How is Switzerland's life sciences market responding to COVID-19

Posting date: 03 June 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 is an opportunity for Switzerland's life sciences market to deliver the world the one thing that it’s crying out for right now – a vaccine. Researchers at the University of Bern are working around the clock to become the first to produce a vaccine and have delivered the ambitious goal of immunising 100% of the Swiss population against the virus by October.

 

Other large biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland are proving determined to find a vaccine, as smaller enterprises rely on the nation to provide economic relief packages which will help them survive the virus. While it’s uncertain what the long-term impacts of COVID-19 will be, there are two outcomes of the pandemic that are hard to ignore – innovation and collaboration. Read on to find out how Switzerland’s life sciences market is responding to Covid-19.

 

Where the action is happening

Switzerland has long been known as an innovative nation and the dynamic life sciences sector is what attracts so many key players in the global market to establish headquarters or run operations on its soil. In Basel alone, there are 700 life sciences companies, employing 33,900 employees who produce goods and services valued at a staggering $405 million each hour. Despite Basel being known as Switzerland’s hub of life sciences, it’s companies in the capital city, Zurich, and nearby town, Bern, who are showcasing the most promising developments towards a Covid-19 vaccine.

 

Swapping Swiss chocolate for antibodies

The Swiss biotechnology sector has seen continued growth over the past several decades and just last year 19 biotech companies were established in the country. Though the pandemic may have stopped most of the world in its tracks – causing many people to learn how to be productive when working from home - that’s not the case for biotechnology companies who have instead reallocated their resources in the race to create a vaccination. One Swiss biotech in particular – Memo Therapeutics – are screening healthy participants who have recovered from a strong bout of COVID-10 and repaying them in Swiss chocolate. MEMO is a recognised leader in antibody discovery and is using these proteins which are extracted from recovered patients to develop a vaccine as well as to help create therapies.

 

A global collaboration

The Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator was initiated by the Gates Foundation in an effort to combine the expertise and facilities of life sciences companies around the globe. The CEO of Novartis – a Swiss pharmaceutical giant – has stepped up to co-chair this group of 15 companies to ensure seamless collaboration. The newly-established group recognise that sharing their ‘proprietary libraries of molecular compounds’ will accelerate the progress in identifying a suitable compound meaning that the in vivo trials could be running within two months. This global alliance between life sciences companies may see a vaccination reach the population sooner than imagined and could be the future of faster drug discovery.

 

Novartis is also dedicating time to understanding the severe life-threatening complications that Covid-19 can present. Their ongoing trial, CAN-COVID, has progressed to Phase III clinical trials and is enrolling participants across Europe with the hopes to develop a therapy which increases the survival rate for those who contract the virus.

 

A forward-thinking approach

According to Swiss Life Sciences' 2020 Trend Analysis, the nation is home to 1,885 life sciences companies, one of them being Neurimmune. This biopharmaceutical company is also working on a Covid-19 therapy and is at the development stage for an antibody-based treatment that will be administered directly to the lungs. This forward-thinking approach to therapeutics could dramatically reduce the damage that coronavirus has on the lungs, therefore improving patient recovery and lowering the mortality rate.

 

An alternative to a vaccination

Global health experts predict that a vaccination won’t be delivered until early 2021 but that has not stopped Swiss biopharmaceutical company Molecular Partners from developing an innovative response to the virus. Rather than formulating a medicine that provides the body with immunisation to Covid-19, they’re working towards creating a class of protein therapeutics known as DARPin which will act as inhibitors that prevent the virus from entering the human cell. This approach would limit the potential of the human population developing resistance to a vaccination and could be an essential treatment to eradicate coronavirus.

 

A steady recovery

In 2019, the combined biotech, pharmaceuticals and chemical industries in Switzerland employed over 50,000 people and contributed to 40% of the nation’s exports. Though the global health emergency initiated an economic downturn in sectors across the world, the displays of innovation and collaboration in recent months ensure that Switzerland’s life sciences market will remain competitive into the future.

 

Swisslinx is here to help

Our team of consultants at Swisslinx are keeping abreast of new developments in the life sciences market meaning that we’re best placed to provide industry advice. Read how Switzerland is responding to Covid-19 and find out what we’re doing to support our clients and candidates. If you’re looking for fresh life sciences talent, Contact us and a member of the Swisslinx team will be in touch to discuss your recruitment needs.

How has Covid-19 impacted Dubai?

Around the world, countries have been impacted by and responded to Covid-19 in different ways. While Switzerland chose to rely heavily on testing and offered support to businesses, the United Arab Emirates implemented a travel ban, cut interest rates and rolled out a stimulus package. As a travel hub with many expat and temporary workers, Dubai has been presented with unique challenges during the pandemic. Now as individuals and businesses start to recover and now look to the future, what can we expect for the city, and how might the economy recover? Travel plans have changed Dubai came to a standstill in April as the UAE government imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world. Now, the emirate is opening the economy back up, and a significant part of this is travel. As one of the world’s most significant travel hubs, Dubai was heavily impacted by lockdown measures. It's a city reliant on tourism, hospitality and aviation, so the grounding of planes and imposition of strict travel restrictions have had a major effect on the economy. March’s complete halt of passenger flights has contributed to passenger travel through Dubai dropping by a fifth in the first quarter of 2020, though special repatriation flights still operated to ensure travellers and contract workers could return home. The transport and storage sector, which includes aviation, land, air and water transport, made up 18.5% of Dubai’s GDP in 2017 and was its most active economic driver in the first half of 2019, so such a significant halt could be detrimental to the wider economy. However, there is now good news for the aviation and hospitality sectors with the resumption of travel from to and from Dubai by July 7. Airports and national carriers are resuming large-scale operations whilst maintaining strict health and safety measures, which may help to accelerate the predicted economic recovery. We can therefore expect to see more opportunity for investment in the travel and tourism sector over the coming months. Staff consider their options While the UAE did roll out a stimulus package to help its economy in the midst of the pandemic, Dubai hasn’t seen the same level of support that other parts of the world has when it’s come to securing businesses. With no furlough scheme, some employers have been forced to reduce headcount and salaries to ensure survival during and after Covid-19. As the nation is made up largely of expats, many residents are making the decision to return home, and Oxford Economics estimates that the UAE could see 10% of residents leave its shores. However, with job losses and tanking economies an issue worldwide, those in stable industries may choose to stay on in Dubai rather than facing an uncertain future back home. Some nations in the GCC are actively looking to reduce expatriate worker numbers, with Kuwait and Oman looking to fill a higher percentage of key positions with national candidates. As international flights resume and restrictions ease, we anticipate there will be more employment opportunities within the UAE, particularly within the healthcare, distribution and logistics and technology industries. E-commerce is thriving throughout the pandemic, so specialist skillsets in this area will be highly sought after.  Oil and gas take a hit We know that the commodities market has taken a considerable hit in 2020, not just with Covid-19 but with the oil price wars as well. Supply has outweighed demand and we saw storage facilities reach maximum capacity, resulting in a record low oil price that created significant disruption throughout the global industry. However, the past two months have seen the market recover somewhat, and there are predictions that the second half of the year will see oil prices rise back to $50. As lockdowns continue to be lifted around the world and the mobilisation of people and supplies resumes, we hope this sector continues to strengthen and more job opportunities will emerge. Investment shows confidence There are clear signs of opportunity and optimism in the UAE already. One such sign of confidence is the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company announcing a $20.7 billion energy infrastructure deal with global investors, operators and sovereign wealth and investment funds. It’s one of the largest global energy infrastructure transactions and is positive news for the UAE’s gas market – and indeed, clients and jobseekers. Emiratis are optimistic about an economic recovery, according to Mckinsey, and the relaxation of lockdown rules should speed this up. Dubai has maintained its position as among the top three destinations globally for greenfield foreign direct investment, thanks to its ease of doing business, location and security. This should help the city to recover economically, perhaps more quickly than other areas. Flexibility into the future Through this crisis we’ve seen many clients in Dubai and UAE implement remote working, reducing business travel as much as possible and placing projects on hold. We can expect to see some of this continue long into the future, particularly regarding employer flexibility, potentially creating more opportunities for workers who may not otherwise have been able to work full time in an office location. As 22% of UAE employers say working from home has increased their business’ productivity, many organisations may introduce new remote and flexible working policies to allow employees to work from home on a permanent or part time basis. Unnecessary business travel will likely be reduced or eliminated entirely, with a focus on working – and hiring – locally. That’s not to say there won’t be opportunities for global workers to take up lucrative contracts in the UAE, however. For the right candidate, opportunities will remain. Established in 2007, Swisslinx’s Dubai office is focused on banking and finance, oil and gas, and technology. We have a multilingual team of sector experts who are committed to matching the right candidates with the right roles, providing ongoing support before, during and after the recruitment process. View our latest UAE jobs or contact us to talk about how we can help you.

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How have startups pivoted to respond to Covid-19?

The Covid-19 outbreak has led to a raft of changes across industries, from home working and virtual business meetings through to social distancing and reorganisation. Beyond the day-to-day of how we’re working, we’ve also seen dramatic changes within some industries as to what we’re working on. One of the most interesting impacts of Covid-19 has been the response of businesses who are trying to not only survive, but also help in the face of a massive global pandemic. Restaurants have moved to online delivery models, fashion labels are manufacturing face masks and life science organisations worldwide are devoting their efforts entirely to finding a vaccine. This is easier for some than others – changing business models and production plans suit organisations that are agile and free from the restrictions that many established large-scale businesses have in place. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at how startups have pivoted in response to Covid-19. What does ‘pivot’ mean? Anyone who’s worked in technology – and particularly the startup world – will be familiar with the pivot. It’s the term given to a change in approach to test a new business model or product, usually after receiving feedback that the original approach is not effective. It’s common in the startup community where entrepreneurs typically follow a lean methodology where everything is questioned – even the purpose of the organisation. Famous organisations that have pivoted include Nintendo, whose previous products have included instant rice and vacuum cleaners, and Twitter, which was once a service called Odeo that allowed people to find and listen to podcasts. Which startups have pivoted as a response to Covid-19? The 2010s saw a huge amount of hype generated over 3D printing, yet the technology has so far seemed somewhat underutilised. Now, however, Covid-19 is presenting new demand for additive manufacturing, thanks largely to the stranglehold China has had on manufacturing personal protective equipment and other products that have been in short supply during the pandemic. When Chinese manufacturing came to a halt during lockdown, startups and other businesses stepped up to use 3D printing to fill the gap, with designs for face shields and medical equipment shared on open source platforms to allow anyone to create these much-needed products. The Middle East and North African market have seen 3D printing startups such as Eon Dental pivot to contribute to the Covid-19 battle, reconfiguring machines and temporarily changing their entire business models. Meanwhile, UAE commodities startup Immensa produces 10,000-12,000 face shields a day to export to Europe, the US and Middle East. Closer to home, Swiss-based fertility tracking organisation Ava Women is researching whether its fertility tracking device can be used to detect early signs of Covid-19. Another life sciences startup, Warsaw Genomics, has moved away from its genetic testing to now offer Covid-19 tests for distribution within Poland’s hospitals, while delivery network Gophr is now delivering pharma, bio-sample and test kids for health services companies. The fintech market is not exempt from virus-driven pivots. Examples include US neobank Moven selling its direct consumer offering to focus entirely on developing financial technology for other banks, and British credit rating startup Credit Kudos launching a tool that allows freelancers to verify their earnings to benefit from the British government’s financial support.  What does this mean for me? These pivots demonstrated the rapidly changing business landscape we are finding ourselves in, and the need for businesses and workers alike to take a flexible, agile approach to the marketplace. While experience in healthcare and life sciences is naturally in demand in the current climate, so too are digital and technology skills to help startups and other businesses pivot and digitalise their offering. If you’re in the market for a new role, we’d love to help. We have deep experience in our specialist markets and are paying close attention to the current market conditions. Contact us to start a conversation about your next steps.

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