Billionaire’s cash brings medical research to patients

Hansjörg Wyss, who funded the Wyss Translational Center, saw it unveiled in Zurich on Monday Keystone

What started as a plea to save a promising medical project was unveiled on Monday as a CHF120 million ($120 million) centre to usher research from the laboratory to the patient. Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, who funded the Wyss Translational Center, was in Zurich to see it unveiled. 

Matthew Allen in Zurich,

The collaboration between the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) will 'bridge' the often difficult phase between pure research and its practical application outside of the laboratory.

It is the second such project in Switzerland that Wyss has funded with a donation of more than CHF100 million. 

It follows a biotech research centre in Geneva that Wyss founded in 2012 together with another Swiss who made his billions from medtech, Ernesto Bertarelli. 

The Zurich centre, known in its short form as Wyss Zurich, will concentrate on regenerative medicine and robotics. It already has four promising projects in progress that hope to create breakthroughs in transplant surgery and advances in life-saving medical equipment. 

One of these research projects, which will attempt to grow a portion of a human liver outside the body until it is developed enough to transplant back into the patient, was the original inspiration for the whole Wyss Center idea. 

Concrete commercial applications 

It was a plea from scientists at the University of Zurich to Wyss to keep the liver research alive with funding that eventually revealed the potential for a series of collaborative innovations between the three seats of learning in Zurich. 

Wyss’s millions will be used specifically to fund the fruits of laboratory research into concrete commercial applications to improve the lives of patients. This is an area typically funded by venture capitalists but often with the wrong mind-set, according to Wyss. 

“Too much pressure is placed on research projects by venture capitalists who want to see a return on their investment in five or six years. But it often requires more patience and a series of investments before it can be brought into the market,” he said in Zurich on Monday. 

“A lot of promising ideas die off along the way. Some projects fail, but that is life.”

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