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Biotech industry bucks global downturn

Biotech expert, Jürg Zürcher, is up-beat about the future

(Keystone)

Switzerland's biotechnology industry is booming. That's the findings of a global report, which was unveiled in Lausanne on Tuesday.

The industry survey by accountancy giant, Ernst & Young, says venture capital funding is on the rise and the product pipeline looks extremely healthy.

The Swiss position is mirrored internationally. Despite last year's economic downturn, 2001 was the second biggest financing year ever for the global biotech industry, which is worth $35 billion in public company revenues.

"The future is very optimistic," said Jürg Zürcher, biotech expert at Ernst & Young Switzerland.

"If you look at products which will hit the markets in the next five to seven years, we have never had so many in late stages, and we are seeing an increase in revenues all around the globe."

Record levels

The US dominates the world with over 70 per cent of global biotech revenues and research and development expenditures. However, Europe in 2001 witnessed more product approvals than ever while venture capital financing also hit record levels.

In Europe, 319 products are in preclinical or clinical trials. Twenty-four of those are in Switzerland, the majority belonging to Geneva-based Serono.

Although the number of biotech companies in Switzerland went down from 126 in the year 2000 to 113 last year, Markus Blaser, who was responsible for the Swiss part of the report, said the mid-term prospects were great.

"When you look at quality data like venture capital funding or the number of products, you can see a big increase compared to the year 2000," he told swissinfo.

Room for improvement

Besides the biotech companies, there are another 120 firms which make products to supply the industry.

Biotechnology ventures in Switzerland employ about 7,500 people and have sales of around SFr1 billion ($640 million)

Blaser identified two areas where Switzerland could be at a disadvantage in the future.

"In Switzerland, we don't have a strong government-funded industry organisation," he said. Also, unlike Germany or France, the Swiss government provides no direct subsidies for entrepreneurial biotech companies.

In general, however, the report acknowledges Switzerland's dominant position in biotechnology and says it is responsible for about a fifth of European turnover in the sector.

by Vincent Landon

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