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The Swiss Success Story

Posted on: 16 May 03


Switzerland has been a major force in the development of new medicines for over a century. Around 5% of current global pharmaceutical R&D is attributable to Swiss companies.
An international outlook Switzerland has been a major force in the development of new medicines for over a century. Switzerland’s success has been due to its well-established pharmaceutical industry, but this innovative capacity is now being supplemented by a burgeoning biotech industry. The Swiss companies have always had an international outlook and this has been an important contributor to their success. For example, within 15 years of its formation in 1896, Roche opened affiliates in France, Germany, Italy, the USA, the UK and Russia. Swiss companies have now established their presence in over 100 countries, with these operations accounting for nearly 41% of their total investment (1). As the Swiss market is relatively small, Swiss companies have concentrated heavily on foreign markets. According to figures from The World Trade Organization (WTO), Switzerland is ranked 8th in terms of the major exporting countries of chemical and pharmaceutical products (1). However, it is important to note that the presence of these companies abroad extends far beyond marketing. For example, Novartis and Roche now operate no less than seven large research centres outside Switzerland, with these being located in the USA, Great Britain, Japan and Germany. Innovative players The ability to innovate is a key indicator of the performance of the pharmaceutical industry. According to a 1996 study, the Swiss industry invested about 7 billion Swiss francs, or more than 26 million Swiss francs per working day towards innovation. This approach has paid off because Swiss companies were responsible for developing 4 of the 31 novel medicines launched on to the world market during 2001 (2). As a result of the continuing attention paid to innovation, companies such as Novartis, Roche and Serono, occupy internationally leading positions in the fields of prescription drugs, hospital, biotechnology and OTC products. The innovative capacity of the Swiss companies is aided by the high concentration of technology-based companies centred in Switzerland. This allows collaborations to flourish and has also enabled other organisations, such as contract research organisations (CROs), to play a part as specialised sub-contractors and service providers. Companies in the Basel region are estimated to be allocating around 20 % of their R&D budgets to cooperative projects with these types of external organisations (1). This innovative ability is further enhanced through projects being carried out on an international basis. This approach has allowed Swiss companies to harness local talent and work with key opinion leaders in the different countries where they operate. Staffing the Swiss Pharma Industry with the right people Pharmaceutical companies face an ongoing challenge in putting together qualified and skilled technical teams. Despite the technological advances in R&D, human judgement continues to play a vital role in maintaining innovation and thus staffing is a key issue for companies. At present the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland employs 26,000 people (3). To help assist clients in Switzerland with their continued success, several staffing agencies provide pharmaceutical and biotechnical companies with contract personnel on demand. Contracting in personnel offers the advantages of having sufficient personnel available to meet project demands, but keep staff head count low and minimise long term risk. However, most of these agencies do not offer the advantage of understanding clinical research contractor needs. This is where full-service CROs are relied upon in assisting pharmaceutical and biotech companies with their studies. An example of this is Chiltern International's Contract Personnel Department (CPD), which was recently expanded to cover clinical staffing needs in the United States and mainland Europe - and in particular Switzerland. Since Chiltern is a CRO and not a staffing agency, CPD provides pharmaceutical companies with experienced people who understand the trial process and have had appropriate training before going out on contract. Positions in which opportunities arise include, but are not limited to, Clinical Research Associates, Project Managers, Regulatory Affairs Personnel, Registered Nurses, Data Managers, Statisticians, SAS Programmers, Study Site Coordinators, Physicians Assistances, and Medical Writers. As well as supplying companies with staff that have the technical skills, attention must be paid to “soft-skills” such as effective communication and good writing skills. As successful companies have shown, the presence of talented individuals who can effectively communicate ideas and results can make the difference between the company’s R&D performance and that of its opposition. For more information: For further information on Chiltern’s Contract Personnel Department and on career prospects that are available in Switzerland then please contact Larry Hughes ( or visit the Chiltern International website . References
  1. 1.The Swiss chemical-pharmaceutical industry on the world markets.
  2. 2.Kermani F & Van den Haak M (2002). Drug development 2001. CMR International
  3. 3.The Pharmaceutical Industry in Figures (2002). European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations.

Larry Hughes and Dr Faiz Kermani

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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