Basel is the new hotspot for cell and gene therapies.

Companies specializing in the research and development of innovative cell and gene therapies continue to spring up around the world, and more and more choose the Swiss city of Basel as their base.

These companies benefit from the region’s talents, academic institutions, and investment proposals and cultivate a community of entrepreneurs who want to make their mark in the industry. This article highlights the driving forces behind Basel’s snowball reputation as a life science hub and highlights some of the cell and gene therapy success stories that have emerged from this innovative biotech powerhouse.

Europe’s Growing Biotech Beacon

Boston and Cambridge in the US have long been associated with cutting-edge biopharmaceutical development, with big names such as Pfizer and Merck supporting the innovation ecosystem.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the area surrounding the Swiss city of Basel has established itself as the main innovation center of Europe, with more than 700 companies operating in the fields of biotechnology, digital health, medical technology, chemistry, and advanced manufacturing. This includes pharmaceutical giants such as Roche, Novartis, and Johnson & Johnson, all of which have international headquarters or significant facilities in the region to tap the academic institutions and local talent of more than 31,000 life sciences professionals.

Switzerland’s political and economic stability and capital gains tax exemptions for startups have created an environment for a growing number of academic researchers and budding entrepreneurs to turn their big ideas into startups. Whether these startups are born from innovation in the private sector or academia, financial investment is key, and Basel is home to many private investors and venture capital firms.

Even with adequate financing, starting, hiring, and maintaining a successful business is a challenge, with approximately half of new startups failing. Fortunately, there are many special programs and support networks in the Basel region—such as accelerators and business incubators—that offer start-ups legal and logistical support, additional investment, and access to a network of experienced professionals.

Taking Cell and Gene Therapies to the Next Level

T3 Pharma, a clinical-stage startup harnessing the natural behavior of living bacteria, is one company taking advantage of the support programs offered by Basel. It is one of several local companies focusing on cell and gene therapies as promising methods to treat or cure disease. T3 Pharma has developed a cancer treatment platform that uses genetically engineered bacteria to target and deliver specific protein payloads into solid tumor cells, stimulating the body’s immune response.

The company originated at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel and successfully raised 40 million Swiss francs ($43.2 million) from venture capital firms and other investors through the biotechnology accelerator and incubator BaseLaunch. 

T3 Pharma has had strong links with universities, with much of its initial development coming from local academic basic research. Simon Ittig, CEO and co-founder of T3 Pharma, explained: “We have close links with academia, and in addition to regularly recruiting staff from local microbiology departments, many of our original concepts come from grants and funding sources shared with universities.” I would say that Basel really has advantages, especially on the pharmaceutical side. “You don’t just move to places like Boston when you can set up shop here and have everything right on your doorstep.”

Revolutionary treatment 

Another company flourishing in the petri dish of the Basel region is Cimeio Therapeutics. The company hopes to transform the treatment of certain life-threatening diseases by eliminating the chemotherapy and radiation required for hematopoietic stem cell transplants and adoptive cell therapies. Immunotherapies simultaneously reduce diseased cells and use cytoprotective technology to protect healthy transplants.

Like T3 Pharma, Cimeio Therapeutics was founded based on promising academic research, with support and seed funding from BaseLaunch. It was then further developed with Ridgeline, the Versant Ventures Discovery Engine in Basel, culminating in the recent $50 million investment from Versant Ventures.

Lukas Jeker, founder of Cimeio Therapeutics, said: “The science coming from Basel is completely on par with the famous innovation centers in the United States, and we hope that our success story shows that founding a company in Basel is a worthy European choice.”
But it’s not just startups; much larger companies in the Basel area are also investing heavily in these new technologies. For example, Novartis recently unveiled its new $91 million cell and gene therapy facility just outside Basel, while CDMO Celonic is building a gene vector and cell therapy manufacturing facility right in the heart of the city.

Basel’s bright future

Cell and gene therapies have taken hold since the end of the Human Genome Project in 2003, and big names have invested huge sums in the field. However, a growing number of innovative technology startups are also benefiting from this momentum, carving out their own niche in the local ecosystem and seeking to advance new research into commercially viable and potentially life-changing projects.
The future of cell and gene therapy looks bright, and Basel has proven to be the place for entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in these emerging fields.


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