Med-tech takes off in Solothurn

Solothurn has had great expectations in connection with Biogen's move to the canton. Were these expectations justified?

Dr Karl Brander: Yes, very much so. Construction is in full swing and local businesses are also involved. Lively building activity is also giving a boost to our hotels. I'm delighted to say that Biogen is having precisely the effect we had hoped for in our efforts to attract business to the canton of Solothurn.

Biogen has placed us firmly on the global life sciences map. We're perceived as an attractive and business-friendly location that greatly benefits from its proximity to the world-renowned Basel pharma industry. Since the arrival of Biogen, we've received interesting leads from the life sciences sector; companies involved in constructing the plant have also set up offices locally, invested in the new site and created jobs. Biogen has been even more of a driving force than expected.

What makes Solothurn attractive for the life sciences industry?

In the wake of the crisis in the watchmaking industry in the 1970s, the canton of Solothurn made exemplary structural changes. The metalworking and precision engineering knowhow of this traditional Solothurn industry was increasingly applied to the manufacture of med-tech products. Solothurn has become a hotspot for Swiss medical technology. Med-tech and life sciences are closely related; they complement each other well and help drive each other forward.

How strong is the Swiss med-tech industry?

A tenth of all European med-tech employees work in Switzerland, developing and manufacturing hearing aids, pacemakers and artificial hip joints for the entire world. The Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology - ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne - are among the best in the world when it comes to training engineers, IT specialists and scientists. Switzerland is a highly attractive destination for outstanding talent from abroad, and always gets top rankings for innovation.

What is Solothurn's role in all of this?

K├╝schall manufactures more than 10,000 high-tech wheelchairs a year in Witterswil; DePuy Synthes ships 22 million components a year from its centre in Solothurn. Things are really happening here in terms of med-tech. In Switzerland, the region between Zurich, Bern and Basel has a particularly high density of med-tech companies, with a powerful cluster of manufacturers, suppliers and IT service providers. This area leads the world, particularly when it comes to implants and orthopaedic technology.

What can the economic development agency do to support this cluster?

We work hard to broker knowledge and contacts. We visit companies on site, and listen to their needs and concerns. For example, thanks in part to our support, the association representing the medical cluster has been able to address an important need of the industry by providing a practical training and education programme. Life sciences companies can now take advantage of this.

Does Solothurn even have room for more med-tech and life sciences companies?

Big, freely available spaces are getting scarcer here, too, but in recent months, a number of industrial sites have been taken over by new owners committed to focusing on value-added companies in sectors like med-tech and life sciences. These sites offer exciting development opportunities for business relocations and start-ups interested in our area and the attractive network we provide.

Equipment supplier Ypsomed opened a new production line in Solothurn in January 2017.