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Biopharma industry sets out to charm investors

The Swiss “BioAlps” region claims to be most important biotech research centre in continental Europe Keystone

International executives from the biotech and pharmaceutical industries are aiming to boost waning investor confidence at a conference in Geneva this week.

This content was published on January 20, 2003 - 10:38

The event, BioData 2003, will also showcase cutting-edge advances in biotech research.

The organisers of BioData 2003 say they are confident the event will help restore investor faith in the "biopharma" industry, which has been hit hard by depressed world financial markets.

They also blame the ongoing threat of terrorism and last year's accounting scandals at bankrupt US firms Enron and WorldCom for making the investment community skittish.

According to investor Peter Reinisch, who specialises in Life Sciences funding, biotech companies are also facing another obstacle: the industry has lost some of its shine.

"From 1999 to 2000, we saw a euphoria and hype that is now gone," he told swissinfo. "The market must now re-establish itself."

Shifting priorities

Now in its second year, the two-day symposium - which opens on Tuesday - is the largest of its kind in Switzerland, bringing together company executives, experts and investors.

Switzerland is among the world's leading producers of pharmaceuticals and is home to drug giants, Roche and Novartis.

The "BioAlps" region, which is made up of cantons Geneva and Vaud, also claims to be the most important biotech research centre in continental Europe.

Last year's conference focused on promoting the achievements of established biotech firms, such as Geneva-based Serono, as well as smaller Swiss start-ups, like Addex Pharmaceuticals.

Targeting investors

However, BioData chairman Hervé de Kergrohen says the emphasis of this year's event will be on targeting known industry investors and convincing them that biotech and pharmaceutical firms offer both a safe and lucrative investment opportunities.

"Last year we had a more favourable environment in terms of interest... it was easier to bring people together because there was still a strong interest in biotechnology, even from investors with no knowledge of the sector," de Kergrohen told swissinfo.

"This year's event will be smaller and more specialised, but it will be more effective because the best companies will meet the strongest investors."

According to de Kergrohen, the biotechnology industry is currently suffering from a lack of vision and direction.

"Scientifically, we're moving very fast but we really don't know exactly where we're going...We've spent billions on new science, bioinformatics, and proteomics, but we don't know what for," he said.

"We must now guide funding towards the right projects and go step by step, unlike our approach in the past."

Streamlining

Robert Kuster, the director of strategic development for canton Geneva, also sees the recent decline in investor interest as an opportunity for companies, especially start-ups, to streamline their activities.

"Investors have become more critical and also more professional... no one invests anymore simply because it's fashionable," he said.

"This has had a positive effect because it has forced start-ups to focus their business plans, come up with practical strategies and use any opportunities they can to make money," he added. "That's basically very good and realistic."

Reinisch predicts that investor confidence will eventually be restored.

"The driving forces behind the biopharma industry are twofold: the first is a huge medical need, the second is the potential for innovation," he said.

"So, regardless of what happens in the short-term, we'll see a very prospering industry in the long run."

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

BioData 2003 aims to bring investors and "biopharma" executives face-to-face.
Investor confidence in biotech and pharmaceutical industries has declined over the past year.
The slowing world economy is blamed for investor cautiousness.

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