While the Swiss biotech sector has been involved in fighting COVID-19 (Humabs BioMed/Vir Biotechnology and Molecular Partners/Novartis partnerships on COVID-19 therapeutics, for example), the vast majority of R&D investment last year was directed to other indications, notes the Swiss Biotech Report 2022, published by the Swiss Biotech Association.
These included immune-oncology and neurology or emerging fields such as the microbiome and cell-based regeneration; as well as data-driven business models to enable the development of digital therapeutics and personalized medicine.
Meanwhile, the number of employees in Swiss R&D biotech companies leapt up by nearly 10% in 2021, notes the report.
Furthermore, the 2021 figures illustrate that R&D is translating into successful commercialized products. Swissmedic, the Swiss agency for therapeutic products, approved 45 new drugs in 2021, up from 42 approvals in 2020. And the Swiss biotech sector claims three new FDA-approved drugs as ‘originated in Switzerland’: ADC Therapeutics’ Zynlonta, Adumhelm from Biogen/Neurimmune, as well as Ponvory from J&J/Actelion/Idorsia.
Capital investment, M&A and revenue rises
With a total of CHF 3.33bn raised in capital investments, 2021 represents the second-best year in terms of financing for the Swiss biotech sector.
In total, CHF 2.51bn were invested in public companies, including SOPHiA Genetics with CHF 234M (IPO & follow on), Bachem (CHF 584M), Idorsia (CHF 600M), CRISPR Therapeutics (CHF 229M) and Polypeptide (CHF 191M). The largest portion of the private capital (which in total amounted to CHF 817M) was raised by Anaveon (CHF 110M) and Numab Therapeutics (CHF 100M).
2021 saw Swiss companies involved in a number of M&A transactions as well as collaboration and license agreements.
Several Swiss biotech companies were acquired in 2021: notably Mestex was acquired by Grünenthal Pharma; Novartis acquired Cellerys and Inositec was acquired by Vifor Pharma, which itself was later acquired by Australia headquartered CSL Behring (with a strong footprint in Switzerland).
In the area of collaborations and licensing arrangements, the most prominent was the collaboration between Lonza and the US biotech Moderna for large-scale production of mRNA-based Covid vaccines in Visp.
The Swiss biotech industry generated revenues of CHF 6.7bn, compared to CHF 4.9B in 2020. This was mainly driven by an increase in product sales, favorable one-time events from collaboration and licensing deals, as well as a 'general positive advancement of the product pipeline' and resulting regulatory approvals.
“Last year, we expressed some caution that the COVID pandemic might take its toll and that the Swiss inclination not to intervene in the free market, and to avoid providing direct government support for venture-based startups and small/mid-sized R&D companies, could backfire and weaken the innovative power of Switzerland,” commented Michael Altorfer, CEO, Swiss Biotech Association.
“However, record levels of financing in 2020 and 2021 suggest that not only Swiss, but global biotech investors continue to recognize the attractiveness of investment opportunities on offer.
“Sustaining innovation and growth, therefore, has to continue to be a key priority. I am pleased to see that in response Switzerland is continuing to prioritize attracting top talent and is also further expanding international collaborations. The flourishing start-up scene should also receive a further boost from the new Sparks capital markets segment, recently launched by SIX Swiss Exchange, which offers a cost-effective listing option facilitating access to global capital markets. New bilateral agreements, e.g. with Indonesia, support the extension of its global network, and Switzerland is also seeking to re-establish its full association with Horizon Europe”.