life sciences stakeholders

The environment for innovation in Western Switzerland is ripe with potential thanks to the above factors. They facilitate transforming cutting-edge research into commercial products, support startup company development, and draw in talented foreign professionals.

These advancements owe a great deal to the significant role played by BioAlps. This collaborative association was established in 2003 and brings together research institutions, academia, start-up companies, and large multinationals to promote Western Switzerland as a world-class center for life sciences innovations and to foster collaboration and growth.

BioAlps organizes various events and activities to facilitate stakeholder connections. Its flagship event is BioAlps Networking Day, an annual meeting that attracts over 300 key players from the region to share the latest life sciences trends and connect. This yearly event rotates among different cities within the region to showcase the local ecosystems.

BioAlps also hosts focused events called “4à6,” a series of networking events specifically organized in each one of Western Switzerland’s six cantons. The event brings together major players in biotechnology and medical technology, allowing them to visit and engage with companies, foster informal connections, and deepen stakeholder understanding. Additionally, the association participates in trade shows and scientific events across Switzerland, Europe, America, and Asia, actively promoting the region’s life sciences expertise and attracting attention from global players.

By connecting stakeholders, promoting partnerships, and facilitating the translation of academic research into practical commercial applications, BioAlps, through its collaborative approach, has been integral to Western Switzerland’s transformation as a premier destination for life sciences innovation.

In the center of this collaboration is the Greater Geneva Bern area (GGBa). The investment promotion agency brings together the seven cantons to provide support to foreign companies allowing them to get established quickly and develop their activities in Western Switzerland.  Since its creation in 2010, the GGBa has guided hundreds of companies from around the world in launching their activities in the region.

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