Basel: It Takes an Ecosystem to Build a Startup

14/09/2021 - 8 minutes

Europe has a number of bubbling biotech hubs that offer access to expertise, financial support, and networking opportunities for young healthcare ventures. One of them is the Basel Area in Switzerland.  

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 teams, regulatory authorities, 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 is the Basel Area in Switzerland.

Basel’s tightly woven life sciences ecosystem

Nestled between the borders of France and Germany, the Basel Area is home to the headquarters of the global pharma giants Roche and Novartis. Other global players found here are Actelion – part of the Johnson & Johnson family – Bayer, Beigene, Boehringer Ingelheim, Lonza, and Moderna.

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 Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, the Department of Biomedicine of the University, and the University Hospital of Basel, as well as the life sciences branch of the University of Applied Sciences.

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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, Delin Ventures, and others. 

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 early in new companies.

Neil Goldsmith, BaseLaunch
Neil Goldsmith, Serial Entrepreneur and Director of Strategy at BaseLaunch

“If you want to play on the big stage, then the Basel Area is where you should be,” said Neil Goldsmith, a serial entrepreneur and Director of Strategy at BaseLaunch, a Basel-based accelerator and incubator. 

“Due to its abundance of scientific talent and the unrivaled management expertise spread through large corporates and biotech companies, Basel has the potential to further increase the formation of early-stage ventures. It also helps that Switzerland is not short of money.”

From venture financing to IPOs to acquisitions and drugs on the market

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. In recent years, biotech companies located in Basel raised €5.5B (CHF 6B) in private and public financings.

The success of Basel-based companies reflects the region’s capability to support and grow flourishing enterprises. One example is the next-generation antibody-drug conjugate developer NBE Therapeutics, which was acquired by Boehringer Ingelheim for a whopping €1.2B in December 2020. 

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Another example is Vectivbio. Spun out from the rare disease biotech Therachon – which was acquired by Pfizer in 2019 – Vectivbio develops treatments for severe rare diseases with an unmet medical need. In April 2021, the company announced the closing of its initial public offering (IPO) on the US stock exchange Nasdaq, raising €124M ($147M). 

In another recent fundraise, Basel-based Alentis Therapeutics, which was founded in close collaboration with Baselaunch, bagged €57M ($67M) in a Series B financing round. 

The fundraising was led by Jeito Capital and Morningside Ventures with support from existing investors BioMed Partners, BB Pureos Bioventures, Bpifrance, High-Tech Gründerfonds, and Schroders Capital. Alentis has developed a drug discovery platform for the treatment of fibrotic diseases and associated cancers.

Actelion, Basel, Switzerland, Biotech company
Headquarters of Actelion, a Johnson & Johnson company

The historical €28B ($30B) acquisition of biotech giant Actelion by Johnson & Johnson in 2017, placed the Basel region into the global spotlight. Actelion’s spin-off  Idorsia is continuing in the footsteps of its parent company and has seen great successes in recent years. 

For instance, the FDA is currently reviewing the company’s new drug application for its insomnia therapy daridorexant following positive phase III results. Idorsia currently has three drugs in phase III trials.

Basel: A global position recognized by others

Basel’s flourishing ecosystem has been recognized as a gold mine worldwide. One example is the global healthcare company Roivant Sciences, which moved its headquarters to Basel in 2016, followed by several of its affiliates.

The company works on reducing the time and cost of drug development. It plans to go public via a Special Purposes Acquisition Company later this year in a deal that values Roivant at €6.2B ($7.3B). 

Another successful company that chose to open its European headquarters in Basel is the US biotech Moderna, which rose to fame as one of the first developers of an mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine.

In May 2020, Moderna and the Basel-based global contract manufacturing organization Lonza announced a 10-year strategic partnership to enable the large-scale manufacturing of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine and other products developed by Moderna. 

Basel, City, Switzerland

Other companies have also settled down in Basel in order to access a broad talent base. Mirum Pharmaceuticals, for instance, has recently entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with the South Korean biopharmaceutical company GC pharma to develop and commercialize its investigational drug Maralixibat for rare liver diseases.

And the immuno-oncology company Anaveon – a Baselaunch portfolio company that raised €32M (CHF 35M) in a Series A in 2019 from Syncona and the Novartis Venture Fund – recently dosed its first patient in a phase I/II study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its lead compound in patients with solid tumors. 

Supporting young biotech ventures

One important player in Switzerland’s flourishing biotech hub is the European biotech incubator and accelerator BaseLaunch, run by Basel Area Business & Innovation.

“BaseLaunch has a very unique offer, with the critical mass that the Basel Area has in life sciences, together with the detailed input that BaseLaunch gets from its partners and its super pragmatic approach,” Goldsmith explained. 

“The Basel region itself is, for me, the best possible location to put biotech in Europe. It has a tremendous talent pool, good access to financing, and very good quality of life.”

laboratory, biotech work, lab, life sciences

In the past few years, BaseLaunch has grown into Europe’s largest biotech accelerator. Furthermore, the incubator leverages its network of large pharma and venture funds to assist in the formation of early-stage healthcare companies. 

Since supporting its first ventures in early 2018, eight of its portfolio companies have, in total, raised over €229M ($270M) in financing; several collaborations have been initiated and one company, Tepthera, has been sold. 

Recently, BaseLaunch launched two more companies, Incephalo and Nextimmune. Additional companies will be added to the portfolio in the near future. 

The role of BaseLaunch

BaseLaunch is backed by a number of life science giants, including Roche, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, CSL Behring, Roivant Sciences, the venture fund BB Pureos Bioventures, and the Korean biotech company Bridge Bioventures.

The incubator supports early-stage therapeutic ventures in a variety of ways. It provides convertible loans of up to €423,000 ($500,000), access to industry experts, brings in senior executives who have a history of building therapeutic ventures, and closely works alongside the startup’s team to help it build a successful company. 

Unlike regular accelerators and incubators, BaseLaunch has no formal program, workshops, or sessions but individualizes each project and adjusts to the specific needs of each therapeutic venture in its portfolio.

Stefan Emmerth, BaseLaunch
Stephan Emmerth, Director of Business Development and Operations at BaseLaunch

“The aim of BaseLaunch is to further de-risk ventures, build companies from scratch, and ultimately support them to raise Series A financing rounds from venture funds, family offices, business angels, and other investors,” said Stephan Emmerth, Director of Business Development and Operations at BaseLaunch.

The Basel 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. Add in the support of experienced incubators and accelerators, like BaseLaunch, and it is very likely that a startup will succeed and become a rising star in its field.

Intrigued? Contact the BaseLaunch team to learn more. Applications for the incubator are now open. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to be one of the projects to receive funding. Apply now!


Images via BaseLaunch


This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated to include the most recent data available.

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