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How Swiss life sciences startups can compete globally

By 06.06.2023January 24th, 2024All, Features

How Swiss life sciences startups can compete globally

In this biotech networking event, Johnson & Johnson Innovation shared their approach towards external innovation and their suit of collaboration models, followed by a high caliber panel discussing how Swiss life sciences startups can compete globally.

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About BaseLaunch

We partner with scientists and entrepreneurs to help launch and grow exceptional biotech ventures developing cutting-edge therapeutics. And we know how to do this — so far our portfolio has raised over $550M in financing with an average series A raise of $30M per company.

Introducing today’s speakers

Nerida Scott

Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation EMEA

Elena Fernandez-Kleinlein

Head of JLABS EMEA, Johnson & Johnson Innovation

Fiona MacLaughlin

Principal, Venture Investments, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC

Andrea Ostinelli

Managing Director External Partnerships & Head of Campus Switzerland, Johnson & Johnson.

Michael Hübner

Director Early Innovation Partnering Switzerland, Johnson & Johnson Innovation

About Johnson & Johnson Innovation

Johnson & Johnson Innovation works across the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer health sectors to accelerate early-stage, transformational solutions by catalyzing the best ideas wherever they are in the world. Johnson & Johnson has a strong track record of cultivating innovation and pairing their deep internal know-how with some of the most promising external innovations from around the globe.

The Johnson & Johnson Innovation Collaboration Model

The speakers shared the various aspects of how Johnson & Johnson Innovation can be a partner for biotech companies at every stage and also talked about their strong roots in Switzerland.

The global innovation partnering teams provide early-stage startups with a single entry point to Johnson & Johnson. The main aim of this early innovation partnership is to connect partners to a global network of experts and resources worldwide.

JLABS is a global life sciences network for innovation, providing startups with access to capital-efficient lab space and resources, including expertise, community, industry connections and entrepreneurial programs.

JJDC finds transformative ideas and helps them mature into potential solutions for today’s patients with the primary goal of driving innovation through venture investing.

Even in later stages, companies can benefit from Johnson & Johnson’s resources and expertise through the Late-Stage Partnership program.

Panel discussion: How can Swiss life sciences startups compete globally?

The objective of the panel was to discuss the opportunities and challenges life sciences startups in Switzerland might face. The discussion was structured around early stages, the incubation process and the search for financing and partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

Below, some key points from our five panelists:

Michael Hübner (moderator), Director Early Innovation Partnering Switzerland, Johnson & Johnson Innovation

Nerida Scott, Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation EMEA

Sarah Holland, CEO, IOME Bio SA and President Swiss Healthcare Licensing Group

Martin Münchbach, Managing Partner, Pureos Bioventures

Susanne Weissbäcker, Partner at EY-Parthenon, Life Sciences Strategy

What challenges do Swiss innovators face when transferring out of university?

Switzerland has great innovation, culture, patents and talent. Especially Basel is a great place to start your own biotech company. The biggest hurdle right now is the general lack of an entrepreneurial mindset. Professors and potential innovators aren’t being actively encouraged to think about setting up their own businesses.

In terms of technology transfer from universities, Switzerland is doing better and better but there is still a lot we can learn from other countries, such as the US. There, tech transfer sees itself more as an enabler, approaching the labs and creating the right frameworks for people to create their own companies.

How competitive is it to get funding and how easy is it to reach the next level to compete globally?

It’s difficult to get the initial funding. Young companies need to think of themselves as global from the start. There aren’t many venture funds in Switzerland and pension funds are unlikely to invest directly. But all over Europe, you can find venture capital firms and agencies that can provide investment and debt to companies.

Progress is being made in Switzerland as well. There are many entrepreneurial programs from universities, pitch competitions and funding programs available in Switzerland nowadays.

What type of funding and support is ideal?

It’s important to understand what exactly your startup needs and what your end game is.

Partnerships incubators and accelerators have many other benefits than money. One of which is honest feedback for your startup. No sugar coating. You get access to experienced professionals who have gone through the same development cycle you’re currently in.

Partnerships between established biopharma or medtech companies with startups tend to be successful when expertise is transferred from the bigger partner to the startup early on.

On comaring to the US, capital efficiency is much higher in Europe. With the same amount of money, you can get much further in developing your compounds, and if companies combine this with a more risk-based approach, they will be able to compete on a global level.

There is already a trend in that direction. More and more investors value the early pickup of users, which is great for showing the impact on patients and society.

But more than that, it’s also important to think strategically about who else can help with the broader vision. For example, serial entrepreneurs and experienced drug development experts, who have gone through the setup process for a business before, can offer invaluable advice on capital gains, taxation and other details.

Is Switzerland the right place for a startup?

Although funding can be hard to come by, Switzerland is a great place to set up a company. Once the money side is fixed, it’s important to get the right advice and follow the relevant regulations. Investing in the right areas from the outset is essential for setting a company up for success. We still lack the US-typical serial entrepreneurs, but this will develop over time.

Even if you start a company in small Switzerland, it’s important to ​​think and compete globally. There is great science and talent in Switzerland, and it’s important to tap into it to bring success to your company.

Don’t be shy and dare to ask for help. There are many potential partners. Be ambitious and look far ahead, as there is a lot of innovation and ambition outside of Europe.

Additionally, it’s securing space is essential. There is a general lack of good space and getting your company access to it is easier in the beginning than later on.

A few questions from the audience and our panelists’ answers

Q: Is Johnson & Johnson Innovation going in the right direction with its investment strategy, especially considering the macroeconomic changes that have taken place this year?
A: Yes. Some venture capital is a very long-term investment. The average venture capital fund is set up for at least ten years plus extension. It’s a long-term focus, which is what a pension fund should be looking for.

Q: How does Switzerland compare to other small nations like Singapore and Bangladesh when it comes to fostering innovation?
A: There are similarities between these countries regarding limited resources and relying on intellectual property. Singapore is much easier when it comes to digital, while Switzerland is still developing the legal framework, so it really depends on what area you want to start up in, as each country has different advantages overall.

Q: Do you notice any regional differences across the globe on the acceptance or rejection rate of applications for JLabs funding?
A: Yes, there are regional differences in terms of the application rates as well as rejection rates. The bar is quite high to get into JLabs. In Asia, we see the highest percentages of success.

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