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Special feature

The Biovalley : global life sciences cluster

On both sides of the Rhine, between Alsace, Baden-Wurtemberg and Basel, a global life sciences cluster has developed over a few decades. This is BioValley, where the Alsace, with its businesses, startups, laboratories and universities, plays a key role. Immersion in a very prolific ecosystem.

The first telesurgical or mini-invasive procedures of the French institute for cancer of the digestive tract (IRCAD), CellProthera’s development of cardiac cell therapy using stem cells from patients falling victim to a myocardial infarction, the bio-artificial pancreas project steered by Defymed to treat type 1 diabetes, Lilly establishing its largest global production site a few kilometres from Strasbourg… Welcome to Alsace in the European BioValley!

World-class innovations

At the head of the Alsace BioValley competitiveness cluster, Didier Frommweiler paints a picture of this great health valley like this: “The Alsace, and more generally the tri-national region of the BioValley, with Baden-Wurtemberg and the Basel cantons, offers a unique concentration of excellence in the healthcare field. Covering an area of 200 km, partners, customers and suppliers are within reach. The largest global names in life sciences rub shoulders with a multitude of startups in cutting edge skills, some of which working on world-class innovations in healthcare. This natural local ecosystem undeniably facilitates exchanges and collaborations to create progress.”

Here we are at the heart of a system, created by industrial companies, supported and financed by regional authorities, government-accredited and based on the great trilogy of innovation: businesses, universities and laboratories. But for this ecosystem to function, for scientists and entrepreneurs to come together and forge links to promote business, there has to be an orchestrator. And Alsace BioValley fulfils this role, with the main aim of helping companies to develop and finance their innovations, raise funds or identify new markets.

Business accelerator

“Every day we work to form new collaborations between companies, linked of course with public research”, explains Didier Frommweiler. “Here, Alsace BioValley can quickly bring together all the socio-economic players around the same table to facilitate the emergence of a collaborative project or establish a new business. Our most important jobs are to accelerate and facilitate discussions.” So it is that Strasbourg University, the French national institute for healthcare and medical research (INSERM), the German cancer research centre, the Heidelberg-Mannheim University and SANOFI are in the process of establishing an innovative platform at Strasbourg to develop new drugs. They are helped by BIOPRO Baden-Wurtemberg, regional public agency for innovation in the healthcare sector for neighbouring Land, and Alsace BioValley, which has just signed a partnership agreement.

Another example of international cooperation: that signed in 2013 between Alsace BioValley and Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC). The Alsace is one of four world regions, with Quebec, Wallonia and the Australian state of Victoria, to have been selected by the famous Boston cluster to establish bilateral finance for therapeutic innovation projects. The first Alsace beneficiary of this joint finance, following an international call for projects: Transgene, for the development of its cancer drugs.

The really unique feature of the Alsace, insists the Managing Director of Alsace BioValley, is that “here, at the heart of Europe, we can construct, imagine and innovate in healthcare with high quality Alsace-based, but also Swiss or German, industrial companies or researchers, for which scientific excellence in the medical field no longer needs proving.

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Alsace Biovalley

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