Zurich holds all the biotechnology aces
The greater Zurich region is well on its way to becoming an important centre for the global biotechnology sector. “Once you reach a critical mass that the companies want to be there, then it grows rapidly,” said Professor Dr Roger Nitsch at the General Meeting of the Zurich Chamber of Commerce. “This is true for Schlieren,” added the director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Zurich and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Schlieren-based biotech company Neurimmune. This is also evidenced by the new Roche tower at the Bio-Technopark Schlieren-Zurich. “The old Wagi site has become an unrivalled biotechnology hub today.”
Biotechnology is different from other sectors in a few key areas, explains Nitsch. It has long development cycles from 10 to 15 years, up to 95 per cent of developments fail, and the investment costs are very high at CHF 1 billion to 1.5 billion. The sector therefore needs the best and the brightest with a great deal of creativity and a willingness to take risks. It also needs outstanding infrastructure, long-term financing and good overall conditions. All of which Zurich has, says Nitsch. The Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich is strong in biotechnology, and the University of Zurich has 325 professors in life sciences alone, not to mention the University Hospital Zurich with its 44 clinics and specialised facilities such as the Cancer Center Zurich. The university and the hospital are also present in the Bio-Technopark Schlieren-Zurich with institutes, research groups and spin-offs.
Neurimmune itself is working on aducanumab, an antibody for preventing Alzheimer’s. It works by triggering the destruction of the toxic protein clumps responsible for causing Alzheimer’s. Clinical trials are set to conclude in 2020, and if Neurimmune is successful, dementia could be prevented. The American magazine Foreign Policy included Nitsch in its ‘leading global thinkers of 2016’ list.