Swiss ‘Health Valley’ gets even healthier

Campus Biotech in Geneva - a symbol of how attractive French-speaking Switzerland is for life science firms Keystone

ADC Therapeutics, a Vaud-based start-up that specialises in cutting-edge cancer drugs, has raised almost CHF200 million ($200 million) in private funds. The record sum - it’s the highest for two years - shows the vitality of the Swiss “Health Valley”.

This content was published on October 25, 2017 - 11:37

The announcementExternal link, published on Monday, made waves in French-speaking Switzerland. It is the largest amount of private funding in the field of biotechnology in Europe since 2015. And it is not the first for ADCT: since it was founded in 2012, it has raised CHF455 million in funding.

The proceeds will be used to progress the development of two medications, ADCT-301 and ADCT-402, which are currently in the test phase, the company said. Both are currently in four clinical studies in important sub-types of lymphoma and leukemia.

“These two medications that we are testing are very effective for those patients who have run out of other options,” Chris Martin, CEO of ADCTExternal link told Swiss public television RTSExternal link. The company is currently developing eight medications which should each generate more than $1 billion a year.

Research abroad

But some experts have played down what at first glance seems a spectacular amount. “The sums in question are standard for biotech,” said Jordi Montserrat, co-director of Venture Kick and in charge of Venturelab for French-speaking Switzerland.

Montserrat said he regretted that the announcement didn’t come from a company that carried out its research in Switzerland. ADCT’s labs are based in Britain and the United States.

ADCT’s Swiss operations include the management, as well as the legal and financial services. Around 30 new jobs, including some in canton Vaud, should be created as a result of the funding announcement.

Health Valley

“This move reinforces Switzerland as a leading scientific hub in the fight against cancer,” said the 24 Heures newspaper in its Tuesday edition. And, “the success of ADC Therapeutics and other, similar, companies can be seen in the wider context of the huge investments made in the region around Lausanne and Geneva, both private and public”.

The number of biotech and medical technology firms in western Switzerland has boomed to such an extent that the region has been named “Health Valley”, with a nod to Silicon Valley for tech in California.

The region is home to almost 1,000 life sciences companies, from start-ups to multinationals like Baxter, Debiopharm and UCB Farchim, as well as 20 research centres and institutes of higher education. It employs 25,000 people and is considered among the three most important centres for the sector in Europe, along with Cambridge and Oxford in Britain.

Favourable ecosystem

But the success has been a long time coming. In 2012 the closure of the Merck Serono site in Geneva resulted in the loss of 1,250 jobs and caused shock waves in the Lake Geneva region. The opening of the Campus Biotech on the former Merck Serono site did however mitigate some of the upset caused by the departure of the German company.

The events however served as a wakeup call and were a reminder that the development boom of the last years remained fragile. “These [biotech] firms are very mobile. If the conditions become unfavourable, they can move location very quickly,” explained Benoît Dubuis, director of Campus Biotech in Geneva.

Health Valley plays a key role in convincing biotech companies to come to Switzerland. “These companies understand the benefits of being integrated into this ecosystem,” Dubuis said.

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