Pfizer eyes Zurich research potential

Technopark is part of Zurich's research boom Keystone

The world's largest pharmaceutical company, America's Pfizer, is looking to establish commercial links with Zurich's growing scientific research community.

This content was published on April 4, 2006 - 13:49

A top Pfizer executive told swissinfo that the US giant is impressed with the "unique" research network set up recently by the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and the University of Zurich.

Dr Peter Corr, senior vice president for science and technology at Pfizer, attended the first Zurich Innovation Meeting on Monday, a forum designed to foster links between academia and industry.

"What makes Zurich unique is the close proximity and collaboration between basic research, applied research and clinical medicine," he told swissinfo.

"Science is very vibrant here and Zurich has a tremendous amount of talent and brain power.

"These meetings invariably lead to cooperation which can be very beneficial to both sides. We'd like to be able to be a partner here."

Corr said partnerships could amount to research collaborations, mutual development of technology or the development of new compounds into drugs.

Zurich is building up a global reputation in the field of natural sciences with the establishment the SystemsX initiative in conjunction with the University of Basel in 2004.

New drugs

The umbrella organisation coordinates work in systems biology, the study of biological organisms, which plays an essential role in the development of new drugs.

Cancer Network Zurich, the Neuroscience Center Zurich and the Biotech Center Zurich are included in the SystemsX fold along with other competence centres in infectious diseases and metabolic diseases.

SystemsX works closely with the Zurich University hospital and the Technopark. In addition, work has started on converting ETH's Hönggerberg campus into an ambitious Science City project by 2010.

The developments have already attracted the attention of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche - in December the Basel-based firm agreed to pour an annual SFr2.1 million ($1.6 million) into a three-year project to research diabetes.

New ETH president Professor Ernst Hafen told the innovation meeting that he is determined to create more such partnerships in the future.

"In Switzerland, and especially in Zurich, we have a window of opportunity to build bridges between basic science and corporate research. Our basic goal is to strengthen this interaction," he said.

Money

Corr believes Switzerland is on the verge of becoming a scientific innovation leader. But he warned that the Swiss government must back initiatives with money and support for education to avoid making the same mistakes as Germany.

"Germany used to be the medicine chest of the world with their pharmaceutical companies leading the way. But they have got it wrong in the past 15 years," he told swissinfo.

"They cut down on academic research and constantly pressured prices. They did not support pharma or biotech, leading to an exodus of molecular biologists.

"Switzerland is now standing on a crossroads and must decide which path it is going to take."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

SystemsX, a collaboration between ETH and the universities of Zurich and Basel, was given the green light to proceed in June 2004 when it was awarded a SFr10 million start-up budget by the Swiss Universities Conference.

Zurich is building clusters of competence centres in systems biology disciplines while a Centre of Biosystems Science and Engineering will be built in Basel.

Technopark Zurich, a foundation to support technology start-up companies, was founded in 1993.

The Neuroscience Center Zurich, the successor of Work Group in Neurobiology, was set up in 1998. Five years later Biotech Center Zurich sprang up.

The SFr400 million Science City project is due to be up and running at ETH Zurich's Hönggerberg campus in 2010, housing 1,000 students and researchers.

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Key facts

The first Zurich Innovation Meeting took place at the Stock exchange on April 3. The full day meeting was designed to bring academics and biomedical industry experts together to facilitate future collaborations.
US-based Pfizer is the world's largest pharmaceuticals company, with revenues of more than $51 billion last year (net income $8.085 billion).
In 2005 the company spent $7.4 billion on research and development and has more than 250 links with companies and academic institutions worldwide.

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