May 11, 2017

Two major announcements were made this week, both concerning genetics research and both having exciting implications for Campus Biotech.

The first saw The Bertarelli Foundation and EPFL renew their longstanding partnership with a CHF 10 million grant to “further accelerate research into the treatment of neurological disorders.” CHF 5 million of that donation will be used to create a gene therapy platform here at Campus Biotech, with an EPFL / Bertarelli Foundation Chair to be appointed in due course. The other half of the grant will create a “catalyst fund” to promote “further interactions between projects run jointly by the various research teams” here. Given that collaboration between teams and disciplines is at the heart of Campus Biotech’s mission, this fund is very good news indeed. It will be run by a scientific committee led by Patrick Aebischer, neuroscience researcher and former president of EPFL.

Commenting on the new agreement, Ernesto Bertarelli said: “Our long-term commitment reflects our confidence in EPFL but also – and most importantly – our desire to support and drive forward the fields of research that will revolutionise tomorrow’s medicine,” while Martin Vetterli, President of EPFL, said: “We are especially grateful to the Bertarelli Foundation for its advocacy and for its unwavering support, which allows EPFL and our partners to develop innovative technologies and treatments that benefit all of society.”


The second big announcement – and one related to, and beneficial for, the new gene therapy platform – was made by EPFL, the Université de Genève, and Hôpitaux Universitaires Genève (HUG), who have come together to create Switzerland’s first ever genome centre. Located here at Campus Biotech, it aims to make gene sequencing more widely available and to promote precision medicine, “the cornerstone of personalised health care.”


The idea for the centre came out of Health 2030, an initiative launched by the aforementioned partners, as well as the University of Lausanne, the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), the University of Bern and Bern University Hospital, and which is “designed to promote research, training and services in the field of digital and personalized health in western Switzerland.”


The genome centre could become one of the largest in Europe, such is the scale of the ambition behind it. As the press release explains, the “ever-expanding role of genetics in medicine will lead to exponential growth in demand for gene decoding and analysis in the coming years. One of the centre’s initial missions will be to absorb demand from the CHUV, HUG and Bern University Hospital, with the long-term goal being to meet the needs of all Swiss hospitals and other potential partners.” The new centre is well-equipped to do so: With its cutting-edge sequencers, it has an analytical capacity that is “unparalleled” in Swizterland. Beginning this summer, the centre will be able to decode between 60 and 80 complete genomes in a week. Looking to the future, the aim for the centre is to coordinate genome sequencing across Switzerland and, as such, it could eventually employ up to 40 people, depending upon the volume of its work.

There is more about both of these exciting developments in the respective announcements: That discussing the new gene therapy platform is on the Bertarelli Foundation’s website, here, while the full press release announcing the new genome centre is on EPFL's website, here.