Life sciences are one of the hidden powerhouses in the economic area of Zurich. With 10,000 directly employed, a gross contribution to economic output of 2.9 billion Swiss francs and average growth of 5.6 per cent between 2006 and 2016, it has become an essential engine of the economy, said Dr René Buholzer at an event hosted by the Zurich Chamber of Commerce. The growth of this location therefore outstrips that of Boston or the Bay Area in the USA. “The life sciences cluster of Zurich-Zug-Lucerne is an impressive success story,” said the CEO of Interpharma, the association of research-based pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland.
The traditionally very strong position of the region in medtech provided a foundation on which this cluster could thrive. Today, 70 per cent of those working for life sciences companies in the region are still employed in the medtech sector. The area is also strong in biotechnology.
Dr Buholzer attributes the strength of this cluster to the quality of the universities and research facilities in the region. According to BAK Economics, nowhere else in the world but the Boston region performs better. The unbureaucratic access to specialised professionals and unbureaucratic exports are also a key factor. Further strengths include a competitive tax system, global connections through Zurich Airport and a healthcare system that is open to innovation.
The success stories include Covagen, a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) which is improving the therapeutic effect of antibodies. It was formed in 2007 with two employees, 1.25 million francs and the backing of the Novartis Venture Fund. In the space of seven years, the company has grown to 35 employees and – until it was taken over by Johnson & Johnson in 2014 – had secured investment of 41 million francs. Covagen has benefited from the proximity to Zurich’s universities, the Venture Business Plan Competition and the availability of laboratory space in the Bio-Technopark Schlieren-Zurich.