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report Precision Medicine

“Momentum for blockchain in healthcare is growing in Basel”

03.12.2018

Marco Cuomo and Daniel Fritz from Novartis got engaged in blockchain two years ago. Today, their aim is set high: With other pharma companies under the Innovative Medicines Initiative, they formed a “Blockchain Enabled Healthcare” program, due to kick off in 2019. The program that they presented at the Blockchain Leadership Summit in Basel – Switzerland’s largest conference in this field - wants no less than to define how blockchain is applied in healthcare.

BaselArea.swiss: You both work for Novartis that is known for pharmaceutical products but not for technology. How come you started to explore the possibilities of Blockchain in the first place?

Marco Cuomo: We got curious about blockchain and wanted to know which problems we can solve with the technology. A handful of interested people had an informal meeting, we formed a group and basically got to the essence of blockchain. That started two years ago.

What did you find?

Marco Cuomo: First of all we found use cases to learn more about it. This is how the supply chain got on our radar because Blockchain is applicable to tracking and tracing. We involved Dan who is our Supply Chain Domain Architect to build a supply chain from the manufacturer to the pharmacy with LEGO robots…

Daniel Fritz: …where we integrated IoT sensors for temperature and humidity as well as a counterfeit product check. We learned for ourselves about the power of blockchain and what is possible.

Marco Cuomo: Our LEGO demo clearly helped to illustrate our point internally as well as externally. We also quickly realized that other pharmaceutical companies must have the same discussions. So we brought other companies to the table.

Why did you not just develop something on your own?

Marco Cuomo: Of course, you can have for example your own cryptocurrency – and then what? To exchange it, you need other parties who use the same cryptocurrency as you do. No, blockchain is not just a new technology that you learn, implement and benefit from. The key feature is to transfer something valuable from one party to the next. Take the supply chain of pharmaceutical products that involves the manufacturer, the distribution center, wholesale, pharmacy, doctor and hospital. Here, blockchain starts to make sense. 

How so?

Marco Cuomo: With blockchain, you do not have to change any supply management system on your side. Instead, you create a kind of common ground. You do not need an intermediate as blockchain is taking that role. We tend to say that it is a team sport because everybody has to play by the same rules.

What is in it for the life sciences industry?

Daniel Fritz: When we show and explain what blockchain is about, we not only cover the basics. Instead, we also look on what we could potentially design as a solution to build upon the regulatory framework. People think, wait, we can even go beyond the law and uncover some business value. I think most people can quickly see that blockchain offers many benefits over the existing technologies that we have in place.

Marco Cuomo: What is in it is efficiency which comes down to saving money, be faster and more secure. Electronic records can be transparently shown in the blockchain. If something fails in the cool chain, everybody can see what happens immediately. Now you wait till a product arrives at the target to then find out that it is flawed and finally start the process for a resend. With blockchain the flawed product never even has to leave the manufacturer.

Daniel Fritz: With other supply chains it is similar. People want to buy organic food – how do you know it is bio? With blockchain, we can guarantee the provenance of a product and remove or reduce counterfeits from the supply chain. This benefits the industry and the patients.

Marco Cuomo: Speaking of patients: It is the holy grail to bring patients in control of their data. Today the data sits in the different silos, with the hospitals, with physicians for example. With the blockchain, we think there is the potential to open that up so that patients can decide who sees my data.

Where do you see other advantages of Blockchain based healthcare?

Marco Cuomo: Our CEO Vas Narasimhan has the vision to create a medicine based on data only, from real world evidence. Blockchain can help to track and trace the data to guarantee its proper provenance. Another opportunity are data marketplaces where you can offer your data to pharmaceutical companies and researchers. Blockchain could help with that. Where normally it would take time to build up the trust for such an exchange of very sensible and valuable data, there is no need for that with blockchain. Novartis hopes that we can use this data to create new medicine in the future. We are also looking into third party risk management.
How can we make sure that our suppliers comply to our labor and safety rules? Why should we have the same audit ten times a year instead of once? Why should these assessments not be owned by the supplier – if we are guaranteed that the supplier is not manipulating them?

You started two years ago as a small group. Where are you now?

Marco Cuomo: We realized that we need to define certain standards to lay the infrastructural ground for Blockchain in healthcare. That is why we submitted the project “Blockchain enabled healthcare” with the Innovative Medicine Initiative where Novartis is already heavily engaged with more than 100 projects. We convinced eight other companies to join: J&J, Bayer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, UCB, Pfizer, Novo Nordisk, and AbbVie are part of it. The money comes half from the industry, the other half is from the EU, in total 18 million Euro for three years. Applications for the consortium that should include hospitals, labs, patients, SME and universities to work with us closed in October. After that, we will form a project together and start with it late next year.

What is blockchain enabled healthcare about?

Marco Cuomo: The main goal is to define standards to create a governance body that will last longer than the project itself. Like the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium that is defining technical standards of the web, we hope to be the same for Blockchain in healthcare. Take the internet – it also needed someone who defined some standards so everyone could build on that. The same will happen here, hopefully. Imagine if Novartis was to implement their own blockchain and has to convince thousands of suppliers to use it. If the next company does the same, end-to-end product tracking becomes impossible for the parties involved. Why should doctors use our system or the other one? Also, the patient journey does not only include pills from Novartis. You need a standard.

How easy was it to convince the other companies to come on board?

Daniel Fritz: Some of the companies we asked jumped on board immediately. Others needed to understand our vision in more detail. So we had a lot of talks which were very positive as we were able to establish a high level of trust and collaboration within the consortium, which is really what blockchain is about.

In which ways did it help to be in Basel to start this journey?

Marco Cuomo: It started here and Novartis is leading it. All the companies and the academia we talked to form the initial approach to the program are close. It also helps to have a CEO who strongly supports digital initiatives and a CDO who sees the potential.

Daniel Fritz: Momentum for blockchain in healthcare is growing in Basel, in Novartis, and globally. It will benefit patients and the industry, but we have a lot of hard work in the consortium and with public partners to get there.

About

Marco Cuomo is Manager of Applied Technology Innovation and a Senior Digital Solutions Architect with Novartis. He started with Novartis in 2005 as a Business Informatics Engineer and gained a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

Daniel Fritz works as the Supply Chain Domain Architect at Novartis. Before that he was an engineer officer with the US Army and a Materials Manager. He studied at the US Military Academy at West Point and gained a Master of Business Administration from Duke University.

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Expats like Basel best

23.11.2018

Expats find Basel to be the best city in Switzerland, according to a study published by InterNations. Six Swiss cities were analyzed as part of its latest Expat City Ranking.

Basel, Zug, Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich and Bern are among the 72 cities around the world analyzed in the Expat Insider City Ranking 2018, published by InterNations. The expat organization also interviewed over 18,000 expats to produce its latest ranking.

Among the six Swiss cities, Basel was ranked the most popular by expats, coming 22nd in the overall ranking. Zug was the second most popular Swiss city, coming in 23rd, while Lausanne (44), Geneva (56), Zurich (57) and Bern (61) all placed in the lower half of the ranking.

Tapei came in first place overall, followed by Singapore, Manama, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Aachen was the highest ranked European city coming in seventh, while Rome, Jeddah and Riyadh were the three lowest ranked cities.   

According to an article by swissinfo, Basel scored particularly well among expats for its economic climate, coming in fifth place in this category. The city on the Rhine came in 10th for quality of life, with expats praising its transport system, and 28th for personal finances and housing. In contrast, 32 per cent said they do not feel at home (compared with 23 per cent worldwide), and 54 per cent said that it is difficult to forge new friendships (compared with 34 per cent worldwide).

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Roivant raised USD 200 million, now valued at USD 7 billion

14.11.2018

The Basel-based pharmaceutical company Roivant Sciences has raised USD 200 million in a funding round. As a result, the company is now valued at an estimated USD 7 billion.

Roivant Sciences reported in a press release that all existing institutional shareholders participated in the latest funding round. The Basel pharma company also attracted a number of new investors, including NovaQuest Capital Management and RTW Investments. These new investors made up the majority of this latest funding drive, in which Roivant raised USD 200 million. The round has not yet finished and is only expected to close in early December. According to the press release, this latest financing puts the value of Roivant Sciences at approximately USD 7 billion.

Since the previous Roivant funding round last year, the number of therapies in development has grown from 14 to 34 and the company has increased its subsidiary “Vants” from six to 14. There has also been growth in employee numbers across Roivant and the Vants, from under 350 to more than 750. In addition, the Roivant subsidiary Enzyvant initiated a biologics licence application for a regenerative therapy to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

For 2019, the company anticipates topline data from six Phase 3 clinical trials. Roivant Health also intends to launch new Vants next year. This subsidiary was founded in June to develop companies that bring innovative medicines to emerging markets and improve the process of developing and commercialising new medicines through the application of technology. Sales are also expected to grow for Datavant, founded in autumn 2017 as a subsidiary that uses artificial intelligence in data analysis to improve the clinical trial process and accelerate drug development.

Roivant Sciences and its subsidiaries are supported by BaselArea.swiss as they establish themselves in Basel.

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report Production Technologies

Three entrepreneurs, three visions of Industry 4.0

05.11.2018

BaselArea.swiss invited startups and Industry 4.0 projects to participate in the first Industry 4.0 Challenge. A jury from the industry chose three finalists: Philippe Kapfer with NextDay.Vision, Roy Chikballapur with MachIQ and Dominik Trost with holo|one. Learn more about their contributions and visions in the interview. You can meet the entrepreneurs at the Salon Industries du Futur Mulhouse on 20 and 21 November 2018.

BaselArea.swiss: Which problem does your company aim to solve?

Dominik Trost, holo|one: In general, our solutions utilise Augmented Reality to quickly bring know-how to where it is needed. This translates to offering intuitive means of maintenance support, such as holographic checklists or reporting tools, as well as AR enhanced remote assistance for companies to provide electronic information to sites around the globe, alongside common audiovisual calls. We also use holograms and animations as storytelling tools, and are developing an app entirely dedicated to design and presentation purposes. Most of all, we believe in keeping things simple: Our apps concentrate on a core set of powerful features and can all be managed through our browser-based management portal. People should be able to use our apps with as little effort as possible.

Roy Chikballapur, MachIQ: We help machine builders and manufacturers to gain equipment and asset performance. To that end, MachIQ provides a software for machine builders to simplify customer support and to monitor their machines, hence reducing unplanned outages for their customers. For manufacturers, MachIQ created a software that helps with predictive support and that combines useful functions for plant managers, controllers and the maintenance team alike. In short: We bring machines to life.

Philippe Kapfer, NextDay.Vision: We simplify communication between machine manufacturers and their customers and makes them safer. Normally, connections between two contacts are insecure and vulnerable because one or even both sides have to open the connection. This makes them vulnerable. Also, you usually need to interrupt the workflow to validate a partner. Our API is designed to help companies create integrated software. For example, a company can update its machine remotely and integrate the validation workflow directly on the customer side. The customer just logs on to his smartphone. He does so by signing in by hand. Afterwards, the manufacturer can update the machine from a distance. This leads to a traceable and rule-compliant process.

When and why did you found your company?

Philippe Kapfer: NextDay.Vision has been around since mid-2017. Before that, I wrote a book on the security of computer systems as part of my master's thesis, showing how Windows can be hacked – corporate computer systems are easily attackable from the inside. For fear of such attacks, many companies do not use the cloud, for example, and try to keep their systems closed. In discussions with machine manufacturers and their customers, I realized that there is a lack of solutions for this. In the course of digitalization, the question naturally arises as to how we can make connections secure. My company provides answers to that question.

Roy Chikballapur: When I was with Schneider Electric in Paris, I helped to digitalize industrial offers for different companies. However, by talking to the machine builders and manufacturers I learned that they struggled with much more basic problems. One of these fundamental problems is customer support – it simply takes too much time to look up customer and serial numbers and to fix stuff. All the while, the machine is not producing anything and only generates losses for the respective company. I had the idea for my company in 2014, in 2016 I launched MachIQ.

Dominik Trost: It all began with the presentation of the Microsoft HoloLens: We saw the presentation live and knew that AR will be a big thing using head-mounted devices. Soon we got the first device and had lots of workshops with companies from different areas of business. We immediately realized the benefits of this technology and companies saw their AR use cases too. After assessing the market potential in Switzerland, we founded our company just at the end of that year, first concentrating on individual showcases. We soon realized that a standardized approach better satisfies corporate needs, but there was still a lot of work to do: This year, we almost exclusively worked on developing ‘sphere’, our new AR platform that will be released at the end of November.

How did you learn about the i4 Challenge and why did you apply?

Dominik Trost: Markus Ettin, industry 4.0 and automatization manager at Bell Food Group, suggested that we might be a good fit for the i4.0 Challenge and motivated us to look deeper into it. Though having an international outlook, we found it important to strengthen the regional awareness for our technology as well, so we took our chances…

Philippe Kapfer: For me, the Challenge was like another litmus test. I wanted to know how our solution was received. In the Industry 4.0 Challenge, I had the opportunity to have my project reconfirmed by industry experts. At the same time, the jury acknowledged that we were actually bringing something new to industry.

Roy Chikballapur: We were in touch with the BaselArea.swiss team thanks to their support in us relocating from the Canton of Vaud to Basel-Stadt. Sebastien Meunier, who was responsible for the initiative posted about the i4 Challenge on LinkedIn and this is how we found out about it. I believe that the discussions on BaselArea’s LinkedIn community are very relevant to what’s happening in the Industry 4.0 sector and this is what motivated us to apply.

What does the term “Industry 4.0” mean to you and why do you consider the topic significant?

Dominik Trost: To us, industry 4.0 is the logical evolution of industry with the tools and technologies that are available or being developed. Like the ‘4.0’ epithet already suggests, we think that it is the industrial revolution of our generation, adding immense amounts of productivity, safety, and interconnectivity. It is therefore obvious to us that industry 4.0 will remain the hot topic over the following decade, and now is the ideal time to get on board.

Philippe Kapfer: I believe that "Industry 4.0" is often used to sell a new product or service. Often the technology was there before and is merely used differently under the title Industry 4.0. For me, that label first and foremost means that the industry is evolving.

Roy Chikballapur: I think there is more to the phrase. I agree that a lot of focus today seems to be on the technologies that enable the digitalization of processes, the generation of useful data and the algorithms that many expect will replace human beings in several functions on the shop floor. At Machiq however, we focus on the business model transformations that these technologies will bring about when they are deployed at scale and we find few companies are preparing themselves for this.

Here is an example: Most machine builders consider the sale of spare parts and the delivery of maintenance and repair services as their “Services Business”. However, their customers are actually buying the experience of zero unplanned outages. With the improved ability to connect machines and to analyze performance data in real time, outages can now be prevented.
However, in doing so, machine builders will likely reduce their spare parts revenue. Are they ready for this? Not as long as they stick to current business models. But what if they offered a “Netflix of spare parts and services”-contract where the customer instead buys uptime.

What if a yoghurt producer could pay his equipment supplier based on the number of pots of yoghurt produced per month? This would force a shift from a capital expenditure-heavy model to an operational expenditure-based model, even in the machinery industry. The Industry 4.0 model will force suppliers to collaborate with customers and competitors to collaborate with peers. It is our task to accompany all parties to take this transformative journey in a step-by-step manner that does not disrupt the current business models unnecessarily.

Where do you see the development in the region?

Roy Chikballapur: We settled in Basel primarily because of its location at the heart of the machine building industry in Europe. In a 300 km radius we have the largest concentration of leading machine building companies in every important industry. What was also a key attraction was the Canton's focus on Industry 4.0. While there are many startup hubs across Europe, they tend to focus on more “sexy” topics like Fintech, Blockchain and AI. Personally, I hope that the region instead takes up something that is more concrete and “real” as its focus area, capitalizing on its strength as a life sciences hub but also as a center of industry and logistics. We would like to see more collaboration among Industry 4.0 startups to integrate each of our products to develop more comprehensive offers for our customer base. We would also like to increase our collaboration with larger industrial companies in the region. I am certain that such a focus on the i4 theme will accelerate innovation and position Basel as a hub for Industry 4.0.

Dominik Trost: As a software company with a standardized product, our outlook is not as much regional, but rather national or defined by language barriers. Looking at the state of AR in Switzerland and Germany, there are indeed more pockets of development here than in other places, mostly in the form of individual startups and university programs. However, AR is still generally viewed as an experimental technology, despite applications being proven viable and beneficial. There is nowhere near as much drive and competition as in the US or East Asia – both a chance and a ticking clock for us.

What are your plans for your company?

Philippe Kapfer: We currently have customers mainly in the Jura and in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland. In addition to our products, I also offer training and audits on information security systems. In the future, I want to put even more capacity into development. We are targeting both the national and international markets with our security software and API. The cybersecurity market is growing by ten percent annually, but not enough people can respond to this development. NextDay.Vision provides the software that satisfies a need and makes it easier for companies to meet high security standards. We want to anchor cybersecurity in the mindset of the industry. This includes enabling connections between customers and manufacturers without sacrificing data security. We are confident that we will continue to grow with our product and vision.

Dominik Trost: At this point, almost anything is possible. We are actively building up our network of distributors and are also looking across the borders, already promoting our solutions in Germany and exploring our options in other countries. It is very likely for foreign competition to enter the European market, which makes it important for us to act quickly and decisively. We have, however, built a competent team and are very confident in the quality our products, so we are looking forward to what the future holds.

Roy Chikballapur: MachIQ has positioned itself as a neutral, brand agnostic player offering software products that connect machine builders and their industrial end-user customers for asset performance management. Machiq’s software creates the dynamics of a “data cooperative” for Industry 4.0. Common data benefits everyone on the system, but is managed securely so that it does not compromise the relationships that companies have built with their suppliers and customers or the competitive dynamics between business peers. Our vision is to become the “Business Operating System” of the Industry 4.0-enabled world. While many companies aren’t thinking about it, the moment we present our vision to them, they immediately get us and they get what we are trying to do. We are experiencing strong growth in our customer base. Consequentially, we are focusing on hiring the right talent and growing the team fast enough right now.

Text: Annett Altvater

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"I Was Always One of Few Women in the Industry"

27.09.2018

SOLO Swiss in Porrentruy in the canton of Jura has been making industrial furnaces for heat-treating metals since 1924. The family company with a global presence is developing against the backdrop of Industry 4.0 and is struggling to find the qualified workforce which is indispensable for what it does amid the effects of the strong franc and what are sometimes restrictive administrative regulations. Interview with Anne-Sophie Spérison, President and CEO.

BaselArea.swiss: I imagine that Industry 4.0 is a key area of development for you?

Anne-Sophie Spérisen: Absolutely. Industry 4.0 is understood as the collection of all the data available on a machine to convert them into information or “impetus” for other factors included in the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, for example. It is also about loading and downloading information on preventive or corrective maintenance for a machine. In practice, alerts are triggered if a turbine is gradually approaching the end of its run. This can also be management data which is sent to the control cockpit.

Is there major potential in terms of Industry 4.0 in your company? 

Yes. On our kinds of machines, all the information on each of them could potentially be sent further down the line. Industry 4.0 could also be very useful for maintenance. For example, it would be conceivable to provide our customers with connected glasses so that our technicians could provide instructions from Switzerland while the customer sits in front of their machine in Shanghai, so they can fix the machine themselves. Our objective is to ensure that Industry 4.0 is a real bonus not only for the customer, but also for production, maintenance, monitoring, machine productivity and the management cockpit.

There is sometimes a tendency to bundle everything in with Industry 4.0. But what is it really all about?

It is the extraction and processing of data in a previously unprecedented manner. In Industry 4.0, we are attempting to link new technologies and new processes with exactly this Industry 4.0. At the end of the day, it is almost a question of creating new products and services. That is why we have had an engineer dedicated to this project for two years now, although he is not the only one dealing with it. He needs to have a perfect command of information systems, data processing and emerging technologies (receivers, sensors) – as well as the associated possibilities these offer, since they are evolving all the time. 

What about maintenance?

For us, this is a key issue. In this area, we offer our customers private Internet portals. They can connect remotely from their machines and monitor their production online. We can install sensors all over the machines. They generate relevant information which can then be retransmitted in a form which is coherent, intelligent and comprehensible to the customer as a function of their requirements. Effectively, we need to make all the information available to the customer in the form they want it. For example, a complete log of all maintenance on their furnace.

Still on the subject of Industry 4.0, are you able to find the necessary skills in Jura?

It is not easy. There is a lack of schools providing training. We are primarily looking for IT specialists, specifically specialists in Industry 4.0, but they also need to understand the technology. We need both IT experts and mechanical and electrical engineers. The region here is a centre for micro-technology, which does not tie in with our area of activity.

The future of SOLO lies in…

...perfect mastery of the furnace process, i.e. everything that happens inside the furnace and controls the machine. The customer demands pieces which are perfect after treatment with no reprocessing necessary and a guarantee that they will meet the ever more demanding quality standards of the automotive (CQi9) or aerospace (AMS 2750) industries. The complexity of the parts to be processed, new alloys, new production techniques for metal parts (3D printing), this is our future. It is all about having perfect control of the thermo-chemical processes of our machines. Essentially, it is metallurgy which is controlled by computers.

Will you be able to continue production in Switzerland?

It is a challenge, because we only sell 20% of our machines in Switzerland and we export the rest all over the world because our machines are aimed at niche industries. Added to this is the issue of the strong franc and the problems in finding qualified engineers in Jura, especially as the employment market is so robust. It is a real challenge for us. There is also the difficulty posed by the myriad of standards and regulations, which are coming increasingly complex and onerous at an administrative level. At the same time, however, it is an opportunity for us, as it protects us from competition from low-cost countries who cannot comply with the new and increasingly demanding standards. But remaining competitive at a pricing level is very difficult. That said, the new technologies fortunately give us an opportunity to improve our competitiveness even further.

Are you optimistic?

Yes, I am by nature, even when it’s a daily battle. There are so many parameters which can change very quickly. Luckily, the markets are currently stable, we are seeing good levels of growth from the majority of markets in Europe, Russia and Asia, and we have a range of quality products which are tailored to our niche markets. We also have a fantastic team we can rely on and have some new technical developments in the pipeline. 

What can you say about the Chinese market?

When we started back in the 70s and 80s, we sold furnaces to Chinese purchasing centres. And we also worked with representatives over there. In the 2000s, we entered into a partnership with a local company. Currently, we are working with a production unit in Canton with around one hundred employees. It is a company run by a family who have become our friends. It was necessary, even critical to produce locally for the Chinese market, especially in order to respond to invitations to tender from government companies.

How would you describe the effect of having a woman in charge of the company?

It does not pose any problems personally. I am very much at ease with it. Some people I speak to are put off-balance because a woman is perhaps more direct than a man. We dare to ask questions, we are more stubborn. I grew up being the only girl or one of the few women: there are very few in industry, which I think is regrettable. There are no differences in management styles between men and women. It is more a question of character and sensitivity.

www.solo.swiss

Interview: Didier Walzer

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“Our business is the most beautiful business in the world”

04.09.2018

Giacomo di Nepi has a successful history: A high level executive in big corporations, he transitioned towards biotech, currently as CEO of Polyphor, which, in May 2018, he led to the IPO. We spoke to Giacomo about serving patients, the timing for an IPO and the people needed in a biotech.

BaselArea.swiss: What do you check first these days – your emails or the stock market?

Giacomo di Nepi: Emails and meetings are still more important on a daily basis. Of course I check the stock market but the volatility is such that I stopped to try to interpret the market in the short term. But of course I look at it in its development and my commitment is clear to have the stock appreciating and increasing the value delivered to the shareholders who put their trust and investment in our ideas, technology and team.

You served in big corporations such as McKinsey and Novartis. What made you join a startup like Polyphor?

Sure, I come from multinationals, but I worked elsewhere, too. My last job was with InterMune, a Californian biotech. I started the operations in Europe from zero, from my home. If the weather was nice, we moved our meetings from the dining room into the garden. This grew into an operation of 200 people, bringing the drug to the patients affected by idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. With a startup, you have the possibility of looking at all the dimensions of a company from a much broader perspective. Therefore, Polyphor was attractive for me, but there were other reasons, too.

Such as…?

… the dramatically fantastic science which certainly is one of the fundamentals. Polyphor is a company that has discovered the first new class of antibiotics against Gram-negative bacteria in the last 50 years. This is radical innovation. Antimicrobial resistance is becoming a huge problem. You have patients that get an infection, then are treated with 20 different drugs and they die nevertheless. This is unacceptable. Pneumonia from Pseudomonas aeruginosa today has a mortality rate of 30 to 40 percent. Also, when a woman has metastatic breast cancer and is in her third line of chemotherapy,  she has very few therapeutic options and her prognosis is devastating. We want to save lives and give more time to patients. This is what for me makes our business the most beautiful business in the world. It is heartbreaking to see these patients.

So you meet with patients?

Sure. Lately, I brought a patient to Polyphor: A fantastic woman with colonization of Pseudomonas took part in the earlier trials. She has great courage and a willingness to fight for life that is really moving and inspiring for all of us. She talked about her experience because I believe that everybody should have a touch of feeling of what we are trying to achieve, such as people not directly involved in development, for example working in units such as in accounting who normally only see the invoices for the trial.

Polyphor underwent a transformation from research to R&D focused biopharma company in the last couple of years. How did the organization digest the change?

When you move from one stage to the next stage, you raise the bar because in development, projects are multi-year, complex projects with big expenditure. It really changes the mindset. Personally, I like change. I am not interested in doing administration. And this particular change was necessary. This being said, we still have a big research operation focused on antibiotics and immuno-oncology, that we want to keep to find and build excellent compounds.

Basel seems to have become a hotspot for antibiotics recently.

Antibiotics have been disregarded by many large companies. But it is like in the Pascal law: if there is an empty space, something will fill it. Smaller, entrepreneurial companies are now taking the lead worldwide – and Basel is one of the key spots. Clearly, we have a very strong science base in Basel. If you want to do R&D, Basel is the best place to do it, in my opinion. And, I would not be surprised if large companies will be back….

Polyphor listed on SIX Swiss Exchange in May 2018 and raised 165 million Swiss francs. Why was an IPO the right option for Polyphor?

If you are lucky, you find a biotech with one product that is one step away from the market. We have two products that are one step away from the market: Our antibiotic Murepavadin has entered phase III while we negotiated a program with the FDA to bring our immune-oncology drug Balixafortide to the market with only one pivotal study. That puts us in a unique position. However, these studies required a lof of capital. Thanks to going public, we have the resources to develop our products and, when successful, bring them to the patients who need them. The IPO was a necessary tool given the stage of the company.

Which conditions had to be met for the IPO?

An IPO is an interesting exercise. It’s a bit like undergoing a complete physical examination. The investors don’t know the company, yet we want them to support our ideas, our vision and our team. That means they need to trust us. To gain that trust you have to be completely transparent and explain in every detail what the company is about, what the opportunities and risks are. In the end, the results were fantastic because we’ve been the largest biotech IPO in Switzerland within the last ten years. And, we’ve been one of the top 3 in Europe in the last three years.

How influential was the timing?

Timing is important, but it is not determining. The first quarter of 2018 was very good for IPOs but the second quarter was not stellar. A dozen IPOs were pulled during that period. It may happen that you have a valid IPO but don’t do it because the timing is wrong. However, you never have a non-valid IPO that you do because the timing is right.

Which reactions did you get towards Polyphor’s IPO?

Internally, we are super happy that we can work towards bringing our drugs to the patients. At the same time, we are very conscious of the responsibility and very committed. Externally, our IPO is a demonstration of the capability Switzerland and particularly the Basel area have in pharmaceuticals. The IPO was a moment of visibility, of public recognition. In a way, an IPO shows how investment-intensive this business is. I hope it’s a good sign for the whole industry that we are capable of starting new companies, making them flourish and bringing new therapies to the patients.

Why did you choose the Swiss Exchange?

We already had quite a large shareholder base in Switzerland, so it was natural to go to the Swiss stock market. We were a known entity. Switzerland is a fantastic market, I am happy with the choice. In fact, I wonder why it is not chosen more often. There are available funds, there are investors that are familiar with pharmaceuticals and that are willing to take the risk.

What are the plans for Polyphor for the next couple of years?

Our vision is clear: We want to become a leader in antibiotics and help fighting and reducing the threat that comes from multi drug resistant pathogens. At the same time we want to advance a new class of immune oncology drugs. We are developing third line therapies for metastatic breast cancer. The women affected by this have very few therapeutic options. However, we believe that the potential of the drug can go beyond this patient population, for example in earlier lines of breast cancer and to other combinations and indications. This would bring us to a much more competitive field.

How do you get there?

We have to make sure that we have the organization and the culture that allow us to perform our studies effectively. We want to make sure that the pieces of the organizational machinery are in the right order and that we have all the competences that we need.

What do you do to achieve this?

I recognize talent as one – if not the – key component of success for a company. Consequently, I dedicate a lot of effort and a lot of commitment to do this task. I interview candidates two or three times, I don’t mind. I also have them interviewed by their future colleagues. When I was at Novartis, I had fantastic experiences with the young high potential. Why? Because they have the brains and the capability. It doesn’t matter if they have little experience because the rest of the organization is stuffed with it. It is different in biotech where you absolutely depend on hiring people with relevant experience since no one else has it in the company.

And how about the cultural changes when transitioning from big pharma into a biotech?

Experience, however, is only part of the story. I met a lot of people who have experience – but are not able of making a photocopy and need three people reporting to them in order to be able to achieve anything. They are not good either. That is why I look for a sort of “schizophrenic profile”: In biotech you need people who have experience, capability and vision while at the same time they need to roll up their sleeves, be practical about their choices and do things on their own.

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth

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27.11.2018

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Polyphor wins Swiss Technology Award

26.11.2018

report Invest in Basel region

Basel pharma companies invest most in R&D

15.07.2018

The 24 Interpharma companies spent a total of 96 billion Swiss francs on research and development worldwide in 2017. Of this, 7 billion francs were invested in Switzerland. When compared with the sales they generated in Switzerland, the companies’ Swiss research investment was more than twice as high. According to the association, this is a testament to the great significance of Switzerland as a research location and the innovation taking place at these companies.

Investment in research and development has been especially high among companies that have their headquarters in Switzerland, such as Roche and Novartis.

Interpharma highlights the key role the pharma industry in the Swiss export sector plays. The association also notes that more than 86 patents were registered per million employees in pharmaceutical research in Switzerland between 2012 and 2016. This is more than double the number of Denmark and five times as many as in Germany.

Among the Interpharma members are companies such as Novartis, Roche, Pfizer, Astra Zeneca, Sanofi, Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer or GlaxoSmithKline.

Investments in the future

How committed the life science companies are to Basel is also reflected with regard to their planned investments which is as high as 6 billion Swiss francs. Roche, for instance, is in the process of renewing its Basel and Kaiseraugst sites. By 2023, the company with the long heritage in Basel will have invested 3 billion Swiss francs into their infrastructure. Some buildings are being modernized, while others are rebuilt completely. Bau 1, with 178 meters the tallest building in Switzerland, was opened in 2015 and cost 550 million Swiss Francs.

The remarkable tower that was designed by world-class architects Herzog & de Meuron from Basel provides workspace for approximately 2000 employees. Meanwhile, the big brother is under construction: Bau 2 will be 205 meters high and provide space for approximately 1700 employees. At the Kaiseraugst site, the group constructs an IT hub to gather all IT functions under one roof whilst taking the strategic role of technology and the growing numbers of IT employees into account. Roche will invest more than half a billion Swiss francs in Kaiseraugst.

More investments are under way in Basel:

The Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute invests 90 millions Swiss francs in their new building in Allschwil, providing 900 workspaces. The new building is due in late 2020.

The Biozentrum of the University of Basel constructs a site for students and researchers, spending 328 million Swiss francs. Further, the University builds a Life Sciences Campus, concentrating different disciplines in one location to foster collaboration. The Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering of the ETH is also part of the project.
The University Hospital of Basel will realize a new building by 2032, costing approximately 1,2 billion Swiss francs. In 2017, the hospital opened new state-of-the-art surgery facilities.

report Life Sciences

Santhera and Idorsia join forces

26.11.2018

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GETEC acquires Infrapark Baselland

20.11.2018

report Invest in Basel region

Basel has the biggest economic potential

13.07.2018

Basel has the biggest economic potential in Europe, according to a new study from BAK Economics. The city on the bend of the Rhine ranked particularly well for competitiveness, while Geneva and Zurich also came in the top five.

BAK Economics has published a study on the economic potential of the 65 most important cities and 181 regions in Europe. Its findings revealed that Switzerland’s cities and regions are among the best in the Economic Potential Index.

Basel scooped 116 points to take the top spot. A key factor in its success was its pole position for competitiveness with 124 points. For attractiveness, the city on the bend of the Rhine took third place with 109 points, and for economic performance it ranked equally high with 114 points.

Geneva followed in second place with 115 points among the cities with the highest economic potential. London took third with 113 points and Zurich fourth with 112 points. The city on the Limmat was also named the most attractive of all 65 cities studied.  

On a regional level, Basel was considered part of north-west Switzerland, which ranked fourth with 111 points. For competitiveness, it came second with 117 points, behind the Stockholm capital region with 122 points.

For best regions overall, Zurich was named third with 112 points behind London in second and Stockholm in first place. However, the Swiss regions have the greatest overall economic potential in Europe: the Lake Geneva region ranked sixth, Central Switzerland seventh, and Ticino eighth, with the Swiss regions occupying half of the top ten places.  

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University hospital fights multiresistant bacteria

16.11.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Baselland increases startup support

15.11.2018

report Life Sciences

"Processes Kill Innovation"

03.07.2018

The serial entrepreneur Neil Goldsmith is drawn to new ventures. We spoke to him about discovering talent suitable for start-ups and about his current involvement with BaseLaunch.

You have founded and led a number of companies over the last 30 years. How did you know that entrepreneurship was for you?

It was a complete coincidence. I was aiming for a PhD but an unexpected policy issue disrupted my plans and I wondered what I should do next. My first company worked in the area of applying game theory to the advertising business, but I soon realised that this did not entirely correspond to my interests. It was at this point that I came across a job offer in the Sunday Times: a consulting company was looking for someone to launch and advise new life sciences companies. One of these companies was located in Sweden, and they hired me later as a troubleshooter for business development. Afterwards, I was offered the role of CEO in a Danish diagnostics company which was soon sold to Roche – by which time I was 31. The investors in that company proceeded to ask me if I could become the CEO of two more of their portfolio ventures, and so it went from there, with my gradually becoming increasingly proactive in the actual creation of new ventures. You could say that I took the initiative, but it was actually my career which sort of found me.

You often participated in small companies that grew big. How did this transition influence the possibility to innovate?

In my understanding, innovation means that you see something others have not seen yet. This is far more likely in small companies. Big companies have to develop processes sooner or later – and processes kill innovation. You can always find exceptions, and there are possibilities to delay the effect of processes. Google, for example, pushed a lot of decision-making out to the guys at the front line to ensure innovation. But my belief is that the processes will always get you in the end.

What is the biggest difference between managing a private and a public company and where are you more at ease?

Switching from a private to a public company means your investors and your board change. In private companies, investors and board tend to mingle; the people on your board have a lot of skin in the game themselves. Once you are public, these roles usually split, and board members become more like “guardians”. While they can be very good people, they will, for example, inevitably be more risk-averse – which might be completely right for a bank, but I am not sure if it is good for technology ventures. Being public also changes the communication style of a company. In a private company, discussions can be more open. So, as you might guess, a private company is more my thing.

What do you find crucial for starting an innovative company?

Finding the right people is the single biggest challenge. It is not so much the specific skills that are difficult to find; it is the ability to function in a very fluid and ambiguous environment. You will not have all the resources or information you need, but you still need to be able to make smart decisions. Especially for senior staff from big corporations it can be challenging to adapt to a start-up. Everybody has an early learning curve, but if you see people who joined a few months ago wanting more structure and regarding their fluid working conditions as chaotic, then they will probably not adapt – though of course there are roles where you must have structure. I would say it works out half the time.

You decided to relocate the last company you headed, Evolva, to Switzerland. You left Evolva last year, but you are still in Switzerland…

Evolva’s origins were Danish, but we faced the problem of a limited pool in terms of money and people for what we wanted to do at the time. We discussed the UK, the United States and Switzerland as possible locations, and finally we chose Switzerland. As a life sciences hub, Basel was the obvious location. At first, we could not find labs, but the predecessor organisation of BaselArea.swiss in collaboration with BLKB helped us buy and convert an old warehouse into labs. It was a good decision to settle here, and I still enjoy living in Delémont.

You are not known for idleness. What are you currently working on?

I am working on building a new set of life science ventures, both in the classic healthcare spaces and the whole consumer/industrial which I think has tremendous potential but needs different business models. And I have joined the board of an industrial biotech called Unibio that has managed to bring to commercial scale a fermentation process that converts methane gas into protein. Further, I am supporting startups through non-profit organizations such as BaselArea.swiss and its healthcare accelerator BaseLaunch.

Where do you see the potential for the start-up scene in Basel – and how will you contribute to shaping it with BaseLaunch?

Due to its scientific talent and the unrivalled management expertise spread by the large corporates, Basel ought to have a really vibrant start-up scene. It is also fortunate that Switzerland is not short of money. I think it could be more vibrant. Traditionally, the best talent has been siphoned off into the large companies, and the money and ideas have not connected as well as they might. BaseLaunch has started addressing some of these disconnects during the last two years by leveraging the knowledge of large pharma to assist the formation of very early ventures. We hope to go further with this approach in the future.

Where do you find suitable projects that are worth pursuing?

As companies grow, they inevitably narrow their focus – I do not think I have ever seen it go the other way. This results in a lot of interesting stuff getting deprioritised. I try to filter what companies do not want anymore, with the benefit that I can start with an asset that has been at least somewhat worked up and is commercially grounded. Innovation does not only come from Universities, and sometimes I think the public sector misses this point when it designs support schemes.

What objectives and values do your ventures have in common? Is there a common thread?

I like to create products that are meaningful and make a real difference to at least a part of the world – that are not “me too”. For example with Personal Chemistry, a company I co-founded in 1996, we pioneered the application of microwaves to organic chemistry synthesis, and nowadays almost every chemistry discovery lab has one or more of these instruments, and people are using them daily. It really gives me a good feeling when I see one of those instruments, even if they come from one of our competitors.

How easy is it for you to find funding for your ventures?

It is never easy, and one of the issues is that investors like to hunt in packs, which tends to make them avoid ideas that are too different – even if they like it, they know others will need to be convinced as well. Europe is too conservative regarding the funding of ideas. It is frustrating because I think that unconventional ideas can be businesses, too – as the Americans have shown time and time again.

When do you know the time has come to leave a company?

I find that when it comes to optimisation, it is time for me to move on. It is a normal process most companies go through: once a company has found its sweet spot, it increasingly becomes about optimising what it has, but it’s not for me. I like to create things. And I certainly never take the same path twice.

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T3 Pharmaceuticals wins prestigious startup award

12.11.2018

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“Basel has all the ingredients required to host a successful company”

11.06.2018

The physician and pharmacologist Nicole Onetto is a member of the Board of Directors at the Basilea Pharmaceutica AG. In the Interview that was featured in Basilea’s annual report she talks about current challenges in oncology.

Great strides are being made in the long-term treatment of oncology patients. As an oncology expert, what do you find to be the most important advancements in the industry?

Nicole Onetto: We see spectacular results in terms of long-term survival in quite a few diseases where, less than ten years ago, there were no new treatments available. And for many forms of cancer, where previously we had only access to traditional therapies such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, we have been able to take advantage of the new molecular understanding of cancer to personalize the treatment for each patient. This has facilitated the development and the utilization of targeted therapies associated with superior efficacy and reduced toxicity compared to traditional treatments. Finally, in the last few years, we have been able to harness the potential of the immune system to develop new therapeutic approaches which stimulate our own immune defenses to control cancer growth.

What do you see as the next major treatment improvements that may be achieved in the short and mid-term?

Definitely the further development of immune therapies for cancer patients seems more and more important. These new modalities will need to find the right place in the management of patients and will have to be used in combination with more traditional therapies. The cost-effectiveness of these innovative technologies will also need to be evaluated. Another very important topic will be minimizing toxicity of treatments and avoiding over-treatment.

How can companies succeed in clinical development?

With a more personalized approach to cancer treatment, new opportunities do exist to develop drugs associated with high efficacy in well-defined patient populations. However, drug development will always require patience, perseverance and scientific rigor. Many challenges still remain in treating cancer patients, despite the important progress that has been made. Among others issues, drug resistance is a significant hurdle and continues to be in the focus of Basilea. For patients with resistant diseases, not so long ago, the only possible approach was to change to a new drug, often a new chemotherapy. Now we have gained more insight into the mechanisms of resistance. In addition, many researchers all over the world are investigating the best ways to circumvent treatment resistance. Other important factors are collaborations between academia and the private sector such as companies like Basilea, to develop new innovative drugs to benefit patients.

How can this be supported?

The use of biomarkers to help choose the most appropriate treatment regimen and to select the patients with the highest probability of response to treatment has and will continue to have a major impact on the development of new cancer agents. Biomarker data are key to the design of development plans of new drugs and to go/no go decisions. These data are now often incorporated in the approval process and subsequent commercialization of new drugs. This approach, based on scientific evidence to select new drugs, is one of the major advances that are currently transforming the research and development process as well as clinical study methodology.

Do you see advantages for Basilea being located in Basel?

Basel has all the ingredients required to host a successful company: a vibrant research community, an international reputation of excellence in the pharma industry, a pool of talented people and a strong and stable economy. Basel is a leading life-science hub with the presence of an excellent university, the headquarters of established large pharmaceutical companies and many start-ups and innovative ventures. There are many similarities between Basel and the few well established biotechnology hubs in Europe and North America. This favorable environment has already helped Basilea build a very strong company and should continue to support its further success. So I am delighted to have been elected by Basilea’s shareholders as a member of the board and look forward to playing an active role in the Basel biotech community.

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report Invest in Basel region

"We will not shy away from taking risks"

05.06.2018

In 2016, Roivant Sciences established their global headquarters in Basel. Roivant founder and CEO Vivek Ramaswamy talked to us about his fast growing company, his priorities for the company and about the role that Roivant aims to play in the Basel life sciences ecosystem.

BaselArea.swiss: You built a company from scratch. What are the crucial ingredients?

Vivek Ramaswamy: In biotech you need three main ingredients to build a great company: good drugs, good people, and sufficient capital. Of course, it is difficult to know which drugs will succeed or fail in advance of conducting clinical research so I started Roivant with the vision of having a broad portfolio—a company whose success would be measured by the number and the quality of the medicines that we deliver to market, but at the same time a company that would not be defined by the success or failure of any given drug. It is my belief that the long term success of the company will be driven by the quality of our people and our cultural principles which include a singular focus on value creation and a commitment to innovation throughout all aspects of our business. This is an expensive and risky industry where you have to invest heavily before you know the eventual result and I am very grateful for the backing of our investors. But at the end of the day, the money we’ve raised is not an accomplishment, it is just an ingredient.

Roivant has grown rapidly. How do you maintain an entrepreneurial spirit within the company?

Maintaining an entrepreneurial mindset is core to our model. Our company is based on the principle that smaller tends to be better which is why we did not organize Roivant as a single, centralized, command-and-control operation. Instead we scale our business through the creation of wholly- or majority-owned subsidiary companies, which we call “Vants.” We now have over 600 employees across our family of companies, and it is fair to say that preserving that initial entrepreneurial mindset is one of my main priorities going forward.

How free are the Vants in finding their own version of entrepreneurial spirit?

Think of Roivant as a parent that contributes DNA to each of our Vants. We also carefully select leaders who contribute their own DNA. Each Vant resembles Roivant heavily but also has its own unique genotype. There are common cultural principles, but there are also important distinctive features and we see that heterogeneity as a comparative advantage.

How do you cope with failure?

We are fortunate that relatively early in our history we have experienced both success and failure. We would not be doing our job if we had only a string of successes insomuch as that would indicate we are not taking sufficient risk to benefit patients. We cope with failure in three ways. First, we acknowledge it as a necessary consequence of our broader strategy. Second, we build a diverse portfolio rather than predicate the success of our business on any single drug. Finally, we own our failures openly and use them as an opportunity to learn. When our drug for Alzheimer’s disease intepirdine failed in phase III, we did not obfuscate or sugarcoat the news. But we also did not overreact and we will not shy away in the future from taking risks in similar areas of significant unmet need. Instead we will embrace the risk of failure as we make calculated decisions across all therapeutic areas.

You chose Basel for setting up your global headquarters. Which aspects did you find most convincing about the location?

It starts with the talent. We believe in diversity of talent and we recruit from both within and beyond pharma. Basel is emblematic in that sense because it brings together a very diverse talent pool from multiple countries and cultures, speaking different languages with varied experiences and educational backgrounds. That mixture makes for a warm, welcoming, and innovative environment which mirrors the culture we seek to build internally at Roivant. At the same time, the legacy of successful pharmaceutical products being developed here makes Basel a place where we wanted to plant a seed early in the life of our company. In addition to the large multinational companies for which Basel is best known there is also a strong scene of young and vibrant companies building on that tradition, and we hope to be at the center of that.

How did Roivant accommodate in Basel for the time being – were your expectations met?

Yes, except in one aspect: Basel does not seem to believe in air conditioning! Joking aside, our expectations were in many ways exceeded. I have found the community to be very welcoming, and we immediately felt at home here. We have been able to recruit talent very effectively, and we have engaged in positive dialogue with several companies in the area. We continue to source new asset opportunities in the region, and we are delighted with how this ecosystem has embraced us and allowed us to thrive. The partnerships we have forged in the region are crucial for us, not least with partners like BaselArea.swiss and its BaseLaunch accelerator program.

We are happy to have you. How do you contribute to the accelerator?

Our business model is to accelerate the launch of new companies in our family so it’s only logical that we would be part of BaseLaunch. We can use our expertise to help other companies accelerate their own launches and scale their businesses. We support BaseLaunch in the process of selecting new projects and we offer advice and mentorship. For us, it is a great way to signal our support for the local startup scene and develop our relationships with other companies in Basel. We are happy to be a part of that.

What are the prospects for the headquarters in Basel?

The short answer is we will grow further. All of the Vants will use Basel as a business hub to develop and maintain partnerships within Europe. We started out as a company focusing on shelved drugs. But we are also keen to accelerate drug development in other companies’ pipelines. Basel is a great place to do that with companies in Europe and its vicinity.

Interview: Annett Altvater

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Novartis optimistic about the future

05.11.2018

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Mit den Powercoders werden Geflüchtete in Basel zu Programmierern

30.10.2018

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“IP protection is crucial for business and research”

08.05.2018

The patent law and attorney-at-law firm Vossius & Partner has been an important partner for BaseLaunch since the inception of the healthcare accelerator in 2016. They advise startups and big corporations alike on IP strategy. Philipp Marchand, patent attorney in the Basel office, advocates to take IP protection seriously.

BaselArea.swiss: Vossius & Partner maintains offices in Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin and Basel. How do you fit in the Swiss and Basel ecosystem?

Philipp Marchand: Our firm was founded in the 1960s, coming to Basel eleven years ago. We have developed extensive and profound in-house knowledge concerning all IP issues and currently represent clients of all sizes from startup companies to big pharma in Switzerland and all over the world. Basel, as one of the most exciting life science locations, is of particular interest to our firm, which has one of the largest life science groups in Europe.

That sounds a bit sophisticated for startups.

Not at all. Our expertise obtained from representing clients of all sizes is a huge advantage for the startup sector. Moreover, instead of considering IP issues in an isolated way, we endeavour to take all possible future developments of our cases into account. This includes considering aspects from other jurisdictions since, even as a startup, you have to be aware of potential worldwide implications right from the start. In addition, we work with our attorneys-at-law to not only protect an invention but also to provide advice on related aspects such as freedom-to-operate.

You are also involved in BaseLaunch. Why is that?

We entered into a partnership with BaseLaunch in order to be closer to the startup community in Basel and Switzerland. We meet with each of the selected companies and review their IP situation free of charge in order to identify potential ways to optimize protection. We are excited to be able to offer our expertise more frequently to startups because we believe that they genuinely benefit from our full service approach. If they wish, later they can also enter into a client relationship and benefit from our experience right from the start. Of course, we then have to charge for our services. However, we offer a very reasonably priced system for startup companies and universities.

Why is it worth it to spend that money?

IP protection is crucial in all technological fields and in more than one aspect: It is the only reliable means to ensure that you can make a profit in the long run in different markets worldwide. For a startup company working in life sciences, or any other technological field, the most important type of IP is without a doubt a patent right. Specifically, only a patent grants you the monopoly to keep third parties from using your invention. However, further IP topics are relevant at an early stage, too. For example, a trademark protecting the company’s name or its products that are put on the market can be invaluable. Without trademark protection a startup may be forced to change its name or the names of their products, which can incur considerable costs.

What if a researcher has no intention to commercialize his or her invention right-away?

You might think keeping your invention a secret is a good idea. But in the meantime another bright mind might have the same idea and file for patent protection. Today all jurisdictions, including the US, follow the “first to file” principle, which means that you may have missed your chance and you could even be sued for infringement by a third party for using what you thought was your own invention. We therefore strongly encourage inventors and their employers to file for IP protection as early as possible.

What do I need to protect an invention?

We like to discuss everything with our clients in person to fully understand the potential product as well as its market and its customers. Afterwards, we draft the patent claims, which means that we define the invention and the technical problem that it solves. We file the application text with a patent office, usually with the European Patent Office (EPO) as part of the European Patent Organization of which Switzerland is also a member. One year after the first filing, we can prepare a subsequent application, which covers more than 150 states worldwide. The whole process until an application is granted can take more than five years.

Is there a difference in the importance of IP protection in the life sciences sector compared to other fields?

The biggest difference is the longer product life cycle for pharmaceutical products and the stricter regulations compared to, say, short-lived computer hardware. Also, due to the long product life cycles and general development costs in this sector, patent protection is the only way to ensure that the owner of the patent right benefits first from the invention. With a particular focus on the pharma sector, one should also mention the need to build-up an IP portfolio which not only protects, for example, a drug but also the process of making that drug, different formulations, dosage and treatment regimens and so on. At the same time, you should consider using additional IP rights such as trademarks. Take Bayer who invented Aspirin. The patent for the active ingredient acetylsalicylic acid has long expired, which means it may be widely produced and sold. However, the trademark still ensures that people specifically ask for Aspirin.

Are there any reasons to advise against filing for patent?

Yes, of course. There are situations where it may make sense to wait with filing a patent application until sufficient data and support has been collected. For example, it may not always be advisable to file a patent for a research platform to protect a screening method for active compounds. This is because patent applications are published 18 months after filing, meaning that everyone has access to the method. In this scenario, it may make sense to wait for the first molecule that emerges from your platform and file for product protection. However, such strategic aspects should always be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

Which misconceptions concerning IP do you sometimes encounter?

Most researchers are aware of IP protection but the execution could be better. One misconception includes the so-called grace period. There is no grace period in European patent law or in most other jurisdictions with the exception of the US, Japan and Canada. After you publicly disclose your own invention by writing or talking about it, you may not be able to obtain patent rights for your invention.

What may researchers reveal to their peer collaborators?

An invention is new if it does not form part of the state of the art, meaning it is not publicly known. Hence every discussion with a colleague or presentation of a poster at a conference prior to filing a patent application can potentially destroy the novelty. You may think that no one will find out. However, when it comes to money, third parties will leave no stone unturned. Of course, we are aware of the conflict between patent applications and the need to publish academic papers or give presentations. If you are unsure what to do: It is always better to come talk to us before a publication, a poster presentation or any other public disclosure, even on short notice.

 

About
Philipp Marchand heads the Basel office of Vossius & Partner. After graduating in biochemistry at the University in Frankfurt am Main and his PhD studies at a CNRS institute in Paris, he started his career as a patent attorney trainee with Vossius & Partner in Munich. After the bar examination, he transferred to Basel at the beginning of 2017. Recently, he started to pursue a doctorate in law at the University of Basel. Vossius & Partner is a leading patent law firm offering a full-service concept with legal competence from patent attorneys in every technological sector and attorneys-at-law qualified to practice not only in Europe and Switzerland, but also in the United States, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. The firm employs 55 patent attorneys and 20 attorneys–at-law in their offices in Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin and Basel.

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Connecting Innovators App Launch

11.04.2018

How the BaselArea.swiss-App connects innovators and supports an innovative idea.

One of the major assets of BaselArea.swiss is its broad network, which has been confirmed time and again by the participants of our seminars, workshops and conferences. To simplify the networking during and after the events, BaselArea.swiss launches the App “Connecting Innovators” together with SAS Papott.

The use is simple: After downloading the app from Google Play or from the App Store, connect with your LinkedIn account and complete your profile. You will see the other event attendees in a list with their name and picture, filtered according to proximity to your location, thus facilitating connect with other participants. Not only will you see which users attend the same events but it is also easier for specialists to connect to people with similar interests or for entrepreneurs to approach potential investors.

Networking made simple

Originally, the developer and founder of SAS Papott, Maxime Vitrey, had the vision of improving our ability to connect with our fellow human beings on a more general level. He designed an open app and everybody who created a profile could see who is close by. “I wanted to make it easy for everybody to get in touch with each other.” He also realized the potential the technology holds for networking at conferences. “I know from personal experience how hard it is to get in touch with other participants I do not know yet”, Maxime says. The challenges are manifold: Groups of people who stay together because they know each other already; name tags that are hard to read; the slightly impolite act of interrupting people who are engaged in conversation. And last but not least: finding the people you should talk to because you share the same area of interest.

The World of entrepreneurship

After attending a startup seminar organized by BaselArea.swiss, Maxime approached Sébastien Meunier, Head of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, to suggest creating an application according to the needs of the organization. “We quickly decided to give it a shot”, says Maxime. Being a seasoned project manager, he developed new techniques and gained experience during the implementation of the project since the whole value chain was in his hands. Currently, he approaches new customers to build clones of the app. He sees potential to ease interaction in large companies during meetings or amongst their employees. Further, the technology could be used in hospitals to allow patients to socialize with other patients. While Maxime still works for his long-term employer, Jet Aviation, he is also pleased that his entry into the world of entrepreneurship is successful. “It is extremely exciting to finally be the entrepreneur I always wanted to be.”

For BaselArea.swiss, the app allows the participants of the more than 70 events per year to be served even better: “The app helps to strengthen one of our core disciplines in creating an open and supportive business culture - a solid network with approachable members,” says Sébastien Meunier. “We are looking forward to seeing a lot of our participants using it.”

Join us to keep networking simple, efficient and useful. Download the app “Connecting Innovators” from Google Play or from the App Store and let us know what you think.

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Exciting development projects in the Basel Area

25.10.2018

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Basel insurtech wins international insurtech award

24.10.2018

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“A good network is power”

03.04.2018

Melanie Kovacs was frustrated by the IT teaching she got, and developed her own product – Master21. She attributes her success with this not least to her carefully maintained network, which has continued to grow in Basel. Melanie Kovacs and her fellow campaigners use the technology and innovation network “We Shape Tech” to promote diversity by making women working in the technology and innovation field more visible.

Ms Kovacs, you founded Master21 when you were 28. How did that come about?

As a co-initiator of the Aspire network for women startup owners, I’d met a lot of very interesting women. One of them was Valérie Vuillerat, the managing director of Ginetta. She offered me a job, and I took it. At the agency I was the link between clients and developers. I worked closely with the people from the technical area, but I didn’t speak their language. Then I went back to taking courses at the university. But this was dreadfully theoretical, boring front of class teaching, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. I was sure that anybody can learn programming, but I felt it had to be done differently.

So what is your company doing better?

We do exactly what I was missing at the time. We put people without a technical background in a pleasant atmosphere and use lots of practical exercises to give them sufficient competences and self-confidence in programming. Most of them are like me – they don’t necessarily want to embark on a new career, they want to work with developers on a solid basis. That’s why at Master21 you learn the fundamental terms and concepts and understand how design, front end, back end and databases fit together. Participants learn HTML, CSS, Javascript and Ruby and try out for themselves how object-oriented programming works.

How did the start-up process work out?

I started a pilot project for Master21 while I was still working at Ginetta. The fluid transition was ideal for me. My co-founder is responsible for the technical side and content, I’m responsible the business aspect. I’m very happy that he gave me the push I needed to start. I’m not sure I would have dared to found a company on my own. A few months ago, we hired a new employee. I find it very motivating if every initiative doesn’t depend on me and I can work with a team.

What do you most appreciate about being an entrepreneur?

I can set my own schedule for the day, I’m learning a lot and I work every day with bright, exciting people. I’m also seeing that my services are directly influencing the students. There have already been two cases where people met on the course and subsequently started a project together. It’s more difficult to find developers who like teaching and are good at it.

What happens next with Master21?

I’m currently participating in the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation’s Accelerator Programme, and I’m also working with a coach. Currently I’m not at all interested in a financing round, because I’d like to continue to grow independently of investors. I want the firm to develop, but at my own pace and with long-term prospects.

The company’s headquarters are in Zurich, you live in Basel. What happens where?

I’m in Zurich when I’m working at the Impact Hub and want to meet people. The courses have also been held there so far. In Basel I work on corporate strategy in my home office and write texts. If things get too quiet for me, I go to the “Unternehmen Mitte” establishment and work there, or I meet someone for lunch at the Markthalle. I think it's because there are so many expats in Basel that there’s a great sense of openness there.

How important is your personal network for the success of Master21?

My network is absolutely central. At the start, I emailed every single one of my contacts, told them about my new project and asked for feedback. I maintain my network by LinkedIn and email, and I go and have coffee with people regularly. I also go to events like TEDxZurich, and I’m active in We Shape Tech.

You’re an enthusiastic networker.

Yes, it’s easy for me. For many people networking has such a negative image. I’m not interested in collecting business cards; I want to get to know people. And I’d much rather talk to one person than quickly give my card to a whole lot of people. I really enjoy networking, because I can learn something from everybody. A couple of years ago I was just everywhere, including to promote my business. Now I find it boring if someone’s just presenting their pitch, and I’m better at choosing where I participate. I find networking particularly valuable if you can share your ideas on a joint topic with others in small groups.

You brought the initiative for diversity, the We Shape Tech network, which was previously already active in Zurich and Bern, to Basel. Why does Basel need this network?

Basel still has a lot of potential in the technology and innovation area. One indication of that for us was the way that we were welcomed with open arms. Our board member Elaine Skapetis is a developer at Adobe. The company supported us generously without hesitation with our first two Basel events. The hall at the launch event was filled to bursting, the response was just unbelievable. We offer people working or interested in the technology and innovation field the opportunity to share ideas and views and learn from each other. We follow a specific format here, where one person tells their story, a discussion is initiated, and there’s time for networking. Our goal is to connect people, communicate knowledge and ensure access to other organisations and partners. Knowledge and a good network are power.

What are the advantages of networks primarily aimed at women?

In Basel men are welcome at We Shape Tech as well. To promote diversity, you need both men and women. However, sadly, only a few men have taken advantage of the opportunity to date. The few men at the meeting have an experience which women often have, namely being part of a minority. If you have a group of just women, the atmosphere is more relaxed. I also see this in courses specifically for women at Master21. If women are just with other women, they trust themselves to do more. They ask questions which they wouldn’t if men were present, say more and are more confident than if there were men there.

About Melanie Kovacs
Melanie Kovacs founded Master21, where people interested in courses with practical relevance are introduced to the fundamentals of programming. Previously, she has founded the women’s network Aspire, and organised start-up weekends. She studied business administration at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration and the University of Madrid and completed a CAS in requirements engineering at the University of Applied Sciences, Rappers. Together with Aileen Zumstein and Elaine Skapetis, Melanie Kovacs brought the network We Shape Tech to Basel. The Movement in Diversity initiative offers a platform and community for people who want to make a difference in the hi-tech and innovation area. The organisation focuses simultaneously on communicating knowledge and promoting the exchange of ideas.

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WORKTECH18: The New World of Work

23.10.2018

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How Baloise makes best use of Blockchain

23.10.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Die Wirtschaftsregion Basel-Jura entwickelt sich stabil

28.03.2018

Die Wirtschaftsregion Basel-Jura bietet Unternehmen ein erstklassiges Umfeld. Dies das Fazit des aktuellen Jahresberichts 2017 von BaselArea.swiss.

In ihrem Jahresbericht 2017 zeigt sich BaselArea.swiss zufrieden mit der Entwicklung der Region Basel-Jura. Zwar pendelte sich die Zahl der von der Innovationsförderung und Standortpromotion der Kantone Basel-Landschaft, Basel-Stadt und Jura betreuten Ansiedlungen nach dem Rekordjahr 2016 wieder auf Vorjahresniveau ein. Gemessen an der Anzahl der geplanten Arbeitsplätze in den kommenden drei bis fünf Jahren knüpft das Ergebnis jedoch ans 2016 an. «Dies ist angesichts der erschwerten Rahmenbedingungen ein gutes Resultat», freut sich CEO Christof Klöpper. Insbesondere habe die Ablehnung der Unternehmenssteuerreform III zu Verunsicherungen auf Kundenseite geführt.

Bezüglich geografischer Herkunft und Tätigkeitsfeld der angesiedelten Unternehmen dominierten einerseits die USA sowie die Life Sciences (inklusive Chemie). Zu den grösseren Ansiedlungen zählten: Bio-Rad (USA), die in Basel den Europäischen Hauptsitz eröffneten, Idemitsu (Japan), die in Basel ein Forschungszentrum für organische Leuchtdioden einrichteten, sowie SpiroChem, die ihren Hauptsitz von Zürich nach Basel verlegten. Zudem gelang es, die Pipeline mit neuen Ansiedlungsprojekten zu füllen: So besuchten im vergangenen Jahr 90 Firmen im Rahmen einer Standortevaluation die Region.

Mehr Unternehmertum

Positiv entwickelten sich die Unternehmensgründungen in der Region Basel-Jura. So verzeichnete BaselArea.swiss eine erhöhte Nachfrage nach Dienstleistungen im Bereich Supporting Entrepreneurs und konnte mehr als 60 Neugründungen und Start-ups unterstützen. Die von BaselArea.swiss organisierten Veranstaltungen, Seminare und Workshops brachten über 5500 Teilnehmende zu Innovationsthemen zusammen, was ebenfalls ein deutliches Plus gegenüber dem Vorjahr darstellt.

BaselArea.swiss gelang es im Jahr 2017 eine Reihe von Aktivitäten in neuen, für die Region wichtigen Innovationsthemen anzustossen. So wurden die Aktivitäten im Bereich Industrie 4.0 ausgebaut. Diese sollen im 2018 mit Partnern aus dem benachbarten Ausland innerhalb eines Interreg-Projekts weiterentwickelt werden.

Ein weiterer thematischer Schwerpunkt fokussiert auf Innovationen in der chemischen Industrie. Unter dem Namen DayOne wurde 2017 eine vielbeachtete Initiative zum Thema Precision Medicine und Digital Health lanciert.

Überaus erfolgreich erwies sich der im 2017 lancierte Healthcare Accelerator BaseLaunch. Nicht nur gelang es mit Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer und Roche sowie Roivant Sciences die Unterstützung von fünf Industrieschwergewichten für den Accelerator zu gewinnen. Auch am Markt wurde BaseLaunch gut aufgenommen: Über 100 Bewerbungen von Start-up-Projekten aus mehr als 30 Ländern gingen bei BaselArea.swiss ein. Sechs Start-up-Firmen werden nun in der Region Basel-Jura gegründet und während eines Jahres beim Firmenaufbau mit bis zu 250'000 Franken sowie Infrastrukturleistungen im Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area unterstützt.

report BaselArea.swiss

Baselbieter Arbeitsmarkt- und Wirtschaftsforum 2018 Technologie@BL

22.10.2018

report Invest in Basel region

Animal health manufacturer Zoetis makes Delémont its Swiss headquarters

22.10.2018

report Life Sciences

“I enjoy thinking about seemingly unsolvable problems”

13.03.2018

Andreas Plückthun continues his research where others stop: 40 employees work in his laboratory on protein engineering. Their results form the basis for three biotech companies: Morphosys in Munich, as well as Molecular Partners and G7 Therapeutics (today Heptares Zurich) in Schlieren. At the Antibody Congress 2017 in Basel, Andreas Plückthun told us why he remains true to his research.

Mr. Plückthun, you co-founded three biotech companies in three decades. How did this come about?

There was always this curiosity in the beginning to discover something – but never the wish to found a company. After we produced artificial antibodies and learned how to mimic the immune system, we established the company Morphosys. Then the next question arose: can we do this with other protein molecules and solve new problems? Out of this emerged Designed Ankyrin Repeated Proteins (DARPins) and a second company, Molecular Partners in Schlieren. The next challenge was then to stabilize receptors by means of protein engineering in order to develop better drugs for these points of attack. Based on this research, we founded the third company, G7 Therapeutics.

Who pushed ahead with the spin-offs each time?

For the first company, it was my research colleagues. I was the more sceptical of us three at the time. The other two companies were traditional spin-offs of my doctoral and postdoctoral students.

How are the companies doing today?

Morphosys now has 430 employees and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. We also received the first FDA approval for an antibody that is now available on the market. This is one of the few companies that is still doing exactly what we once wrote in the business plan, and successfully too. Molecular Partners has 130 employees, several Phase 2 and 3 studies, and, like Morphosys, is listed on the stock exchange. G7 Therapeutics was sold to the British company Heptares, which in turn belongs to the Japanese company Sosei. In short: all companies are doing well. I don’t consider founding a company to be a particular achievement. The achievement is more that the companies are flourishing and bringing drugs to the market.

What changes have you noticed over the decades when it comes to founding a company?

The climate has changed completely. It was totally against the grain in Europe 25 years ago to found a biotech company. That’s why people went to California. At a symposium in America, I was once introduced as a researcher and a founder with the words; “He’s like us.” It was very common there for a long time to be both a researcher and an entrepreneur. That scepticism has since disappeared here, and founding a company is now judged positively. A venture capital scene has also developed since then. To be fair, I have to say that it helps investors if you’ve already successfully founded a company. The first deal is always the hardest.

You seem to be quite successful when it comes to founding companies. Did it ever tempt you to move to one of your companies?

It was never a question for me to leave the university. It’s an incredible privilege to be paid by the state to do crazy things. I always wanted to think about the next challenge at the university. Not having to account for quarterly profits is the only way forward in this context. In a company that conducts research with money from investors, you simply cannot undertake the type of risky and long-term projects that interest me. But I can say that thanks to the companies that are based on my research, I have repaid my dividends and created many jobs.

So you’ll continue to devote yourself to basic research. Can this be steered towards commercialization at all?

We’ve always wanted to solve a problem that seemed important enough to us. At some point in the research the question arises of how to use the results, what you can make of them. If we hadn’t commercialized the results, the problems would have simply stopped at an interesting point. We would have stopped halfway along. This is comparable to a coming up with blueprint for a computer and then not building it. By founding the companies, we could ensure that the projects would continue.

Is there any collaboration with industry within the scope of your research?

Direct collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and our laboratory has never worked properly. Expectations and time horizons are very different. We develop new ideas and concepts that are often not exactly in keeping with large-scale pharmaceutical research. I don’t think anyone will feel offended when I say that the pharmaceutical industry is very conservative. We do have many contacts but hardly any collaboration. That being said, our spin-offs work very well with the pharmaceutical industry.

Which topics would you like to focus on next?

We are researching artificial viruses that cannot reproduce. The viruses should produce proteins directly in the body that are needed as therapeutic agents. This is so far away from practical implementation that such a project is only possible at a university. But I am absolutely convinced that it would have enormous significance if it worked. I couldn’t sit still if we didn’t at least try. We are once again trying to solve a problem in my laboratory that most people in the field would consider impossible to solve. That’s what makes me get up in the morning. I want to show how it works.

Learn more about Andreas Plückthun between basic research and biotech entrepreneurship at our event on 24 April 2018.

About
Andreas Plückthun (*1956) is a scientist whose research is focused on the field of protein engineering. He is the director of the department of biochemistry at the University of Zurich. Andreas Plückthun was appointed to the faculty of the University of Zurich as a Full Professor of biochemistry in 1993. Plückthun was group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry , Germany (1985-1993). He was elected to the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 1992, and named a member of the German National Academy of Science (Leopoldina) in 2003. He is cofounder of the biotechnology companies Morphosys (Martinsried, Germany), Molecular Partners AG (Zürich-Schlieren, Switzerland) and G7 Therapeutics (Zürich-Schlieren, Switzerland).

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth, BaselArea.swiss

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New campus strengthens bi-cantonal partnership

18.10.2018

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Basel company revolutionizes battery market

16.10.2018

report

Meet the BaseLaunch Startups

11.03.2018

Six of the BaseLaunch startups recently started Phase II. They received either grants up to 250,000 Swiss francs or gained free of charge access to BaseLaunch laboratory and office space at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. Hear what the startups, the BaseLaunch team and selection committee members experienced in the first year. Find out more about what makes BaseLaunch unique.

The BaseLaunch accelerator is now open for applications for the second cycle. Entrepreneurs with a healthcare based project or a game-changing innovation in diagnostics, medtech or related field at the pre-seed or seed funding stage are invited to submit their applications to the program.

Following the application deadline on 14 May, promising projects will be admitted to the accelerator program for a period of 15 months. In phase I, the startups will benefit from the support of industry experts, office- and laboratory space free of charge and access to healthcare partners. After three months, they will be invited to present their idea to the selection committee. They will determine which promising startups will proceed to Phase II that runs for one year.

BaseLaunch is backed by five industry leaders — Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer, Roche and Roivant Sciences. Other public and private partners such as KPMG and Vossius & Partner also support the initiative.

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At Stücki Park, the future is around the corner

15.10.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Den Digitaltag in der Region Basel erleben

15.10.2018

report Supporting Entrepreneurs

“As an entrepreneur, you have to own up to your decisions”

06.02.2018

Five years ago, Alisée de Tonnac quit her job at L’Oréal and travelled the world to set up the first edition of the startup competition Seedstars World. Five years later, Seedstars is present in more than 85 cities worldwide, runs its own co-working and educational centers and plans to have 15 Seedspaces for co-working and co-living by the end of 2018. BaselArea.swiss sat down with Alisée de Tonnac after her keynote at the Swiss Innovation Forum that took place in Basel last November.

BaselArea.swiss: What was the most compelling argument for you to leave your career at an international corporation and become an entrepreneur?

Alisée de Tonnac: I remember coming across this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I thought: Gosh, I do the opposite. I was complacent (I wonder if that is not the definition of unhappy), my corporate and personal life at that time was not engaging me in the right fashion, or at least I did not know how to engage with it in the right fashion. I did not foresee that entrepreneurship and building something of my own was the necessary change, but it definitely became part of who I am today.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

First of all, I think there are different types of entrepreneurs. One builds everything from scratch and does not sleep until his idea transforms into reality. Others, like myself, follow; they support and scale the idea. So, potentially, entrepreneurship is for everyone, depending on your personality traits and of course you would need to be comfortable with uncertainty, taking risks, and self-management. I love about my lifestyle that I decide how my day roles out. It is spectacular. To be honest, one of the main ingredients to my professional and personal success is that I work with an unbelievable team. My co-founders make the difference. I do not know if I would have been able to launch a company on my own. The team is crucial – keep in mind that you spend every day with them.

What do you think is important in a team of co-founders?

My co-founders and I are very complementary. I am an operational person, definitely not a strategist. A strategist looks five years ahead, sees all the obstacles and still heads forward. More importantly though, we made sure that our values are aligned. We asked ourselves whether we would stick together during the highs and lows. Shared values have proven to be our biggest strength and one of the reasons why we are still sustaining, five years later. We want to build good things with good people. We believe that we can build a profitable business and be good, but more importantly we have an underlying foundation of values that keeps us together no matter what – at least until now...

Before you co-founded Seedstars, you worked with L’Oreal. How do you benefit from your corporate experience?

I learned so much in terms of business, culture, teamwork and social pressure. I also know what I do not want to do, which is just as important. It also taught me a lot on how I would want to build the culture within our new structure. The culture is so fundamental in managing and scaling the business. I think you learn while working at corporations what differentiates them and how a uniquely defined and communicated culture makes the difference.

What was the biggest surprise for you when becoming an entrepreneur?

The ownership of your day and actions. Because you really have to own up to your decisions. You cannot bullshit and you cannot hide behind the brand or the cc- emails. It was a bit terrifying initially to be the only person that can start the whole machine – and very gratifying at the same time.

You work with entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries. Which challenges are these entrepreneurs tackling?

In healthcare, we see many digital platforms, like one that allows you to recognize if a medicine is fake or not – which is an issue in Nigeria and other emerging markets. There are telemedicine platforms to connect rural areas with specialists and educational apps for pregnant women, as childbirth is still a huge cause of death in those regions.

Seedstars launched its own trainings. Why was that necessary?

There is talent everywhere, but not every talented person gets the same access to education, network opportunities and infrastructure. With our training, we tap talent that is not yet exposed to such opportunities.

What did you learn from your experience in Lagos?

We are in markets that represent a big part of the world. Exposing yourself to different consumer habits, radical transformations and growing cities helps to understand the world of tomorrow. We are living in a global economy today, the world does not end at the borders of a nation. People who ignore that fact are limiting themselves professionally and personally. Take Lagos, for example: there are 20 million people, the streets are buzzing, everyone is young and you witness a dynamic “everything is possible”- spirit. It is so contrary to coming back to Geneva where we have meters of space between one person and the next. After two weeks, I am complaining when the bus is five minutes late. We are very comfortable and very fortunate – which can also be seen as a problem for innovation. Being comfortable can be a goal, but it is in many ways the opposite of being innovative.

Your company is registered in Geneva. How important is the Swiss headquarters?

First of all, we are very proud of the “Swiss made” brand, which has supported us in successfully scaling the business around the world. The values that the flag carries – like quality, professionalism and neutrality – we aim to represent on the ground. As all partners grew up in Switzerland, we also keep close ties with our private and public network. Switzerland is an amazing hub with strong public institutions like the UN in Geneva or the WEF in Davos that play an important role in the markets where we are present with Seedstars. Many multinational companies residing here are also very interested in these emerging markets, not least in terms of talent acquisition. Moreover, they provide potential solutions. It is crucial to be present in Switzerland as well as in the countries where we have our competitions. Interestingly, we slowly start to see reverse innovation: Safaricom, the biggest mobile service provider in Kenya launched the payment solution M-Pesa. They are now testing their solution in Romania and Albania. I am certain that the usual way of doing business by conducting a product in the north and selling it in the south will blur out eventually.


About Alisée de Tonnac
Alisée graduated from HEC Lausanne and obtained her Masters in International Management at Bocconi University. The French citizen lived in Singapore, Silicon Valley, Switzerland, Italy and in Lagos, Nigeria. She was a product manager for luxury brands at L’Oreal Group and worked at Voyage Privé, a leading European startup. After traveling around the world for a year to set up the first edition of the Seedstars World startup competition back in 2013, Alisée is now managing the company. She has accumulated deep knowledge of trends in technology, social media & consumer behavior in emerging markets. Alisée is a board member of the School of Management of Fribourg and a member of the Swiss National Innovation Council. She was nominated Social Entrepreneur Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017 and was Innovation Fellow of Wired UK in 2015.

About Seedstars
Seedstars is a Switzerland based group with the mission to impact people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship. Seedstars connects stakeholders, builds companies from scratch with public and private partners, and invests in high growth startups within these ecosystems. Through different activities that range from startup scouting to company building and acceleration programs, the team has built the most powerful network of entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, corporations and government officials from more than 65 fast growing economies around the globe. Seedstars started running its operations in 2013, launching its startup competition model on 20 emerging markets. By 2018, the competition is present in more than 85 cities, and the Seedstars Group will be launching 15 strategic hubs (Seedspaces, co-working activities, acceleration programs and academy centres) around the world. The business model relies on recurring partnership deals with both local and international players seeking to be involved in impact investment in the fields of technology and innovation. Part of the revenue channels also includes a hybrid company building model through which Seedstars launches new companies in new markets, with tested business models adapted to the local environment. So far, Seedstars has invested in 15 startups. Another 10 to 15 investments are foreseen for the first semester of 2018.

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Global Coating Supplier - Axalta Receives Tell Award 2018

12.10.2018

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Straumann unveils new products

11.10.2018

report Supporting Entrepreneurs

"We're giving Basel Impact Hub fever"

09.01.2018

Impact Hubs are a real success story. Founded in 2005 in London, there are now over 100 Impact Hubs around the world with more than 15,000 members. Following the lead from Bern, Zurich, Geneva and Lausanne, Basel will be the next Impact Hub in Switzerland. The force behind the movement is Hubbasel, an association founded by entrepreneur André Moeri, sustainability expert Connie Low and lawyer Hanna Byland. We wanted to know why an Impact Hub is more than just a coworking space and how entrepreneurs as well as investors and companies benefit from them, so we talked with Hanna Byland to shed some light for us.

Ms Byland, you have been volunteering at Hubbasel since early 2017. How did that come about?

Hanna Byland: I was invited to the opening of the Impact Hub in Bern and was excited by the concept. So I asked around a bit about whether efforts were being made in Basel to create one and that is how I came into contact with Connie Low and André Moeri. We share the same values, from respectful collaboration and a positive vision of the future to a readiness to get actively involved in the cause. At the same time, each of us brings a different skill set to the table. Connie is well established in the sustainability arena and is a constantly positive driving force. André looks after the company components and has a knack for seeing the potential in people and ideas. I'm the more practical one, keeping an eye on all of the legal and feasibility aspects – it's an ideal combination. We founded Hubbasel at the start of 2017 and at this point there are eight of us in total. All of us have worked tirelessly on making the plans a reality and already everyone's contributions have gotten us a nomination in the global network for the status of "Impact Hub Candidate".

When will the Basel Impact Hub open?

We would like to open in the second half of 2018. At the moment we are set up at Andreas Erbe's Launchlab. It's an ideal location. Really inspiring. But we're still looking for our own space with 1,000 to 2,000 square metres. The space should be laid out so that companies can flexibly grow or shrink depending on the circumstances.

How is an Impact Hub different from a coworking space?

An Impact Hub always consists of three components: Inspire - Connect - Enable. Companies, investors and creative people come together in an Impact Hub to find inspiration and support for their plans. We don't just want to create a workspace, but a networking space. Every Impact Hub is connected to a location, but it also offers the opportunity to access other Impact Hubs all over the world to find like-minded people and in that way generate local ideas with global impact. The people who find each other here want to make the world just that little bit better through their work, their company or their innovations. They are lofty goals, but we have to start somewhere, right?

There are already Impact Hubs in Zurich, Bern, Geneva and Lausanne. Why does Basel need another one?

Geneva is focused on exchange with international organisations. Bern is government-oriented. Zurich is closer to the business world. I'm of the opinion that Basel is a perfect breeding ground for an Impact Hub. We've got a good number of multinational corporations and at the same time the population here has a heightened sense of responsibility. That combination is unique.

How does this sense of responsibility manifest itself in Basel?

In loads of smaller initiatives and in the activities of its many foundations, but also in locations like the Markthalle or the Gundeldingerfeld area. Basel places a lot of value on the sustainable development of the city and its spaces. Food production, nutrition and food waste as well as social justice in terms of equality of opportunity in education and treatment are all important topics for the Basel community. There are a lot of players and projects that are pushing in the same direction. Still, many of these initiatives are single projects. We believe that we can bundle these forces more effectively, even on a global level, through the Impact Hub network.

Who is the Basel Impact Hub for?

We want to get companies in here that are interested in sustainability, give them a place they can call home, and show them that they aren't alone. For companies, the Impact Hub is also a source of new talent. And for investors there is no comparable platform. You have to figure that for investors it's hard work to find good companies in which they want to invest. We can help them with that. Universities are also interested in a place of collaboration. They have the knowledge and the educated people, and then through us they can access real-life applications.

What has the feedback been so far?

It has been very positive. Our communications channels including newsletters, meet-ups and Facebook are all very actively used. Once a month we organise events to find out how our community is developing. There are typically between 40 and 60 people at the events. The exchange is lively and the feedback is really inspiring. In future we would like to offer even more, from workshops, event series and hack-a-thons to accelerators, incubators and fellowships. With the last three ideas, it is really important to us to work with local players. We were able to get the Christoph Merian Foundation, the Gebert Rüf Foundation and the Fondation Botnar to provide us with some initial support. We were incredibly excited about that, of course.

So what is the focus of your events?

We always have entrepreneurs as guests who we then put together with investors and coaches. Typically, we select a certain topic or area that is particularly difficult and focus on that. We find that many of them enjoy offering and applying their skills and support. At this point, we just need a place where we can host those kinds of exchanges and where these ideas can become projects and business ideas. The next public event where we will be working with students from the University of Applied Sciences of North West Switzerland (FHNW) will take place on 13 February 2017.

About Hanna Byland
Hanna Byland is a legal assistant at the law and notary offices of Neidhardt/Vollenweider/Jost/Stoll/Gysin/Tschopp in Basel. She studied law at the Universities of Lucerne and Neuchâtel. Hanna Byland was a member of the Young Liberals in Aargau and has been a volunteer at Hubbasel since the start of 2017.

Interview: Annett Altvater

report BaselArea.swiss

Therachon completes 'transformational' acquisition

09.10.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

«Medtech & Pharma Platform» 5th anniversary conference again in Basel

05.10.2018

report Precision Medicine

“Precision medicine is the best opportunity to reconfigure healthcare”

04.12.2017

After 20 years with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, Bernard Munos set out to better understand pharmaceutical innovation – specifically what makes it possible and how to get more of it. Munos is now a Senior Fellow at Faster Cures, a Center of the Milken Institute, and the founder of the consultancy InnoThink, which advises biomedical research organizations on how to become better innovators. He also contributes to Forbes magazine, an American business publication. Munos travelled to Basel in October, on behalf of HKBB and DayOne to participate in the “Powertalk”.

Mr. Munos, precision medicine has been around for a couple of years. These days everybody seems to talk about it. Why is that?

Bernard Munos: The healthcare system is increasingly torn apart by powerful forces. On one hand, science is delivering amazing things such as protein therapeutics (peptides, monoclonal antibodies); cellular therapies (CAR-T); gene editing (CRISPR); and a growing array of technologies based on a molecular understanding of diseases. The only problem is that this is very expensive. In addition, the population is aging, and older people tend to get diseases that are costlier to treat. The result is nearly infinite demand for costly care, which is clashing with the limited resources available to fund it. But, as it turns out, precision medicine is the most promising opportunity to change the economics of pharmaceutical R&D, reconfigure healthcare, and deliver affordable care to all.

In other words: the current system is not built to distribute the benefits of the new technologies?

For decades, R&D was much simpler: We took a disease that we typically did not fully understand, threw a bunch of compounds at it and saw if something would work. If it did, you had a drug. This was crude, but not a bad strategy since it gave us drugs long before we understood the diseases they treated. Sometimes, however, it does not work. For example, we have thrown over 350 compounds at Alzheimer’s, but none has worked, and we still do not know what causes the disease. There’s got to be a better way, and that is precision medicine.

What will change with precision medicine?

Once we understand how diseases work, our capabilities are so powerful that we can often design a disease modifying molecule literally within months. Precision medicine, along with the technologies that enable it, will give us the insights we need to develop those drugs. But it translates into a smarter – and ultimately cheaper –  way to do science and develop drugs –which is why it will prevail.

What do we need to establish to get precision medicine taking up more speed?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the number one impediment to innovation is the lack of natural histories for most diseases. This means that we do not have baseline data that describes the course of the disease, and therefore we cannot measure the improvement that a therapy would bring. It really limits our ability to innovate. Many diseases progress quietly for many years before they are diagnosed. Take Alzheimer’s or pancreatic cancer: by the time they show symptoms, it is too late for an intervention. Precision medicine will change that by collecting data while the diseases progress but the patients are asymptomatic. This will advance disease discovery and give us the knowledge we need to develop better therapies. Much of this will be enabled by new and inexpensive data-capture technologies such as biosensors, apps and other plug-in devices that are advancing very rapidly.

But first of all this means new investments – who is going to pay for all this?

At the moment, public companies spend US$110 billion per year on clinical research, much of which goes to collect data. This is an enormous amount of money, and companies gather indeed vast quantities of data, but they are limited in scope and often of mediocre quality. In 2014, the company Medidata Solutions ran an experiment to test the capabilities of biosensors. They assembled a couple hundred patients and equipped them with a few low-cost biosensors such as activity trackers and heart monitors. Over a couple of months, they collected up to 18 million data points per patient and per day. That data was later reviewed by regulators and declared to be “FDA-compliant”. One key point, however, is that its collection cost was trivial. Other evidence suggests that, by redesigning trials to leverage digital technologies, we can cut down the cost of data collection by as much as 80 percent. This is big enough to change the economics of clinical research, but it does more. It also enables better research. Today, drug trials focus on homogenous patient populations, because one needs to minimize the sources of variance. But the result is trials that do not represent very well the populations that we want to treat. Biosensors, on the other hand, can collect lots of data on larger populations, and statistical significance is usually not an issue. It is also high-frequency longitudinal data which gives us a much better picture of what happens to patients.

How will this change medicine?

Today, when someone comes down with Alzheimer’s, we don’t know when it started, or why, and therefore have no way to intervene on the course of the disease before it is too late. If we had data on pre-symptomatic patients, scientists could look back and pinpoint when the disease might have started and how it progressed. With such information, we could design better drugs and intervene earlier when the prognosis is better and treatment costs cheaper. It could potentially move medicine from treatment to prevention, but implementing it won’t be easy. Our whole healthcare system is designed to treat not prevent. Changing it will require a lot of retraining, but it’s the way to go.

Crucial will be the question who owns the data and who will have access to the data?

A key requirement of precision medicine is that data needs to be connected. It will be scattered over hundreds of databases, but they need to be interfaced so that they can easily be searched. Some of the data will be public, but much of them will be collected and controlled by the patients themselves. A majority of patients has signaled a willingness to share their data for legitimate research purposes, but whoever controls data will also control innovation. Patients hold values that are dear to them – such as transparency, openness, and affordability – and they will likely expect the recipients of their data to comply with these values. This will be a big change for the culture of R&D and will have significant consequences for the design of clinical research.

This will change the Value Chain – who will win, who will loose?

Precision medicine will bring some desirable changes: Historically pharmaceutical companies have generated their own data and competed on the basis on such proprietary data. Increasingly, however, data will become a commodity. For instance, the data from the “All-of-Us” million patient cohort that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is assembling will be in public access. There are numerous other large patient cohorts around the world that are being created and whose data will also be public. This will change the basis of competition. Scientists will increasingly work from shared, public data, and their performance will depend upon their ability to extract superior knowledge from the same data used by their peers

What does this mean for the Basel Life Science Cluster?

Big corporations struggle to generate enough internal innovation. The bigger they get, the greater the bureaucracy and the more regimented they become. This creates a climate that is less hospitable to innovation precisely at a time when large companies need more of it. To sustain revenue, they must access a source of external innovation that can supplement their own.  Relying on licensing, mergers or acquisitions does not work well, as companies seldom find what they want to buy at a price they are willing to pay. Innovation hubs such as BaselLaunch or DayOne are a better solution. They allow the local community to create shared infrastructure – such as incubators and support services – that can become a global magnet for entrepreneurs. They also give the local large companies an opportunity to mentor the startups and offer scientific support. For them, it is a way to seed the local ecosystem with innovation that they can harvest later on.  Basel is especially suited for this because innovation tends to blossom where cultures overlap. This has been a factor in the city’s past success, and it is an asset that can be leveraged again.

Do we have enough data scientists?

You certainly have them in Switzerland. Data sciences have long been a strength of Swiss education. It goes hand-in-hand with engineering, physics and other sciences in which Switzerland excels. It is also an important advantage since there is an acute shortage of data scientists around the world. Processing the big data flows discussed earlier requires much larger numbers of data scientists that we are currently training. In America, this has been identified as a critical workforce issue. Switzerland is in a stronger position.

Would an open data platform work like a catalyst?

Scientists flock to data. In all scientific projects, a huge amount of resources – as much as 80% – is spent on data collection and cleanup, which are seldom the most interesting parts. If Basel can offer rich data that is already curated, scientists will be able to accomplish much more while focusing on the part of their work where they really add value. Having data in open free access will also help attract researchers from other disciplines who currently do not engage in biomedical research – such as mathematicians and artificial intelligence experts. Such cross-pollination is a powerful catalyst of innovation.

About Bernard Munos
Munos is a Senior Fellow at FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute, and the founder of InnoThink, a consultancy for biomedical research organizations. He regularly contributes to Forbes and is a board member and independent non-executive director of innovative healthcare companies.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer, Annett Altvater

report BaselArea.swiss

Visionarity promotes healthy living

05.10.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Basel scientists develop DNA storage device

04.10.2018

report Innovation

“We want to improve the visibility of startups at the University of Basel”

06.11.2017

Christian Elias Schneider has been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel for eight months now. His job is to promote entrepreneurship and projects in collaboration with industry.

Mr. Schneider, you took on a newly created post at the University of Basel. The idea is to give innovation a face at the university. What specifically does that mean in terms of your work?

We picked two focal areas: first, attention should be drawn to the topic of entrepreneurship at the university. Researchers with good ideas should have incentives to monetize these ideas. And those who are already working towards this goal should receive more support. The second focal area is on collaboration with the business world. The objective here is to realize more projects together with industry partners.

How do you go about this task?

In the many conversations I’ve had with startups at the university in recent months, it has become clear that there are hardly any connections within this scene; many of the entrepreneurs have never met each other. Of course, many young entrepreneurs struggle with the same problems, so we brought them together and founded the Entrepreneurs Club to give them a platform for sharing and discussion. We want the entrepreneurs to see themselves as a team – a group that is recognized and valued by the university and by society. We can offer them access to people who would be difficult to approach individually.

What can you offer the entrepreneurs? What have they been waiting for, and what have they been lacking?

First, the startups at the university were lacking visibility. People didn’t know who they were, and they were often completely on their own. We believe our role is to offer them visibility – both within the university and externally – and help them build relationships with industry partners, the financial sector and other service providers. There are also plans to offer startups expert coaching and mentoring at an early stage.

For a few months you have been offering courses that teach University of Basel students and staff important startup skills, such as preparing business plans, handling IP rights and much more. How have these new resources been received?

Demand is huge. We have been practically overrun and overwhelmed by the success. As a result, we are considering to expand the service, with the goal of talking to students about these important issues at an early stage. The earlier that entrepreneurs deal with these issues, the fewer mistakes they will make later. For example, it’s important that we make researchers aware of IP issues very early in the game. Otherwise, they run the risk of revealing important knowledge too soon and then being unable to protect it. These courses offer help at an early stage, and this support can then be smoothly incorporated into coaching.

For the last eight months, you have been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel. What responses have you seen so far?

Everyone I’ve talked to in recent months has given very positive – in fact, enthusiastic – feedback about our innovation initiative and other resources. Clearly, it was time that the University of Basel actively tackled this issue and filled a gap.

On November 10, the University of Basel will be holding its first Innovation Day in Allschwil. What can we expect?

At the Innovation Day, we will demonstrate what is important to us: bringing people together, debating innovation, developing new ideas – and doing this in a stimulating and open atmosphere. More than 200 people have signed up, the waiting list is long and we’re happy that this new event has been so well received right from the start.

What would you like to achieve over the next two years?

Startups should feel at home at the University of Basel. The individuals should connect with each other, and an active, dynamic scene should emerge that will also interest startups in the region as a whole. In the long term, we may certainly evolve into a hub with an international appeal that will attract founders and young entrepreneurs. We want to help Basel become a preferred place for many startups to realize their visionary ideas. We will be able to do this only if we work closely with all partners: with the local universities, with institutions such as BaselArea.swiss – and, most importantly, with industry partners. In discussion with business, it is clear that the doors are open.

Interview: Matthias Geering, Head of Communications & Marketing at University of Basel

report Life Sciences

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report Innovation

Basler Kantonalbank creates innovation lab

25.09.2018

report Life Sciences

"You should always have something crazy cooking on the back burner"

03.10.2017

When Jennifer Doudna gave her keynote at Basel Life in September, the auditorium in the Congress Center was packed. Susan Gasser, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Basel introduced Doudna as groundbreaking and extremely innovative. The Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley was on top of Gassers wish list for the Basel Life. The leading figure of what is known as the CRISPR revolution among scientists sat down with BaselArea.swiss during her stay in Basel to talk about her lab, flexible career paths and what makes a great researcher.

In your keynote you stated that you always did a lot of basic research. What changed for you and your lab after you published the CRISPR findings?

We are still doing deep dives into CRISPR technology. A lot of our work is about discovering new systems and looking at RNA targeting and integration. These things do not necessarily have to do with gene editing, but are our primal motivation. But there were quite a few changes. We started doing a lot more applied work. That led to all sorts of interesting collaborations with people that I would probably never had the chance to interact with in the past. It has been a great opportunity to expand both deeper and broader.

How do you manage to direct your students and postdocs in your growing lab?

I hire really good people that can focus on both innovative initiatives mixed with projects where a clearer outcome can be forecasted. I give them some guidance and then I cut them loose. We also build teams in the lab which works really effectively. I do not always get it right, but when I do, amazing science happens.

You live in an area where entrepreneurship seems to be some kind of lifestyle. What is your view on the environment in Europe for both doing research and creating companies compared to the benchmark California?

There are some interesting – probably cultural – differences in the way people approach science. At Berkeley, a lot of our students are planning to go into academia. And a lot of students in California not only want to go into industry, but want to start their own company or join a startup. From talking to my Swiss colleagues, it sounds like many students in Switzerland are uncomfortable with that. They want to go to a large company and get a nice salary. Nothing wrong with that. Still, I think that it is good to encourage students to take a risk and to try something that is outside of their comfort zone.

How does that work out in Berkeley?

Two of my students started companies with me directly based on their work in the lab. One company creates new technologies that will be useful therapeutically or in agriculture. In the other case, we are figuring out how to deliver gene editing to the brain. Both students became CEOs and were able to do all the steps it takes to build their company, deal with the legal stuff and funding, conceptualize the business plan and the science. They had to hire people, build a team, and make deals. I always tell those students, I could never do their job.

How do you motivate students to take that step anyway?

I think one of the reasons that we have a lot of entrepreneurship in the bay area is because Silicon Valley is around the corner. That kind of mindset permeates everything. My kid sees young entrepreneurs who are not that much older than a teenager building the next robotics and AI companies. Granted, there is lots of failure for every single success. But teenagers see a successful person and feel motivated to give it a shot.

How can a culture like that be created?

You cannot replicate Silicon Valley culture. But I think you can create a culture that values risk taking and that validates people who do things that are not traditional. If you try something and it does not work out you should not be penalized. Instead, you should be able to go back and get the job at the big corporation. If we encourage our students to see all those options from academia to corporation and startup, they realize that they do not necessarily have to commit themselves to one path for their entire career.

Were you ever tempted to switch sides?

I toyed with it. Back in 2009, I left my job at Berkeley and joined Genentech as a Vice President of basic research. I only lasted a couple of months.

Why was that?

From the outside, it seemed like an exciting way to take my research in a much more applied direction. When I was inside I realized I was not playing to my own strengths. Instead, I realized what I am good at doing and what I really like. It all boiled down to creative, untethered science. I love working with young people and I like creating an environment where they can do interesting work. Not that I could not have done that with Genentech, but it was very different. The process was super painful, but also valuable. I returned to Berkeley and decided to go with the reason why I am in academia: crazy, creative projects that might not be clinically relevant but are interesting science. That was when I decided to expand the work on CRISPR. Had I not made the foray to Genentech and then back to Berkeley, I might not have done any of the CRISPR work.

One topic you are dealing with is the unsolved patent struggle about CRISPR Cas9. Does this effect your work?

I try to look at it very pragmatically. Because ultimately I am an educator. You could say this is my own education. I have learned a huge amount about the patent and legal process, some of it unpleasant. Someday I will write a book about that.

Another jury might be more distinctive on your achievements: You are a hot candidate for the Nobel Prize. How does that make you feel?

I try not to think about it too much. Yet, I feel very humbled. It makes me take a step back and ask myself: What is the purpose of prizes like that? I think they highlight science, the advances that are made and how these might influence people’s lives positively. I did not chose this job to win prizes, but because I really love science.

Is that enthusiasm for science what makes a great researcher – or is there a magic formula?

I think it is a combination of willingness to try new things coupled with a willingness to listen to people. I have seen these extremes both in myself and in my lab. I have real maverick students with creative ideas. But they can never follow a protocol because they are sure they will do better. This often does not lead to good science. The flip is true as well: If you always just follow protocols and never take a step out of the procedures you also do not create the most interesting science. We usually set up one line of experiments that are following a path and where we will surely get some data that are of interest for us. The second project is something that is of interest to the student. This mixture often leads to the best science.Let’s face it: You do not get rich in academic science. The joy in science is the freedom of making discoveries, of finding things out. I tell students: ‘If you stay in academic science, play with that.’ You should always have something a bit crazy cooking on the back burner. That is what makes it fun.

Interview: Alethia de León and Annett Altvater, BaselArea.swiss

report BaselArea.swiss

First semester starts well for FHNW Campus Muttenz

20.09.2018

report ICT

See you @ Blockchain Leadership Summit in Basel

20.09.2018

report Invest in Basel region

Spirochem opens new state-­of-­the-­art Services and R&D facilities in Basel

29.09.2017

Basel – The fine chemicals company SpiroChem has relocated to state-of-the-art facilities in the Rosental area of Basel, offering the company an ideal location to significantly expand its operations. SpiroChem has also strengthened its board of directors.

SpiroChem is a spin-off of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, where it was also located until recently. According to a statement, the company is now fully operational at its new facilities in Basel.  

“We are excited to announce our move to state-of-the-art facilities in Basel. Our new set-up is ideal for interaction and collaborations with large and small organisations, providing flexibility and speed to solve problems, allowing our clients to focus on effectively designing the drugs of tomorrow,” said CEO Thomas Fessard.

SpiroChem offers new molecules, which are used in the R&D of new medications, and it is now a world leader in this industry, developing innovative solutions for the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors.

“SpiroChem intends to become a key player in Basel’s vibrant, innovation-driven, life science scene, supporting our ambition to increase our portfolio of clients and recruit talented employees to join our growing, cutting-edge company,” said Fessard.

In anticipation of the upcoming growth path, SpiroChem has also strengthened its board of directors with the appointment of Anthony Baxter, who has extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

“His industry experience and network will be invaluable as we continue to grow our portfolio of small, medium, and large pharmaceutical, agrochemical and life science clients worldwide,” added Fessard.

report Invest in Basel region

BaselArea.swiss 欢迎百济神州进驻巴塞尔

20.09.2018

report Innovation

University of Basel and ETH Zurich co-found the Botnar Research Centre in Basel

19.09.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

13 startup projects qualify for the first phase of BaseLaunch

18.09.2017

The BaseLaunch Healthcare Accelerator program from BaselArea.swiss started on September 14. Over 100 applications were received from more than 30 countries, and the selection committee has selected 13 projects to go on to Phase I. Now, the project teams will work with industry experts to further develop their business case over the next three months.

More than 100 projects from over 30 countries were submitted to the BaseLaunch accelerator program from BaselArea.swiss. The submitted projects ranged from therapeutics and diagnostics to digital healthcare and medtech. Instead of 10 as originally planned, the selection committee chose 13 promising projects, which will now proceed to Phase I. "The innovation potential of the project proposals was impressive," says BaseLaunch Selection Committee Chairwoman Trudi Haemmerli, CEO of PerioC Ltd and Managing Director of TruStep Consulting GmbH. “We look forward to seeing how the chosen project teams fine-tune their business cases during Phase I.”

According to Stephan Emmerth, the BaselArea.swiss Business Development Manager for BaseLaunch, the selected projects cover a wide range of objectives: from new approaches for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's or novel immunotherapies to innovative drug delivery methods and next-generation gene therapies for cancer treatment. Other projects focus on new diagnostic procedures for finding cancer biomarkers or revolutionizing the detection of neurological diseases by deploying digital measurement methods.

The development stages of the projects were just as varied. Some projects were submitted by entrepreneurs wishing to establish a company with the support of BaseLaunch. Other projects came from existing startups that had already successfully managed the initial rounds of financing and wanted to further develop the company with the help of BaseLaunch. The founders of these companies and members of project teams also had different professional career histories. Some of the applicants selected for Phase I have many years of R&D experience in the industry; others come from a university background.

"We have chosen the most promising projects. Additionally, selected projects should benefit as much as possible from BaseLaunch and its regional life sciences ecosystem," says Alethia de León, Managing Director of BaseLaunch. “We paid particular attention to a sound scientific and technical foundation, a high level of innovation and the entrepreneurial potential of the founding team.” Alethia also commented on the productive and collaborative selection process with representatives from healthcare partners that included Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer and Roche. "Our discussions during the selection process were very constructive," she says.

The 13 selected startups will have three months from September 14 to develop their business ideas. They will be supported by the BaseLaunch team as well as a number of experienced entrepreneurs and consultants. In this first phase, up to CHF 10,000 will be available for each of the projects. The selection committee will then select three of the Phase I projects to progress to Phase II. This phase lasts for 12 months, with each project receiving funding of up to CHF 250,000. The selected project teams in Phase II will also have access to the BaseLaunch Lab in the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, where they will be expected to achieve important research milestones and further develop their business cases.


Overview of the selected projects:

ABBA Therapeutics develops therapeutic antibodies against novel targets for cancer immunotherapy.

The β-catenin project aims to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of colorectal, lung, liver, breast, brain and ovarian cancers by removing pathological proteins from the human body.

CellSpring analyzes human cells grown in special 3-Dimensional environments to develop new tools for diagnosing early-stage cancer.

Eyemove strives to detect early-stage neurological diseases through eye-tracking.

Polyneuron Pharmaceuticals is committed to the development of a promising new drug class to treat autoimmune disorders.

The SERI project develops new medicines to treat anxiety and stress related disorders by modulating the activity of cannabinoid molecules in the human body.

SunRegen develops novel drugs for neurodegenerative diseases.

T3 Pharma develops the next generation bacterial cancer therapy.

The mission of T-CURX is to exploit its unique ‘UltraModularCAR’ platform to provide best-in-class immunotherapy.

The mission of TEPTHERA is to offer individualized therapeutic cancer vaccines.

TheraNASH develops precision medicine for fatty liver disease (NASH) - a rising cause of liver cancer world-wide.

VERSAMEB is a regenerative medicine research and development company.

One biotech in stealth mode is developing novel Immuno-Oncology drugs.

report

BaseLaunch’s second round – 10 projects enter Phase I

18.09.2018

report Life Sciences

Clariant calls for higher-value specialty chemicals

18.09.2018

report Precision Medicine

"In Switzerland, we often sell promising technologies too early"

05.09.2017

Ulf Claesson is a "serial entrepreneur". During the past 25 years, he has set up companies that have gone on to become firmly established in the market. In 2012, he joined Clinerion as CEO and shareholder. Since then, the company has positioned itself in the medical data field and recently entered into a partnership with British company Cisiv. Clinerion's software helps recruit patients for clinical trials run by major pharmaceutical companies – in real time. But the competition never sleeps. A growing number of competitors is now appearing, especially in the USA where there is no shortage of risk capital. In this interview for the Innovation Report, Claesson explains how the Basel-based healthtech company plans to maintain its leadership position.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer

Mr Claesson, what was behind your decision to get on board with Clinerion?

Ulf Claesson: Clinerion was originally an IT platform with a complicated name. Its founders hit upon the idea of building a large data hub for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. That was quite an ambitious idea. I reckon that the WHO or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could possibly manage it. But a small company in Basel? As an IT person, I quickly saw how good the core technology was.  What wasn't clear, however, was the problem that the technology was going to solve. So we started working on that and felt our way slowly but surely towards the patient recruitment use case. Today, we are the only company in the world able to identify in real time from millions of patient data records those patients who are suitable for a specific clinical trial.

So you have aligned the company with a particular niche?

Yes, absolutely. When you are building a company, you must concentrate on solving a genuine problem. Our technology gives the customer clear benefits. Finding patients usually takes months, sometimes years. We cut this to weeks, or less. We ensure that a pharma company, hospital or contract research organisation already before the start of a clinical trial knows exactly where candidate patients are located and exactly how many there are. Depending on the goal, the study protocol can then be optimised as required. Because we avoid guesswork and identify genuine patients who meet the study criteria in this very moment, the study design is robust and risk is minimised. Not only that, but a study sponsor knows exactly where and how many of his "sites" he must place. Real-time information is particularly valuable for this. As soon as I activate a study protocol, the doctors involved are notified and can call their patients in.

Is it easy to convince hospitals to collaborate with Clinerion?

We were rather naive about this at first. From an IT perspective, it makes sense to do everything in the cloud. That is exactly what we tried to do, but most people were negative about it. We also found that attitudes to data protection, as well as the regulations themselves, vary considerably from one country to the next. These factors make a cloud solution virtually impossible to implement. Today, we are installing a hardware appliance within a hospital's IT infrastructure. The data therefore remains exactly where it is collected and it is as secure as all other patient data. We can also only access consolidated and aggregated meta information, which earns us the trust of decision-makers and the people using the system.

What exactly motivates hospitals to disclose their data?

We all basically share the same objective of providing relevant patients with drugs as soon as possible. We play a role in achieving this. The university hospitals are carrying out research to some extent for their own interests. We help them to carry out their internal studies more quickly. The pharmaceutical companies remunerate the hospitals for each patient who participates in a study. The doctors feel that participating in interesting studies is important. In our experience, the number of studies that hospitals are offered increases significantly as soon as they start working with us.

How many patients do you currently have access to?

We have access to 35 million patients via the hospitals. And we certainly need that many. The numbers can start dwindling rapidly depending on the symptoms you are searching for.

You operate mainly in emerging markets such as Brazil and Turkey.  Why is that?

With the exception of the UK, Europe is more cautious about taking part in clinical trials. By 2020, Turkey expects to have increased the EUR 50 million turn-over in clinical trials in 2014 to EUR 1.5 billion. In Brazil, they are even changing the law to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to carry out more studies in the future. In clinical trials, it is important for all participating patients to receive the same standard of care. Participants in trials might therefore receive better care than usual. This applies to some countries in Eastern Europe, for example. For some patients, this can be an incentive.

Does your data acquisition prioritise emerging markets?

No, not exclusively. We are also well positioned in a number of European countries. But we can certainly do better. We would also like to expand our presence in India and Taiwan, for example. Great Britain is a key focus for us and our partnership with Cisiv will help here. We recently entered into a partnership with this UK company. Cisiv’s platform complements our screening programme perfectly.

It sounds like a data contest. How close is your main competition?

There are three competitors. But we are the only ones able to provide real-time results. Our competition in the USA, however, has access to much more capital. At the last investment round, one of our competitors raised 32 million dollars.

Do you find it difficult to compete with that?

It is certainly difficult for an ICT start-up in Switzerland to obtain those kinds of amounts. We are not completely dependent on external investment, however. We have a very loyal shareholder base and have sufficient funding, even though we are still a long way from being profitable.

Could a sale be on the cards?

Our vision is to provide patients with medicines. If we see that we can achieve this goal more quickly, we would be willing to consider it. But selling is not currently under consideration. I have already founded a number of companies. Some were sold too early, even though we could still have helped them progress through one or more growth phases. I am convinced that Clinerion will succeed in that regard.

Do you consider the lack of growth financing to be a problem for the Swiss start-up scene?

Most certainly. Good technologies tend to be sold off too early because their owners cannot find the money they need for the next major milestone, typically for the global expansion phase.  

What do you suggest?

Imitating Silicon Valley will get us nowhere. Also because costs there are unacceptably high at the moment. We really need to focus on our strengths. Just to give you one example: twice as many startups are established at ETH Zurich each year than at UC Berkeley. When universities foster a supportive environment, a start-up community develops all on its own. The students I meet at ETH are ambitious and full of energy. I also note, however, that many Swiss students prefer the security of working in a large corporation. We need a greater willingness to accept risk. We need to work on it.

How do you see innovation hub Basel?

We have good access to the sector here, and we can also recruit staff from neighbouring Germany. The labour market is therefore less competitive than in Zurich for example. We feel right at home here in Basel.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Annett Altvater

About Ulf Claesson
Ulf Claesson studied production technology at Chalmers University in Gothenburg and also gained a management degree at the University of St. Gallen. He worked for IBM and Hewlett-Packard, established spin-offs for various companies, and founded his own start-ups. In his lecture on "Technology Entrepreneurship" he passes on his experience as a "serial entrepreneur" to students at ETH. He is a member of the board of directors of various companies, the Foundation Board Director of the AO Foundation, and has been the CEO of Clinerion since 2012.

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500 words on the DayOne Conference 2018

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At a glance: The Life Sciences Cluster Basel Region

17.09.2018

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"I want to turn innovative research into new drugs"

04.07.2017

Each year some 250,000 patients develop a type of cancer because of faulty communication between cells. This malfunction occurs in what is known as the NOTCH signal path. There are currently no effective treatments – but this is set to change. Cellestia Biotech AG is developing an innovative drug against this type of cancer by using a novel active ingredient that selectively attacks the malfunctioning cell communication. The drug could be used to treat leukaemia, lymphomas and solid tumours such as breast cancer.

In 2014 Professor Freddy Radtke and Dr Rajwinder Lehal, who had dealt with this subject in his dissertation, founded the company Cellestia Biotech AG. In 2015, an experienced team of pharmacology and oncology development specialists led by Michael Bauer came on board, investing in Cellestia as co-founders. Bauer and his team had previously spent several years examining various projects in an effort to help shape the development of such a start-up company. We spoke with him about the risks and implications of founding a company.

Interview: Stephan Emmerth

Mr Bauer, how long did you have to look before you found a project you wanted to invest?

Michael Bauer: Over the course of many years and alongside my regular jobs, I and my colleagues examined, evaluated and rejected a number of projects – sometimes more intensively, sometimes less. Some of the projects were great, some being unbelievably innovative. However, something always led us not to pursue a project in the end.

The search did not just cost you a lot of time, but also a lot of money as you have to conduct due diligence every time.

We of course had to put effort into the search. You could say that we identified, examined and evaluated projects acting similar to a small venture fund. Thanks to the make-up of our team, we were able to undertake many of the tasks ourselves, at times bringing in experts. There were many instances when specialists from our network assisted us. There was a considerable amount of good will. To some extent we footed the bill ourselves.

Why did this not work out before Cellestia?

A number of conditions have to be met. The basis is of course excellent, innovative research results protected by patents. Also important are ownership rights to the inventions and reasonable licencing terms. Finally, there has to be agreement on the expectations of the people involved in the project. We have experienced pretty much everything. Many times it emerged over the course of the investigation that, for example, the research data was not quite so convincing as had initially been presented. Or the expectations with respect to the licencing conditions were too far apart. In one project, they wanted to sell us patents that had expired. It often happens that the scientists have unrealistic ideas about the value of their project. One retired professor who had tried in vain for many years to finance his company expected us to try for five per cent of the shares. This is of course not the basis for a partnership.

Juggling research and entrepreneurship is a big challenge, isn’t it?

It is necessary to develop an understanding of the relations and contributions of the various partners involved in such a project, each of who have very different personal risks. On the one hand, there is some 20 years of basic research behind Cellestia, 11 of which were at the EPFL. Rajwinder Lehal has been working concretely on this project for the past nine years, initially as part of his dissertation, then as a post-doc and since 2014 as Chief Scientific Officer. We respect this history from the management team and are happy to have access to the resulting knowledge. At the same time, the inventor’s side has to have regard for the entire expenditure: some five million of public funds were invested over the years at the EPFL. However, it could take hundreds of millions until a product comes onto the market. Moreover, the path from the first successful experiment in lab animals until a drug is approved for human use is long. Altogether, the cost of research could be marginal in comparison to the development and marketing, amounting to only a few per cent. And the development costs are paid for by the investors, who need the investment to pay off. All of these factors have to be considered and respected in a partnership. This worked with our team.

You have many years of industrial experience. What attracted you to the entrepreneurship?

The challenge of turning ground breaking inventions into products attracted me. I consider myself a product developer and had wanted to start a company even as a student. Looking back, I have to say that I am lucky to have gained nearly 20 years of professional experience in product development as it is important to be able to understand and appreciate just how complex the challenges are in product development in life sciences and pharma. This wealth of experience also helps you understand where your own knowledge ends and when experts have to be brought on board to be able to successfully advance a project or a company.

What was the incubation from first contact until you joined as co-founder at Cellestia like?

The current Chief Scientific Officer, Rajwinder Lehal, and I had been in regular contact with each other for a number of years. At that time, however, the project was not advanced enough to establish a company. Initially, Professor Radtke, Rajwinder Lehal and Maximilien Murone founded Cellestia in 2014. We met a few times in summer 2015 with the Lausanne research and founder team at i-net, the predecessor of BaselArea.swiss. Things moved quickly from there. In just a few meetings, we were able to evaluate the project and develop a good personal understanding, which for me and my partners was very important if we were to invest in Cellestia. We could agree on matters quickly, more or less by handshake. Then came the necessary contracts and in November we were already listed in the commercial register. Our lawyer and co-founder Ralf Rosenow saw to the formalities. We decided to move the headquarters from Lausanne to Basel but to leave the research activities in Lausanne, resulting in a sort of transcantonal partnership.

Why move the headquarters to Basel?

For us, the most important argument in favour of Basel was access to talent and resources for product development, resulting from the proximity to leading pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Roche, Actelion and many others. Such access to experienced development specialists is more difficult in Lausanne. In addition, our co-founder Roger Meier and other colleagues already have an active investor network in Basel with an affinity to the sector and Basel itself. We did not have such access in Zurich or Geneva at the beginning. I personally also like the quality of work and life in Basel. The city is of a manageable size yet international, with diverse cultural offerings. Furthermore, the Basel airport has excellent connections – you are in the middle of Europe and in just one to two hours you’re practically anywhere Europe, be it London, Berlin or Barcelona. Lausanne, on the other hand, has in its favour the outstanding academic environment with the EPFL and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research. Here, too, there is an excellent environment for start-ups, but in our opinion more toward engineering and technical disciplines or medicine technology. Many companies are founded each year at the EPFL and the innovation potential is enormous, but Cellestia is the first company founded at the EPFL that seeks to bring a drug to clinical development. We are happy to be able to combine the positive elements of both regions via what is now an established approach with two locations.

Which pre-conditions were decisive enough that you ended up collaborating and founding the company?

Actually, everything was right from the very beginning. First of all, the personal atmosphere between the people involved has to be right. This was also the basis in coming to a fair agreement for all co-founders with respect to understanding the evaluation and allocating the respective shares in the company at the time it was founded. On the other hand, it was of course crucial that the substantive examination of the project – as concerns both the scientific basis and the quality of the data – and the examination of the patent as well as license conditions of the EPFL were positive. Also important to us was that the risk profile is manageable, i.e. there is a good balance between innovation and reference to the research already carried out.

How will Cellestia develop further operationally?

Cellestia already has a long history, starting with the research activities at the EPFL. When the management team was expanded in 2015, other co-founders joined at the same time that I did: Dirk Weber as Chief Medical Officer, as well as the already mentioned co-founders Ralf Rosenow and Roger Meier. Cellestia now has six employees. Then there are the numerous service and consulting mandates, which complement our internal resources as needed. If you take into consideration external services, I reckon there are now well over 100 people involved in Cellestia. We expect that we will continue to grow in the direction of clinical development as our first project progresses and further expand the team. Moreover, we would like to develop additional products in our pipeline as soon as possible. This will definitely require additional financial resources. The Board of Directors will also develop further, expanding and adapting with each financing round in order to properly represent new investors. Research work is increasingly being carried out by external services providers, and at the same time continuing in the laboratory of Professor Freddy Radtke at the EPFL. We are currently setting up new framework agreements with the EPFL concerning the further use of their infrastructure. The flexibility there is very helpful for us.

What are the next milestones?

A key milestone is the treatment of the first cancer patients. We hope to be able to treat the first patients in October.

How are the clinical studies organised?

The course of a clinical trial for new drugs is strictly regulated. In the Phase I study, the compatibility of the active ingredient is first examined. This is when we treat patients who are suffering from a form of cancer in which NOTCH most likely plays a role. In the following Phase II study, the efficacy of our drug is researched in different types of cancer. This is when we select patients in whom activation of the NOTCH signal path is detected with a Cellestia diagnostic method. The therapeutic benefit for these patients is therefore very likely.

Have there been any surprises so far?

No, not really, because we have considered everything. Or yes, but pleasant surprises: due to the considerable amount of preparatory work, we were already quite certain with respect to the effect mechanism. It has now finally been possible to detect the precise binding mechanism of the drug, which confirmed all former studies. This is also the basis for significantly expanding the programme. We can now build a new platform on whose basis we can generate new drugs for new indications. In addition, it was not that easy to manufacture the drug in large quantities and in a high quality. Innovative steps were needed, which ultimately leads to a patent.

What do you have in mind for the next five years?

We are very optimistic about Cellestia’s prospects for success and are planning the next couple of years in detail. We of course also have a plan for the overall development over the next five years, but as experience shows, such plans always change with the results obtained. This is also the fascination and challenge in medication development – it does not allow you to plan everything in detail, and you have to respond flexibly to new results. This also applies to possible setbacks, of course. It is important to have sufficient reserves to deal with these and resolve them. Thanks to the successful financing rounds that we could close in January 2017, we are in a position to begin with Phase I while at the same time pursue further financing.

Who has invested in Cellestia so far?

The first investors after the deposit of the initial capital were predominantly many of our advisors, i.e. experts who are familiar with the sector as well as private people involved in life sciences and the pharma sector as investors. Around one-third of the shareholders are experts from the pharma and life sciences setting. Over the course of the Series A, B and C financing rounds, larger investments from family offices also came. The first institutional investor, the PPF Group, invested after its own, extensive due diligence that was conducted by experts from Sotio. So far, we’ve been able to mobilise a total of CHF 8 million to drive product development at Cellestia. In preparation of the next financing round, we are in talks with private investors, venture funds and pharmaceutical companies. We are confident that we will be able to win good partners for Cellestia’s next phase. The right combination of partnerships and financing is important. We need strong partners on board to give patients access to our medications quickly.


About
Michael Bauer (born 1966) has been CEO at Cellestia since November 2015. He studied chemistry at the University of Hamburg and completed his doctoral in biotechology from 1994 to 1997 at the Hamburg-Harburg University of Technology. After working in metabolic research at Zeneca in England, he moved to Syngenta in Basel in 2001 where he worked as Global Regulatory Affairs Manager in project and portfolio management. From 2007 to 2009 he was a project leader at Arpida, a biotech firm in the field of antibiotics development. From 2009 to 2012 he was a Global Program Manager at Novartis where he led global development projects in the field of oncology and brought a range of products to clinical development. From 2012 to 2015 he was the Head of Clinical Development at Polyphor.

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Roivant is creating a buzz in Basel

13.06.2017

Roivant Sciences, a fast-growing life sciences company from the US, recently opened its global headquarters in Basel. In celebration of their newly established location, Roivant, together with BaselArea.swiss, invited stakeholders from the life sciences sector to “Halle 7, Gundeldingerfeld” in Basel on June 8th 2017 for a panel discussion on the future of healthcare.

More than 150 guests were interested in hearing this success story first-hand from Roivant Sciences’ founder and CEO, Vivek Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy, a member of the renowned “Forbes 30 Under 30” list and also named a “prodigy” by Forbes magazine for the biggest biotech IPO in US history, gave a trenchant keynote speech before being joined by a panel of experts from Basel’s pharma and biotech industry.

Ramaswamy explained his mission: “We concentrate on promising science and passionate people to systematically reduce the time, cost and risk of bringing new medicines to market”, he said. Roivant Sciences buys and develops drugs that are shelved by other large pharmaceutical companies, and that are stuck in the middle of the drug development traffic within the organization. Ramaswamy’s mission is to create an “alternative highway” by bringing together top talent in drug development and other industries and focus on those assets within lean and dynamic structures. Ramaswamy is certain that data will make the difference in bringing drugs speedily to market.

Roivant Sciences is the umbrella company of five (and the number growing!) late-stage biopharma companies in different therapeutic areas: Axovant tackles dementia, Dermavant deals with dermatology, Myovant focuses on women’s health, Urovant concentrates on urology and Enzyvant develops therapies for patients with rare diseases. All Roivant-family companies can tap into standard capabilities built at Roivant, while each company can develop capabilities of their own to address their specific market requirements.

Settling in Basel without red tape

In his speech, Ramaswamy also made a case for Basel as a headquarters location: “Different nationalities are coming together in this place, three different languages are spoken on the street.” Although relatively small, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft would be “punching way above their weight”. He also mentioned the thriving biotech scene and the deep humanistic tradition in Basel. In addition, Ramaswamy thanked the Basel authorities for lowering barriers in setting up a business: “There was no red tape. They made setting up here a pleasure.”

During the subsequent panel discussion, Vas Narashimhan, Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer at Novartis, Jonathan Knowles, Chairman of the board of directors at Immunocore Limited, David Hung, CEO of Axovant and Vivek Ramaswamy discussed the future of healthcare. Moderated by Alethia de Léon from BaseLaunch, the conversation included topics such as data collection, and critical questions about the current challenges and opportunities of the pharma industry were raised. Big data and biomarkers were some of the highlighted topics as potentially helping to address some of the R&D productivity issues the industry is currently facing. 

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BaselArea.swiss got off to a successful start

08.06.2017

In its first annual report, the newly formed BaselArea.swiss can look back on a successful 2016. The joint initiative for innovation and economic promotion by the cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura succeeded in growing in all areas. It provided assistance to 36 companies moving to the region, which corresponds to a 50% increase over the previous year. In the area of innovation promotion, over 4,000 participants attended 80 events, expanding the regional network from 8,000 to 13,000 innovators and experts. The services provided by BaselArea.swiss were also actively used to promote start-up projects, contributing to 43 companies being founded.

With a 50% increase over the previous year, the Basel region recorded the biggest growth across Switzerland with the number of new companies to the region. The economic promotion team at BaselArea.swiss advised and assisted 31 foreign and 5 domestic companies relocate to the Basel region. 14 companies came from the US and Europe each, and 3 from Asia. 19 of the new companies to the region are active in the life sciences.

“The consolidation of economic promotion and innovation/start-up promotion under one roof is paying off. By focussing on the strengths of the economic region, the location was able to clearly gain importance as a significant innovation hub in the life sciences and related technologies,” says Christoph Klöpper, CEO of BaselArea.swiss.

Growing network of innovators and experts

BaselArea.swiss succeeded in significantly expanding the network of innovators and experts in 2016, growing from 8,500 people at the end of 2015 to more than 13,000 people at the end of 2016. This puts BaselArea.swiss in a position to better assist clients with respect to relocations as well as innovation and expansion projects by providing them with targeted communication of knowledge and partnerships. The more than 80 events organized by BaselArea.swiss – attended by over 4,000 participants – made a key contribution to the expansion of the network. In addition, BaselArea.swiss supported start-ups and companies in more than 180 individual consultations, including initiating cooperation in research and development as well as in establishing contacts to potential customers and investors. In total, BaselArea.swiss provided assistance that resulted in 43 companies being founded.

BaselArea.swiss grew out of the merger of i-net innovation networks, the economic promotion agency BaselArea and the China Business Platform, and began its operational activities at the beginning of 2016 under the new brand BaselArea.swiss with a unified services portfolio and newly launched website. Its entrepreneurial profile has also been strengthened: industry representatives now form the majority of the Board of Directors, which is chaired by Domenico Scala and is responsible for strategic orientation.

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04.09.2018

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04.09.2018

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A molecular assembly line to cure the body

08.06.2017

Imagine that certain forms of blindness could be cured. Or imagine that the body itself could produce a cure for some of its own diseases. These may be just some of the results of the National Centre of Competence in Research Molecular Systems Engineering (NCCR MSE). Its long-term goals are to create molecular systems and factories for the production of high added-value chemicals and develop cellular systems for new applications in medical diagnostics, therapy and treatment. Director Thomas Ward is aiming high: He wants to make Basel the leading hub for the next European flagship project. At stake: one billion euro.

Interview: Ralf Dümpelmann

Thomas Ward, you are the director of the NCCR MSE. How did you end up in this position?

Thomas Ward: During my work at the University of Neuchâtel we became curious about artificial metalloenzymes. For instance, we could take ruthenium ion that nature does not have much of at its disposal, and incorporate it in a protein to yield an artificial metalloenzyme. Pursuing this curiosity driven pathway, my group became more and more interested in biological questions. Ultimately I wanted to collaborate with molecular biologists – and this is one of the main reasons why I moved to Basel. When I arrived here nine years ago, the ETH Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) had just moved to Basel. That led professor Wolfgang Meier, then head of the Department of Chemistry at our university, to initiate talks with the D-BSSE which were very productive. In the end, he and co-director professor Daniel Müller set out for a National Centre of Competence and Research that ultimately got funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

What was the goal when starting the NCCR?

Wolfgang Meier and Daniel Müller saw the opportunity to start a collaboration between biologists who relied quite heavily on chemistry and chemists who can provide the required chemical building blocks to address challenging biological questions. This is scientifically a very unique match. In my view this is also reflected in the most important aspect in the title of our NCCR – molecular systems engineering – namely the systems aspect.

Do you build artificial biological systems with the help of chemistry?

At the end of the road, we want to reproduce the properties and the complexity of a living system. There are two ways to get there. The chemical way is to take a compartment, put objects inside one by one and see what evolves. That is the bottom-up approach. On the other hand, a biologist takes a complex system and knocks out components, one at a time. In doing so, biologists focus on computing a system. And they are doing this very well. They can control things, even without fully understanding the molecular details of such systems. These two approaches meet at some point, and that is where our NCCR comes into play.

What could a potential end result look like? A small golem?

If you take the definition of what is life, there are a few features that we are definitely not trying to mimic. We are rather focusing on an artificial organelle, something that you could introduce into a living system and which would work in a living system, but which does not have all the features of a living system itself. I like to call such components molecular prostheses. It is like an artificial Lego block that fits into living systems. There we are already quite advanced.

Can you explain how the work of the NCCR is structured?

The network is planned to work over twelve years, split in three phases. There are roughly 30 groups associated with this NRCC, with some 20 in Basel. When there is somebody outside of Basel who has a competence that we need, they can be integrated to the network. That might be people in the Paul Scherrer Institute or at the University of Bern, for instance.
We are now approaching the end of the first phase of four years. The first step for us as chemists is to synthesise and assemble molecules into modules, an assembly of several molecules. For example, Sven Panke at the D-BSSE and myself synthesise artificial enzymes. Daniel Müller of the D-BSSE on the other hand manipulates pore proteins which allow to control the trafficking of substrates and products in and out of a cell. The goal is assemble an artificial organelle containing two or three enzymes and to introduce this prosthesis inside a cell. With that we can complement the natural metabolism of a cell with an artificial metabolism to produce new chemicals. At the end of the first phase, we ideally want to have solved the module’s problem. In the second and third phase, we can then focus on creating molecular factories and cellular systems.
Ultimately, a chemical factory could produce something that could be useful and a cellular system could be used to cure a disease. For both of these goals, you need a molecular assembly line, much in the spirit of what Henry Ford developed in the early twentieth Century, but at a molecular scale.

Do you already get a stable system out of these assembly lines?

Yes. The question is, however, how stable and for how long. We have systems that function in a cell for two weeks. Whether this is enough to cure a disease remains to be demonstrated.

What benefits may come out of it?

Our aim is to change the way biology and chemistry work in the long term. It is a risky strategy, but with a potentially high payoff.

What would be the high payoff?

You put a molecular or cellular system in the body and it treats or cures a disease.

When will that be feasible?

There are two systems, which are already very well advanced. Both were initiated and funded by the NCCR. Botond Roska of the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research has developed a system that can be injected into the eye to regain vision. This system will enter clinical trials in Winter 2017. It is based on genetic engineering, where you have to inject DNA so that your eye starts to produce pigments again. The other one is aimed at curing diabetes. Your fat cells are re-programmed into cells that are capable of producing insulin. They are then injected into your body and allow you to autonomously produce insulin when the body needs it.

Will these ideas be used in start-ups?

Yes. There are already two start-ups that were created in the past three years. The diabetes treatment is also seriously being looked at for a start-up. The SNSF wants to see things like that. It wants us to bring our research to an advanced stage.

You are organising the International Conference on Molecular Systems Engineering in Basel at the end of August. What is its main goal?

It is a challenge to organise such a conference because people who attend conferences like to talk to specialists in their fields. In our case, we want to apply our approach to a number of different fields. There will be outstanding speakers, but we have to convince people that it is worth looking at the subject from a broader perspective. The good news is that there are similar projects in Europe, in the Netherlands and in Germany. We will have a pre-conference, where graduate students from these other projects can exchange experience and ideas with students from the NCCR.

Is the conference a step to the European level?

Four years ago, the EU funded so called flagship projects. One of them was the Graphene project in Manchester, the other one the Human Brain project at the EPFL in Lausanne. These flagships have a budget of a billion euro. It seems that Europe will have a second round of such flagship projects in a few years. Our aim is to apply for the funding together with our partners in Germany and the Netherlands which would ensure the development of molecular systems engineering at a European level in the future.

In unique events the conference combines art and research. What is the idea behind this special mix?

It is about communication and ethics. We asked ourselves how we can talk about our research as it is quite complex for lay people to understand. One answer is to interact closely with artists and see if they can show their interpretation of what we do, and hopefully this would speak more to the public. We worked with artists hoping that they might rise interest in our research. Furthermore we can engage the public in a dialogue about ethical questions.

When will this dialogue start?

At our conference the argovia philharmonic will present a composition based on illustrations and videos we have provided them with. On the same day, we will also have a public ethics debate. We have brought in an editor of “Science” who will animate the debate and there will be three people debating. We hope one of them will be a bioethics officer of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the two others will be scientists.

What was for you the scientifically most exciting aspect of this NCCR?

When we started, we had a very broad approach and we had quite a number of curiosity-driven research projects. Without it, we would not have come as far as we did in these three years. For the second phase – we have just submitted the pre-proposal – we are much more focused.

What do you hope to achieve at the end of the NCCR?

If we only get one product in use this would already be a very nice achievement. Imagine, for example, that we could say: This NCCR has cured some forms of blindness.

About:
Professor Thomas Ward, born in 1964 in Fribourg, is the director of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering. He heads the Ward Group at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Basel. The group’s research focuses on the exploitation of proteins as a host for organometallic moieties with applications in catalysis as well as in nano-biotechnology.
Ward studied organic chemistry at the University of Fribourg. He wrote his PhD thesis at ETH Zurich. He did a first postdoc with Roald Hoffmann at Cornell University in theory and then a second postdoc in Lausanne. He was then awarded an A. Werner Fellowship and moved to Bern where he obtained his habilitation. He moved to Neuchâtel in 2000 and to Basel in 2008. He was awarded a prestigious ERC advanced grant in 2016 and the 2017 Royal Society of Chemistry award in Bioinorganic chemistry.

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Investing in strengths – Swiss leadership in life sciences

15.05.2017

How can Switzerland and the Basel region maintain their international leadership role in life sciences? As part of the Biotech and Digitization Day, Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann visited the Basel region to discuss current trends and challenges with a high-ranking delegation from politics, business, research and start-ups.

The importance of life sciences for the Swiss economy is enormous. Last year, the sector was responsible for 45% of total Swiss exports. Similarly, the majority of new relocations are active in the healthcare sector. Switzerland is said to a leading life sciences location in the world with the Basel region as its engine.

It is against this backdrop that Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, was invited by BaselArea.swiss and digitalswitzerland to visit the Basel region as part of the Biotech and Digitization Day to discuss current trends and challenges in life sciences with a high-ranking delegation from politics, business and research.

The event was held at Actelion Pharmaceuticals and the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area in Allschwil in the canton of Basel-Landschaft. Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann emphasised the significance of the region and life sciences industry: “The two Basels have a high density of innovation and successful companies, research institutes and universities. This fills me with pride and confidence. Pharmaceuticals and chemistry are rightly regarded as the drivers of innovation.” But Switzerland cannot rest on its laurels if it is to remain successful in the future; business and politics, science and society must all use the digital transformation as an opportunity, he insisted.

The event was organised by BaselArea.swiss, which promotes innovation and business development in the northwest Switzerland cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura, and digitalswitzerland, the joint initiative of business, the public sector and science, whose aim is to establish Switzerland as a leading digital innovation location in the world.

Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann is currently visiting Switzerland’s leading regions to get an impression of the effects of digitalisation on different business sectors and to talk about promising future concepts.

Supporting biotech start-ups

Life sciences are regarded as a cutting-edge sector with considerable growth potential. But competition among the different locations is becoming more aggressive as other regions in the world are investing heavily to promote their location and attract large companies. A central question of today’s event was: How can Switzerland and the Basel region maintain its leadership role in the face of international competition?

Given its major economic importance in life sciences and when measured against other leading locations worldwide, Switzerland has comparatively few start-ups in this industrial sector. With the launch of BaseLaunch, the new accelerator for healthcare start-ups, BaselArea.swiss and the Kickstart Accelerator from digitalswitzerland have taken a first step to changing this. However, in addition to the lack of seed capital in the early phase of a company’s development, there is also a lack of access to the large capital that an established start-up requires in order to expand. Said Domenico Scala, president of BaselArea.swiss and a member of the steering committee of digitalswitzerland: “We have to invest in our strengths. This is why we need initiatives like Swiss Future Fund, which aims to enable institutional investors to finance innovative start-ups.”

The importance of an innovative start-up scene for Switzerland as a centre of life sciences was also a topic for the roundtable discussion that Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann held with Severin Schwan, CEO of the Roche Group, Jean-Paul Clozel, CEO of Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Andrea Schenker-Wicki, rector of the University of Basel, and others.

Digitalisation as a driver of innovation

The second topic at the Biotech and Digitization Day was digitalisation in life sciences. According to Thomas Weber, a member of the government of the canton of Basel-Landschaft, this is an important driver of innovation for the entire industry and is crucial to strengthening Switzerland as a centre of research.

In his speech, Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann focused on three aspects: first, the creation of a new and courageous pioneer culture in which entrepreneurship is encouraged and rewarded for those who dare to try something different. Second, more momentum for start-ups by realising an initiative for a privately financed start-up fund. And third, shaping the role of the state as a facilitator that opens up spaces rather than putting up hurdles or bans.

In the public discussion round, in which representatives from research and industry as well as entrepreneurs participated, it became clear that digitalisation is changing life sciences. Everyone agreed that Switzerland has the best conditions to play a leading role in this transformation process. The basis for this are its powerful and globally actively pharmaceutical companies, its world-renowned universities and an innovation-friendly ecosystem with digitally driven start-ups from the healthcare and life sciences fields. 

digitalswitzerland wants to promote this, too. According to Nicolas Bürer, CEO of digitalswitzerland, healthcare and life sciences are key industries to making Switzerland the leading digital innovation location.

A further contribution can be made by the DayOne, the innovation hub for precision medicine. Launched by BaselArea.swiss in close cooperation with the canton of Basel-Stadt, it brings together on a regular basis a growing community of more than 500 experts and innovators in an effort to share ideas and advance projects.

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The healthcare system must take responsibility

09.05.2017

Kristian Schneider wants to improve the quality of health care and better manage the rising healthcare costs by means of a network that includes doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and the state. Its aim is to provide exactly those services needed for the health of patients. For the canton of Jura, which like all other cantons suffers from the fragmentation of service providers, this could be a unique opportunity to build an integrative care system – and thus become a pioneer, says the director of Hôpital du Jura.

Interview: Fabian Käser, Steffen Klatt

What brought you to the canton of Jura?

Kristian Schneider: I was asked and had 16 hours to decide and submit an application in French. The likelihood of ending up in a high-level managerial position as a nurse is relatively rare. There are only three hospitals in Switzerland that are run by people with a nursing degree.

How did your new colleagues react to a nurse becoming a hospital director?

The reactions were almost all positive. Nurses have a different understanding of the system and speak differently with the people who are supposed to produce health – because they have done it themselves.

How are you received as a German?

I have lived a large part of my life in the greater Basel region. The Jura is not far from there. When I was approached by the canton of Jura in 2012, I was living not far from Belfort, just 20 minutes from the Jura border. This creates an affinity. But I hardly knew the canton. I quickly noticed that the people here are very friendly and open. You can build up a network quickly.

How did you approach the work?

I arrived on 1 January 2013, and the budget was already prepared with a loss of CHF 4.5 million predicted. We then created an action plan to overcome the loss, starting 40 projects to increase resource efficiency and flow efficiency. We were fairly successful in the end.

How did people react?

Although we defined the action plan from above, we made an effort to implement it together with our staff. For example, we had too many operation blocks, and our specialists suggested that we concentrate all operation blocks in Delémont. People knew where we are inefficient; we only have to give them permission to change it. But this also requires a cultural shift.

Where do things stand now?

We broke even in 2013. And we’ve been balancing our accounts since then – while the canton is less and less able to be involved in the hospital. We’ve tidied many things up and have done more in certain areas than other hospitals in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. We’ve since come so far in coding cases that we can now make this service available to other hospitals, such as Neuchâtel. With respect to accounting, our accountants have confirmed that we have the highest quality in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. We were the first hospital to be REKOLE-certified (the system of revising cost accounting and assessments in accordance with the requirements of the Health Insurance Act, ed).

We’ve also better positioned ourselves in the canton. We’re in a unique situation here: as a hospital, we have a “quasi monopoly” in acute care, outpatient care, and also in neuro-rehabilitation and geriatrics. We have 28 per cent of nursing home spots. We therefore cover a good deal of health care in the canton of Jura.

What comes next?

Credit Suisse is forecasting that health insurance premiums are set to double by 2030. In the canton of Jura, this would put 60 per cent of the population below the poverty level. So this raises the question of how we can shape health care in a way that we can still pay for it.

What is driving the costs?

Primarily outpatient care and the age structure. Of course, most of these costs are in the final one or two years, but they begin to rise in the years leading up to this. To prevent this, we need a healthcare system with greater efficiency. Many of today’s costs do not contribute to improving health.

How do you plan to manage the cost drivers?

If I see my role as guiding people through a healthy life, then this also means that people consume only as many healthcare services as they need. So I have to prevent doctors from prescribing services that people don’t really need.

The only way to achieve this is by making all actors take responsibility for the quality and the costs. Doctor have to be paid for keeping their patients healthy.

What could this look like?

We have to build up a network in close cooperation with doctors and change the financing system. Let’s assume that every person has a healthcare budget of CHF 5,000 per year, for instance. Then we would have CHF 360 million for the entire canton of Jura with its 72,000 inhabitants. No more. If something is left over, then it would remain in the network and everyone would have an interest in prescribing only that which brings added value. And there would also be an interest in investing in preventative care.

How would you organise this?

You first have to create a network and regulate it through a framework contract. The most important rule is that everyone only does what is actually necessary. In this network you form a quality committee as a second level, which uses actual cases to examine if the cooperation works. Thirdly, the actors should work together in a physical sense as closely as possible. So if I build a hospital, a healthcare centre should be built right next door to it. And fourthly, the network must invest in preventative care. This can also be because money is left over.

How would you finance the network?

This would be done by the insurance companies. They have no interest in having us exhaust the maximum budget. Insurance companies would therefore sell the model to their policyholders. Insured people who decide in favour of our network would then pay somewhat less than if they had a completely open choice of doctor and hospital.

Isn’t this what Swica is already doing with its healthcare centres?                                                                                              

Swica only does this with primary care, without a hospital. The canton of Jura now has a unique opportunity: it is manageable and has only one hospital

What do you need to build this network?

I would need an experienced partner. And it already exists: Réseau DELTA is a network in the greater Geneva area that is active in primary care. It is very interested in trying something like this with a hospital. We are also talking with Medbase and University Hospital Basel as potential partners. In the end it also needs the canton because the financing model will be changed. But I don’t see a problem there.

Because it will be the same amount just under a new name for the canton?

Precisely. The 55 per cent, which it assumes for hospital accommodation, could be part of the overall budget. It could then show its citizens that healthcare costs no longer have to automatically increase. At least not for those who choose our network model.

When do you begin?

I’m already negotiating now. For the first time since it was founded, the canton is now writing its owner strategy. It has to explain if it has expectations of us as a hospital in regard to the overall costs of the healthcare system. And if yes, if we have the freedom to change the structures. The federal government, which is ultimately responsible for the financing, is open to such models. The canton of Jura could therefore take a step toward a completely different system. It could even establish itself as a region where well-off elderly people spend their last years. This could turn health care into an interesting economic factor in the Jura.

Will you stay in the canton of Jura until you retire?

Enjoying my work matters to me, and I have that here. But I’m unsure if this would also be good for the hospital. Only time will tell. In our past-paced world we need change at such positions, fresh impetus.

About:

Kristian Schneider (45) was born in Frankfurt am Main. He was trained as a nurse in Basel and worked for close to 20 years at University Hospital Basel, the last five years as head of the emergency department. From 2007 to 2009 he completed a diploma programme at the University of Bern in Health Care Management. He has been the director of Hôpital du Jura since 2013. The Jura Cantonal Hospital was formed in 2002 through the merger of the hospitals in Delémont, Porrentruy and Saignelégier and employs 1,655 people.

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Basel-Landschaft welcomes new companies

21.04.2017

The canton of Basel-Landschaft welcomed a host of new companies over the past few weeks. BaselArea.swiss played in a big role in attracting the companies to establish themselves in Basel.

The companies now represented in Basel-Landschaft are from a variety of different sectors – some work in the sales of medical technology products, others in the manufacture of diagnostic tests. Also newly established in the canton are a music company, a creative agency and a provider of presentation items. BaselArea.swiss consulted these companies and supported them with their establishment.

Medi-CENT Innovation AG, which has offices in Liestal, distributes medical technology products. The company focuses on repairing probes and provides its customers with rental probes in the meantime. Other key areas for Medi-Cent Innovation AG include pain therapy and bone density measurement. Another company now represented in the canton is Predemtec AG. From its location in Binningen, it develops diagnostic tests that can determine the risk factors for dementia.

Musik Hug has opened a new musical world in Allschwil, where it offers a wide range of musical instruments. Its new location also comprises a piano and wind instrument workshop. Newly established in the Dreispitz area is the creative agency MJM.CC AG, which specialises in the production of awards ceremonies, such as the Swiss Film Award and Best of Swiss Web.

Meanwhile, Achilles Präsentationsobjekte GmbH is heading the business of KMC Karl Meyer AG. Thanks to this transition, existing customers can continue to access the consultancy and service portfolio they were accustomed to from KMC Karl Meyer AG. However, they can also access one of the biggest selections of folder and presentation systems in Europe.

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“I see a very innovation-friendly climate in Basel”

12.04.2017

It all began with research resources that were a quarter of a century old. Simon Ittig and his colleagues at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel turned these into a research project – and eventually a start-up. T3 Pharmaceuticals develops new therapies to treat solid tumours.

How did T3 Pharma come about?

Simon Ittig: I completed my doctorate at the Biozentum in Professor Guy Cornelis’ group, which dealt primarily with a secretion system of bacteria. Bacteria require these needles to inject proteins into cells and establish their pathogenesis. My doctoral supervisor discovered this mechanism 25 years ago and had researched it ever since. When I completed my doctorate in 2012 and Professor Cornelis retired, I was able to take over many resources such as bacterial strains and study protocols. As a postdoc in another group at the Biozentrum, I dealt with the question of how proteins can be transported rapidly into cells. This brought me back to my collection of bacterial strains, as they are by nature exactly the same. In a short time, I succeeded in showing that such a protein transport does in fact work – and rapidly, efficiently and synchronously. This potential enthralled my research colleagues and me.

What precisely can this technology be used for?

If you have bacteria that transport specific, for example human, proteins into cells, then you can stimulate these cells as you like. It has long been known that bacteria migrate to solid tumours. Accordingly, we focused on the field of solid tumour oncology and could achieve impressive results in a surprisingly short amount of time. We now have bacteria that grow specifically in a tumour over an extended period of time. We can also now program these in such a way that they produce certain active ingredients and pass them into the cells – precisely to where these substances can take effect. Our technology is very stable.

Was it obvious to you that you could go ahead and start a company with this idea?

Yes, this idea came relatively early. We received the first financial support from CTI, the Cancer League and smaller foundations when we were still just academic researchers. It was already clear then that we wanted to become self-employed with our protein transport technology. Founding our own company was even one of the conditions for further research funding from CTI. The Biozentrum supported us in many ways when we were spinning off. As before, the patents belong to the university, but we have an exclusive global license.

How did you finance T3 Pharma?

In the beginning and also subsequently we received substantial amounts of research funding. However, the funds are generally restricted to salaries and materials. Foundations mainly want to finance the actual research work. At some point you reach a limit, which is why we began to actively look for investors for our company.

With great success. What played a decisive role?

First of all, you have to have the right business idea. Second, you need a good amount of mutual trust. The whole set up should be able to accompany the company for several years. If every couple of years you need a few months to secure the next financing round, then this ties up too many resources, creates a lot of uncertainty and distracts from your research activities. For this reason, we looked – and found – investors who had the financial opportunities and necessary understanding, who believe in us and are ready to go the distance with us.

So were you in a privileged position where you could also turn investments down?

Maybe. I’m convinced that you shouldn’t accept every offer if you don’t have to. We carefully examine the conditions connected to the financing and also want to get a sense of the investors’ intentions. It’s also recommended that you keep your options open. If you become content with something too early, it can become very expensive later on.

You have received over 2 million francs from foundations. Is this unusually large for a start-up?

The effort for such financing is of course also very high, especially at the beginning when you can’t yet show proof of your achievements or have yet to receive any research grants. It’s crucial to bring experienced people on board at an early stage. This gives the foundations the necessary certainty when it comes to the project’s feasibility. It’s also important to appreciate smaller amounts. I’m also very grateful that I could learn a lot about the art of writing applications from an experienced and successful scientist, Professor Nigg. With Prof Nigg from the Biozentrum and Prof Christofori from the Department of Biomedicine, we had formed a professional and interdisciplinary consortium from early on. Without these two experienced professors our company wouldn’t exist in its current form.

How high then was the success rate?

I would estimate that half of our requests have been met with a positive result until now.

You’ve come far with this foundation funding, but you’re taking the next steps with the support of private investors. Is this better than turning to venture capital companies?

We of course looked at both alternatives. Private and institutional investors are not mutually exclusive. But we prefer private people because they are generally alone or in small committees and can decide quickly if they want to invest or not. A second point: it’s also important to me personally that we develop an idea together of the next few years and work towards these goals. The interactions, the shared vision and the sense of similar values bring a great amount of pleasure and confidence. It just has to be ‘right’, professional and personal.

How do you go about finding private investors?

Actually, this only goes via a good network and our experienced consultants. In contrast to venture capital firms, private investors tend to remain discretely in the background. It’s therefore important to think early on about the positioning of your own company, the team and its technology. A well-planned communication also helps. Once the ideas are known, it’s easier to get in touch with the right people. If you win someone over in a discussion, there’s a good chance that a private investor will get involved.

What are your next steps?

The financing of T3 Pharm is secured for the time being. We can therefore concentrate on our research and then validate our technology and prepare for preclinical development. As CEO, I’m working outside of the laboratory for the time being while my four colleagues are focussing fully on the research.

What is your long-term vision?

We want to bring our technology for use in patients. This is the major driver in our day-to-day work. How and when we will achieve this goal, I still can’t say today. And also whether or not T3 Pharma will still be an independent company. Who knows what the future holds. We’re therefore open and focused first and foremost on our research.

How do you see the local ecosystem for young entrepreneurs?

We have a good connection to the university and appreciate the open doors. If you trust people and approach them, you receive a lot of support. I see a very innovation-friendly climate in Basel. Of course the large life science cluster creates an incredibly positive environment for start-ups like us. And how BaselArea.swiss promotes innovation also helps in an uncomplicated way when it comes to meeting the right people.

And yet when it comes to start-ups, Basel lags behind other places. What needs to be done?

Nothing works without self-initiative and perseverance. If you have both, you’ll find the best conditions here in Basel and Switzerland. If I had one wish, it would be to more strongly institutionalise the informal exchange at the university. Earlier input from experienced professionals on a start-up idea could help young researchers gather the self-confidence for the next steps and be more successful in presenting their own ideas to a committee. Rejections can be quite discouraging sometimes.

Are there so many ideas that get buried before they’re even given a chance?

Yes, there are, and I find it a real pity. It’s not a matter of course for many people to stand up in front of others and say “I want this, I can do this, and I’ll do it”. Only a few young researchers trust themselves to overcome such a big hurdle and also pursue a project in the face of obstacles. Many talented young scientists remain on the academic track and continue to publish up until the train leaves for a start-up. It would help if they could discuss their ideas informally, without having to shout it from the rooftops. I’m convinced that there would be even more innovative start-ups. Once this hurdle is overcome, you get an unbelievable amount of support even from professors in other fields encouraging you to continue. This is what happened to me.

And was does your doctoral supervisor say about T3?

He’s extremely happy for us. Guy Cornelis also provides us with scientific advice and helps us where he can. The relationship has also since changed and has become very friendly.

About:

Dr Simon Ittig studied biochemistry and biotechnology at the universities of Bern, Vienna and Strasbourg and graduated from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel in microbiology. The start-up T3 Pharmaceuticals grew out of the research project Type 3 Technologies – Bacteria as a versatile tool for protein delivery.

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