The Swiss city of Lausanne is perhaps best known as a hub of international sport, but what many outsiders may not realize is that it’s also one of Switzerland’s biggest biotech hubs.
Many of the biotechs in the city are connected to the University of Lausanne (UNIL), as well as the renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). Biotechs in Lausanne are particularly strong in medical applications, with many of them at the intersection with medical devices and digital medicine.
With many great biotechs in the city, selecting ten was not straightforward, but we made our decision with the aid of local experts. In no particular order, these are the ones which made our cut.
Field: Molecular diagnostics
Sophia Genetics applies AI to the analysis of the human genome with the goal of making personalized treatment recommendations to patients with cancer or genetic diseases. The company has developed an intelligent platform that can sift through the genomes of thousands of patients, continuously learning and making more accurate recommendations in the process. This big data approach enables the identification of key mutations that can then be used to diagnose cancer or hereditary disorders far more rapidly than before.
The platform is already used by 970 hospitals across 80 countries, and so far more than 345,000 patients have been screened.
Earlier this year, Sophia Genetics raised a further €69M in Series E funding to further the development of its platform. The company has also recently begun analyzing medical imaging data.
Field: Neurodegenerative disease
In recent months, efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease have taken a hit, with Eli Lilly, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Merck suffering late-stage efficacy failures with drugs targeting the formation of amyloid beta plaques in the brain. But AC Immune is determined to try and buck the trend with a different target: the formation of bundles of tau proteins.
Earlier this year, the company suffered a blow after collaborators Roche announced they were discontinuing two phase III trials testing AC Immune’s lead antibody drug candidate as an Alzheimer’s treatment. However, the candidate is still in an ongoing phase II trial for the prevention of Alzheimer’s, and the company has a variety of other antibodies and vaccines under investigation for the disease.
However, Alzheimer’s is far from the company’s only focus. With a broad pipeline aimed at multiple neurodegenerative diseases, the company is also developing immunotherapies for Parkinson’s and diagnostics for Alzheimer’s and progressive supranuclear palsy.
A decade after they first emerged, ADCs or antibody drug conjugates have seen a resurgence of interest as a cancer treatment. ADCs are antibodies with a toxin attached that targets cancer cells, which are then killed by the toxin.
ADC Therapeutics is attempting to use ADCs to target some of the most difficult to treat cancers. These include blood cancers such as lymphoma, as well as solid tumors such as prostate, breast, lung and gastrointestinal cancer. With almost €350M in funding secured since it launched in 2011, the company is one of Europe’s best-funded biotechs.
Last December, the company revealed that one of the company’s lead candidates had demonstrated both tolerability and anti-tumor activity in a Phase I trial of patients with relapsed or refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. The same candidate is also in a pivotal Phase II trial for patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the most common type of aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphomas.
Field: Neurodegenerative disease
Asceneuron is looking to tackle neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and the rare disorder progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), with small molecule drugs.
The company’s lead product targets the accumulation of toxic aggregates of the tau protein, thought to be behind many of these disorders.
So far Asceneuron have placed a particular focus on PSP, a disorder which comprises around 1% of dementia cases, and for which there are currently no effective treatments. Last November, they launched a study to assess how the drug binds to its target in the human brain using PET scanning. This is intended to guide dose selection for a future phase II trial for PSP.
A spin-off of EPFL, this biotech is developing anti-aging products based on a wonder molecule discovered in the pomegranate fruit. Part of the reason we age is because our cells struggle to recycle mitochondria efficiently, causing a buildup of cellular waste. The molecule urolithin A has been shown to improve this recycling process.
Amazentis have developed a product, which is an oral formulation of urolithin A. The company is conducting clinical trials using this molecule to target age-related muscle decline, or sarcopenia, which affects many of us as we grow older. An initial phase I study showed a beneficial impact on biomarkers of mitochondrial health in skeletal muscle tissue, as well as determining the optimal dosage of its product for a future phase II trial.
Earlier this month, Amazentis partnered with Nestlé Health Science, which now has global rights to use the company’s technology in dietary supplements, foods, and medical nutrition products.
Since its launch nearly 30 years ago, Mymetics has developed a vast pipeline of vaccine candidates for infectious diseases ranging from malaria to AIDS, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza.
The biotech has become a pioneer in the development of virosome-based vaccines. Virosomes are tiny vesicles that carry viral proteins on the surface, where they are exposed to the immune system.
Since 2015, the company has led a EU-funded consortium aiming to fast-forward these vaccines to the clinic.
Field: Inflammatory diseases
This biotech’s mission is to develop new therapies for severe autoinflammatory diseases, with ongoing systemic inflammation. These include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and adult onset Still’s disease.
AB2 Bio are targeting particular subtypes of these diseases which are linked to processes mediated by an inflammatory molecule known as IL-18. These disease mechanisms are thought to stem from various genetic mutations.
AB2 Bio have developed a drug candidate, which aims to tackle the underlying processes behind these diseases by inhibiting IL-18. The company is currently recruiting patients with autoinflammatory diseases linked to IL-18 for a phase III trial. The drug candidate has already shown promise in a phase II trial in patients suffering from adult onset Still’s disease.
AB2 Bio has received orphan drug designation for its drug candidate from the EMA and FDA, to try and speed its development to the clinic.
Field: Allergy treatment
Anergis develops ultra-fast allergy immunotherapies. Allergies affect over 500 million people globally and are the most prevalent and fastest growing chronic health problem in the industrialized world.
The current methods of inducing tolerance to an allergen — the foreign protein which triggers the allergic response — can take 3-5 years. Anergis aims to slash through this time with contiguous overlapping peptides – long synthetic peptides which reproduce fragments of a specific allergen.
Anergis’ lead program is for birch allergies and its drug candidate is expected to reach the clinic within the next few years. The company also has preclinical programs for dust mite and ragweed allergies.
Lunaphore’s next-generation technology performs immunohistochemistry tests, a typical way of identifying cancer biomarkers in biopsy samples. This biotech has developed a unique solution for the automated testing of cancer tissue samples, providing results in only 10-30 minutes. The current hospital standard requires manual procedures, which often take many hours.
The increased diagnostic speed would allow the test to be performed during surgery rather than after, which could help reduce repeat operation rates.
Last year, the company raised €4.7M in Series B round to further the development of its diagnostic devices.
Field: Autoimmune diseases
Another spin-off of EPFL, Anokion aims to develop treatments for a range of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. In multiple sclerosis, T cells mistakenly attack the patient’s own cells as if they were foreign. Anokion uses engineered proteins to modulate this harmful inflammatory immune response.
In 2017, the company announced a landmark research collaboration with US pharma giant Celgene.
David Cox is a science and health writer based in the UK. He has a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Cambridge and has written for newspapers and broadcasters worldwide including the BBC, New York Times, and Guardian. You can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter89.
Images via Shutterstock and E. Resko