It Takes an Ecosystem to Build a Startup

19/09/2018 - 7 minutes

It goes without saying that the basis of each biotech should always be world class innovation. But that is just the beginning: In order to develop a scientific discovery into a life-changing drug, talents and specialists from all kinds of fields are needed.

These include academia, preclinical and clinical research and development, regulatory, biotech lawyers and intellectual property law firms, business development, commercial and financial experts, as well as access to smart capital and partners.

This sort of ecosystem is very hard to find. There are some, scattered across the globe, but pinpointing them is not so easy. One of the best suited life sciences ecosystems in Europe, for example, is the Basel Area.

A tightly woven ecosystem

Basel, Basel Area, startup, life sciences ecosystem, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals
Basel is not only home to one of the best life sciences ecosystems in the world, it has also been voted one of the top 10 cities to live in

Nestled between the borders of France and Germany, the Basel Area is home to headquarters of global giants Roche and Novartis. Other global players found here are Actelion, a part of the Johnson & Johnson family, Bayer, Syngenta, Boehringer Ingelheim, Abbott and more.

On top of that, you will find world-class biomedical research institutions such as the ETH Zürich, the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, the Department of Biomedicine of the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, the Department of Biomedicine of the University and University Hospital of Basel, as well as the life sciences branch of the University of Applied Sciences.

This tightly interwoven academic and industrial ecosystem is complemented with the availability of venture capital from top-tier investors, including the Novartis Venture Fund, Versant Ventures, Roche Venture Fund, BioMedPartners, and BayCity Capital. Additionally, there is a very active and highly experienced business angel community, with a track record in the pharma and biotech industry and an eagerness to invest in new companies.

From venture financing to IPOs and drugs on the market

Basel, Basel Area, startup, life sciences ecosystem, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals
National and international investors are looking to support cutting-edge life sciences companies in Basel

Unsurprisingly, Basel’s ecosystem provides the ideal breeding ground for the creation of new companies. The Basel region’s international position, with investors from all over the world, supports young companies on their path to success.

One of the flourishing enterprises is NBE-Therapeutics. This biotech focuses on next-generation antibody-drug conjugates and has recently received $41 million (€35.4 million) in a series B financing round from Novo Ventures as well as PPF Capital Partner Fund, Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund and private investors.

Or take Nouscom, which develops neoantigen cancer vaccines. The biotech has recently raised $49 million (€42 million) in a series B financing round led by new investor Abingworth with participation from 5AM Ventures, LSP and Versant Ventures.

In recent years, the biotech company Polyphor has been reaping in the successes. In May, Polyphor achieved the largest biotech IPO in Switzerland in ten years. It was also one of the top three in Europe in the last three years.

And just this June, Novo Holdings invested $7 million (€6 million) to support the development of novel antibiotics against multi-resistant pathogens. Additionally, Polyphor has had successful collaborations with large partners, such as the Wellcome Trust, Santhera Pharmaceuticals, Gilead, and Boehringer Ingelheim.

Basel, Basel Area, startup, life sciences ecosystem, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals
This areal view shows Basel nestled at the foot of the Alps (Source: Erich Meyer)

The basel-based biopharmaceutical company Basilea is well known for its strong market presence. They have recently announced a 30 percent increase in total revenue to $62 million (€53 million). Their pipeline is constantly growing, and they currently have a novel antibiotic in Phase III trials and an oncology drug in Phase II.

And of course, one of the greatest success stories in the history of biotech: The $30 billion (€25.7 billion) acquisition of the local biotech giant Actelion by Johnson & Johnson in 2017, which has definitely put the region in the global spotlight. Born from this deal was Actelion’s spin-off Idorsia, which remained in possession of Actelion’s drug discovery and early clinical pipeline with several drugs already in Phase III.

Global position recognized by others as well

Basel’s flourishing ecosystem has been recognized as a gold mine worldwide. One example is Roivant Sciences, which moved its global headquarters to Basel in 2016, and is being followed by several of its affiliates. Roivant Sciences works in the development of novel medicines and focuses on reducing the time and costs of R&D.

Other companies settling down in Basel in order to access a broad talent base are Novimmune, which has recently entered into a $185 million (€159 million) option deal with TG Therapeutics for their NI-1701 program, or Vaximm, whos lead compound VXM01, completed a Phase I trial in advanced pancreatic cancer.

Potential in the startup scene for accelerators

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Accelerators, such as BaseLaunch, support early-stage startups in their quest to develop novel drugs

There is one link in Switzerland’s flourishing biotech hub that has not been mentioned yet although it is key to starting a healthcare venture: accelerators. And there are several of those in the Basel region, including BaseLaunch and the DayOne Acceleration Program, both run by, northwestern Switzerland’s joint initiative for innovation and economic promotion.

And, according to Neil Goldsmith, a serial entrepreneur and Director of Strategy at BaseLaunch, there is a great potential to foster the startup scene even further: “Due to its scientific talent and the unrivalled management expertise spread through the large corporates, Basel has the potential to further increase the formation of early stage ventures scene. It also helps that Switzerland is not short of money.”

Neil adds: “I think it [the startup scene] could be even more vibrant. Traditionally, the best talent has been siphoned off into the large companies, and the money and the ideas have not connected as well as they might. BaseLaunch has made a start during the last two years in addressing some of these disconnects, leveraging the knowledge of large pharma to assist the formation of very early ventures. In the future we [BaseLaunch] hope to go further with this approach.”

The role of BaseLaunch

Basel, Basel Area, startup, life sciences ecosystem, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals
“The aim of BaseLaunch is to further de-risk ventures, help raise additional funding and ultimately raise seed financing” – Stephan Emmerth (Source: Michael Hochreutener)

BaseLaunch, which is backed by healthcare giants Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer, Roche and Roivant Sciences, supports early stage healthcare ventures. It provides grants of up to $256.000 (€221.000).

Furthermore, BaseLaunch gives access to its partners, fully equipped laboratories and office space, to consultants in all kinds of areas, as well as access to professionals and businessmen, who have a history of building healthcare ventures.

“The aim of BaseLaunch is to further de-risk ventures, help raise additional non-dilutive funding from foundations and government grants and ultimately support to raise seed financing from venture funds, family offices, business angels or others,” said Stephan Emmerth, Director of Business Development and Operations at BaseLaunch.

The region’s growing biotech ecosystem surely has a lot to offer. With its collaborative network of academia, industry and venture capital experts, young entrepreneurs can be sure that their innovative idea is in safe hands. On top of that, the Basel Area has been voted a global top 10 city to live in. Mix  in the infrastructure, incubators and accelerators and it becomes very likely that a startup will succeed and become a rising star in its field.

Intrigued? Contact the team behind BaseLaunch and learn about their exciting acceleration program. You have until May 2019 to apply and be one of ten innovative projects chosen by the expert selection committee.

Images via Ipsimus, Bullstar, Number1411, Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock and Erich Meyer and Michael Hochreutener

Author: Larissa Warneck, Science Journalist at

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