Campus Biotech is a new centre of excellence in biotechnology and life science research. It focuses on pure science and its translation into practical outcomes that have an impact on society and the world. Campus Biotech is expected to generate a vast range of opportunities, bringing impetus and investment to this vital economic and scientific sector.
Campus Biotech is a new initiative that aims to drive forward the biotechnology sector in the Lake Geneva region, creating new opportunities for scientists and entrepreneurs. Campus Biotech was formed following the announcement by Merck Serono in 2012 that it would be closing its Geneva site. Formerly the global headquarters of Serono, the biotechnology company built over three generations by the Bertarelli family, this site had been the hub for life sciences in the region.
Campus Biotech’s mission was to acquire the site from Merck Serono and to ensure that it could be utilised as a focal point for scientists and entrepreneurs in the life sciences sector, rather than be purchased for property development. That mission is now being realised, with, among others, the Human Brain Project and the Bertarelli Professorships in Translational Neuroscience located – or soon to be located – at the emerging hub.
Campus Biotech has converted the former Serono site in Sécheron, Geneva, into a multi- development facility to become a centre of excellence in biotechnology and life science research.
The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE) will occupy 15,000m2 of the site. Half of this area will be utilised by research groups from the two universities and the other half by the new Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-Engineering – a model for innovation, collaboration and technology translation.
This Center will be created by The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the University of Geneva following a donation of CHF100m from the Wyss Foundation. It will follow the same principles and model of the Wyss Center for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
The Bertarelli Foundation has contributed its two existing EPFL chairs to the new Campus project, as well as increasing its donation with two additional chairs at the Wyss Center.
As well as this substantial research activity, the rest of the Sécheron site will be given over to small start-ups and other related businesses and sectors that will benefit from this unique environment that blends both science and industry. It is this combination of academia and entrepreneurialism that defines the ethos of Campus Biotech.
The Consortium behind Campus Biotech was formed by individuals and institutions that shared one overarching goal: to ensure that the Lake Geneva region and Switzerland as a whole remains at the cutting edge in the fields of biotechnology and life science research.
The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne is one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology and one of Europe’s leading scientific schools. Its main campus, situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, brings together other 11,000 people – students, researchers and staff, all attracted by the facilities, reputation, innovation and cosmopolitan nature of the university.
EPFL has a longstanding relationship with the Bertarelli Foundation, with which it launched the Center for Neuroprosthetics in 2008. With ever progressing advances in biotechnology, microelectronics, and neural implants as well as unprecedented advances in our understanding of the brain and spinal cord, the Center’s mission is to define and establish a truly interdisciplinary area of study, merging neuroscience with engineering and medicine, and efficiently translating major breakthroughs from bioengineering and neuroscience to viable clinical applications.
“Campus Biotech constitutes a unique opportunity to increase research and development in the Biotechnology sector of the Lake Geneva region and its related job creation.”
Patrick Aebischer, President, EPFL
Founded in 1559 by Jean Calvin and Théodore de Bèze, the University of Geneva (UNIGE) is now the second largest Haute École in Switzerland, and ranks among the top 100 universities in the world. Crown jewel of the Calvin community, the institution enjoys a privileged international reputation and cultivates its openness to the world. UNIGE welcomes approximately 16,500 students each year to its nine faculties, dealing with the essential domains of science, medicine, literature, economics and management, social sciences, law, theology, psychology, educational science, and translation and interpretation sciences. UNIGE has three missions: education, research, and service to the community. Additionally, UNIGE has been a member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) since 2002.
“This project creates a fantastic opportunity of a close collaboration between EPFL and UNIGE in the area of applied biomedical research.”
Jean-Dominique Vassalli, Rector, UNIGE
Hansjörg Wyss currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of Synthes, Inc., a pioneering company that revolutionized the medical device market and changed the surgical approach to healing traumatic injuries. Under Hansjörg’s leadership as President, and later as Chairman and CEO, the company grew from a sales force of 12 people in 1976 to a global company and leader in the medical device industry. The company was sold to Johnson & Johnson in June 2012.
An active philanthropist, Hansjörg’s giving fosters new ideas, new tools, and new collaborations in areas from education and the arts to economic opportunity, conflict resolution, and land conservation. In 1998, he established the Wyss Foundation, which has invested more than $175 million to help local communities, land trusts and non-profit partners conserve nearly 14 million acres of land in the American West for future generations to explore and enjoy. The Wyss Foundation also supports results-focused initiatives in areas from hunger prevention and basic health services to domestic violence counseling and the just treatment of refugees and immigrants. Hansjörg is also the founder of PeaceNexus, a non-profit foundation established in 2009 that brings together and advises government institutions, non-governmental organizations, and businesses to expand peacebuilding capacity in conflict areas around the world. His contributions to the Beyeler Foundation and Stiftung GegenwART in Switzerland have supported art programs, provided scholarships, and helped conserve and display some of the world’s most important pieces of modern art.
Hansjörg remains highly engaged in supporting medical research, education and training. He is a founder of the AO Foundation, a medically guided nonprofit led by an international group of surgeons who specialize in the treatment of trauma and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Hansjörg has also endowed chairs at a wide range of universities and hospitals, including Clemson University, the University of Washington, the University of Mississippi, the University of Maryland, the University of South Alabama, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In 2009, Mr. Wyss contributed $125 million to Harvard University – the largest in the university’s history – to establish the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. That gift was followed by a second of the same amount in 2013. The Institute “seeks to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges in the healthcare and environment by drawing inspiration from nature’s design principles. In addition to uncovering new knowledge about how nature builds, controls, and manufactures, the Institute measures success in the ability of its faculty and staff to translate their discoveries into products that can have near-term impact.” It is this Institute at Harvard that will be the model for the Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro- Engineering at Campus Biotech.
“The Wyss Center shall be a multidisciplinary institute whose mission will be to develop biologically inspired solutions that will solve critical medical problems and to translate these transformative technologies into products that have an impact on society and the world”
Hansjörg Wyss, Chairman, The Wyss Foundation
It was Fabio Bertarelli, Ernesto and Dona’s father, who really brought the life sciences sector to Geneva when he located the family’s company, Serono, in the city. Having started as a small pharmaceutical business, it was built over three generations of the Bertarelli Family. At the time of its acquisition by Merck in 2006, ten years after Ernesto Bertarelli had taken the helm of the company and driven forward its research into biotechnology, Serono was the world’s third largest biotechnology company.
Serono is perhaps most well-known for its pioneering work in the area of reproductive science. In 1949, the company purified gonadotropin, a hormone that promotes the stimulation of the ovaries to produce multiple follicles. This in turn resulted in a fertility-enhancing drug called Pergonal®. In 1963 its active ingredient was adopted by the World Health Organization as the international reference standard. Four years after Serono had moved to Switzerland, the world’s first test-tube baby was born in the UK in 1978, with help from Pergonal®.
As well as their joint and individual business ventures, a primary focus for the family is the work of the Bertarelli Foundation. Chaired by Ernesto and Dona, it is active in those fields that have a historic and current significance to the family. Marine Conservation, for example, is an area in which the Foundation is becoming a global leader, while life science research is also a priority.
The Foundation has a long standing relationship with the EPFL, sponsoring two of its six chairs at the Center for Neuroprostheses and helping to establish a joint research and education program between the University and Harvard.
That the Merck Serono site had such historic importance to the Bertarelli family was a huge factor in the founding of Campus Biotech. What was crucial, however, was the opportunity to realise a project that will maintain the region’s standing in the life sciences sector, while encouraging exactly the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that built Serono in the first place.
“We are absolutely delighted to be moving forward with Campus Biotech. We have been much encouraged by the wide support for our project, which we believe will bring immense value to the Geneva lake region and Switzerland as a whole.”
The building that has housed the former Merck Serono headquarters, and which is now home to Campus Biotech, was conceived as not only a hub for science and research, but also a place for people to meet and a place to be enjoyed.
The building is located in the old Industrial District of Sécheron near Lake Geneva. When Serono took the site over, its mission was to transform it into something advanced and contemporary – preserving the area’s identity and history, but combining it with the cutting edge.
The design process was led by Dona Bertarelli, from whose architectural competition Murphy/Jahn emerged victorious. Their scheme is a ‘lively campus of buildings’, which are varied but share the same stylistic characteristics. An arrangement of larger open and covered spaces brings the whole together, no more so than the visually stunning central forum.
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