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Biotech companies wing their way to the Basel Area

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Why so many life science and biotech companies wing their way to the Basel Area


Basel Area has proven to be the favored location for many of the world’s biggest, best and newest innovators in life sciences and the undisputed leading European hub for pharma giants.

Roche Towers - the biotech location - Basel Area img: Alamy Stock Photo
Roche Towers on the Rhein in Basel, Switzerland. (img: Alamy Stock Photo)

There’s an old English saying: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

It means that people – or companies, for that matter – who share an interest or are similar in character or type tend to associate with each other.1

Biggest pharma companies in Switzerland

That’s perhaps why the Basel Area has proven to be the favoured location for many of the world’s biggest, best and newest innovators in life sciences and the undisputed leading European hub for pharma giants:

In the list of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies by market capitalization, 10 out of the top 50 have their headquarters or their European base in the Basel Area, including Roche at number two and Novartis at number five.

These companies and the Basel Area have superb chemistry – literally:

It’s a concoction of great centrally-located infrastructure, solid support services, access to some of the most advanced research institutions, leading like-minded companies. One of the richest veins of recruitment talent in Europe, and of course the quality of life in Switzerland,  a most picturesque and culturally-rich part of the world.

Why did you set up in Basel?

“If you want to be in fashion, you should be in Paris or Milan. If you want to be in finance, you’d better be in London or New-York. If you want to be in pharma, Basel is maybe the city with the biggest concentration of pharma discovery and business in the world.”

What else does the city offer for businesses like yours?

“Many aspects, but I will say one word: diversity. It’s very important to have diverse cultures, diverse origins, and it was important for us to have the possibility to grow with diversity.”

Martin and Jean-Paul Clozel
Co-Founders, Actelion and Idorsia

img: Idorsia

Big names in the Basel Area

Roche and Novartis are just two companies that have invested heavily in the Basel Area in recent years. Roche’s iconic towers, designed by world-renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron from Basel, each cost approximately 550 million2 Swiss Francs. Roche is also investing more than three billion Swiss Francs in a new research and development centre for around 1,900 employees. The opening is planned for 2023.

The Novartis campus on the opposite bank of the Rhine also has an impressive line-up of architectural gems for its staff. The campus also hosts the latest addition to the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. One of four sites in and around the Basel Area, the Novartis Campus site is dedicated to digital health. It provides a focal point for a unique community of digital healthcare experts, providing work and meeting space.

In the global rankings of the top 100 global pharma companies, 10 of the top 50 are headquartered or have a branch in the Basel Area. Online research analysts Visual Capitalists mapped out the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies and plotted their value according to their 2020 market capitalization, as set out in the graphs below4.

Top pharmaceutical companies with headquarters or a branch in the Basel Area4

  • Johnson & Johnson,  global ranking #1
  • Roche,  global ranking #2
  • Novartis,  global ranking #5
  • Moderna,  global ranking #17
  • Bayer,  global ranking #19
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Hengrui Medicine,  global ranking #20
  • Lonza,  global ranking #25
  • BeiGene,  global ranking #29
  • Dr. Reddy’s,  global ranking #44
Infographic: Visual Capitalist - published on September 17, 2021

A hotspot for Chinese pharma

As the Asian pharma market expands, more and more Chinese pharmaceutical companies have chosen the Basel Area as the location for their subsidiary in Switzerland. Among them is Hengrui Medicine, Asia’s largest pharmaceutical group by market capitalization. The other heavyweight, BeiGene, has been operating in Europe’s prime life sciences location since 2018. The Basel Area is the Swiss hotspot for Chinese pharmaceutical companies with additional subsidiaries of Luye, Adagene and WORG Pharmaceuticals.

What are the active ingredients behind the Basel Area’s investment injection?

The Basel Area is Switzerland’s most innovative region with the most European patent applications per capita.

Then there’s the location, in the middle of Europe, on the borders of Europe’s biggest markets in France and Germany, and with excellent road, rail, and air links.

The area has Europe’s largest talent pool, with access to 31,600 highly-qualified, multilingual international professionals. Switzerland is home to six of the top 20 universities in biosciences, with over 14 internationally recognized research institutes within an hour’s drive, and more than 1,000 research groups.

-> read this comprehensive guide to the Switzerland startup ecosystem.

“In the Basel Area, we have a thriving ecosystem, from startups to big players, along the entire value chain: R&D, clinical trials, manufacturing, commercialization, and service providers,” says Franz Waibel, Head of International Markets and Business Affairs at Basel Area Business & Innovation.

At Basel Area Business & Innovation, we assist international companies and startups with setting up or expanding business operations in the Basel Area, and connect them to the dynamic cluster of leading companies, top universities and world-class research centers.

Success stories

Click on the logos below to read why they chose Basel

1, 2 Wikipedia
4 Visual Capitalist

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