Franco-Swiss deal envisages new biotech hub

The initiative aims to stem the brain drain to the US RSR

France and Switzerland are teaming up to boost cross-border scientific study and development in a bid to close the growing investment gap with the United States.

This content was published on January 21, 2004 minutes

The goal is to create a European hub for academic research and biotech start-ups along the border area between France and Switzerland.

At a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday, officials from Switzerland and France hailed the creation of a joint research foundation.

“This agreement between the French and Swiss governments aims to improve scientific research and high-tech cooperation between the two countries,” said Robert Kuster, the vice-president of the Swiss life sciences association, Bioalps.

Critical mass

“But there is also a feeling that, together, we now have the critical mass to become a world centre for excellence, like Boston and Silicon Valley are in the United States,” he told swissinfo.

At the core of the agreement is a research hub, the plans for which will be mapped out over the next six months. It also aims to lure biotech investors to the region, while at the same time, stemming the “brain drain” of French and Swiss scientists to countries like the US.

“We are striving to create synergies across the border… and to kick public and private financing into high-gear,” said the president of France’s Rhône-Alpes region, Anne-Marie Comparini.

“But we also need to give the talented young people in our universities the opportunity and incentive to stay at home, so that they can help Europe’s industries and economies grow,” she told swissinfo.

Role model

Just last week, Switzerland signed an agreement with the European Union that is expected to give Swiss researchers the same access to science and technology projects as their EU counterparts.

And Comparini believes the Franco-Swiss deal could serve as a role model for further European cooperation.

“By reinforcing our scientific ties, we are showing the rest of Europe that research cannot be done by one country alone,” Comparini said.

“This is a European objective and with this agreement, the Swiss and French are giving life to a European research network,” she added.

Biodata 2004

The agreement, which has been in the works for several months, was announced on Tuesday at the start of the two-day Biodata conference in Geneva.

The event, which brings biotech firms, pharmaceutical companies and investors together, is now in its third year.

Biodata 2004 Chairman Hervé de Kergrohen sees the creation of such a foundation as a sign that things are looking up for the biotech industry.

“Last year, we were focused on the worries of investors and depressed world financial markets,” said de Kergrohen.

“But this year, we’re delivering a more positive message in light of renewed investor interest and the fact that many Swiss companies have exceeded expectations,” he added.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

In brief

France and Switzerland have agreed to establish a joint foundation for scientific research, in a bid to boost biotech investment and development.

The main objective is to create a “European Silicon Valley” in the area along the Franco-Swiss border.

The eastern French regions of Alsace, Franche-Comté and Rhône-Alpes, along with the western Swiss cantons of Basel, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Valais and Vaud are expected to participate.

The deal was announced at the start of Biodata 2004, an annual event that brings together Swiss and foreign biotech firms, pharmaceutical companies and investors.

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