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Pandemic bolsters the diagnostic cluster in the Greater Zurich Area

There is hardly any other economic region in which diagnostic medical devices play such a significant role as they do in the Greater Zurich Area. This is not a new effect of the coronavirus pandemic. Important technological innovations start their journey here before being sent around the world.

Roche lab.
Inside the connected core lab test facility of Roche in Rotkreuz. Image Credit: Roche

“The global pandemic has highlighted just how important rapid, accurate diagnosis is for health systems across the globe,” explains Andreas Klopp, General Manager at Roche Diagnostics International AG, which is based in Rotkreuz in the canton of Zug and forms part of one of the largest diagnostic companies in the world. Achim von Leoprechting, CEO of the international diagnostic company Tecan in Männedorf in Zurich, phrases it as follows: “With COVID-19, the penny has dropped.” He believes that diagnostics will no longer be a neglected area of the healthcare sector. Now the time has come for in-vitro diagnostics and thus also for the Greater Zurich Area, a traditional focal point for the MedTech sector. Like Roche Diagnostics and Tecan, a whole range of leading companies have grown great there.

The industry had already seen strong growth even before coronavirus, not least as a result of the trend towards personalized medicine, in which laboratory testing of samples taken from the body plays a central role. Today, testing is the driving force behind the fight against coronavirus. Roche Diagnostics responded with an entire test portfolio and launched a total of 15 new diagnostic solutions in 2020. Tecan is involved in roughly half of all automated COVID-19 tests worldwide in the form of its automation technology, including with partners such as the American companies Thermo Fisher and Abbott Molecular. Greater Zurich as a business location forms the ideal breeding ground for innovations in medical technology.

Talent pool in Greater Zurich is essential

There is a good reason why Roche raised their number of full-time positions at Rotkreuz from 1,334 to 2,532 between 2010 and 2020. Andreas Klopp of Roche Diagnostics International says: “The canton of Zug and the Greater Zurich Area offer very good conditions.” Access to a highly qualified workforce is essential. Roche Diagnostics is the largest Swiss MedTech employer and approximately a third of its positions are in Research and Development. Klopp also emphasizes the connectivity to regional partners and the proximity to universities. Projects are run with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). Klopp adds: “Finally, collaboration with the regional authorities is excellent.” The ideal conditions for growth. In 2020, the year marked by the coronavirus outbreak, sales at Roche Diagnostics grew by 6 percent globally to reach over 13.7 billion Swiss francs. 

Positive trend in the life sciences sector continues

Tecan shares these positive expectations. It celebrated its 40th birthday in 2020 and established an international claim to leadership in laboratory automation with its liquid handling platforms. Tecan develops and operates its own products but also acts as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for partner companies. It has nine locations across the world, with the ecosystem in the Greater Zurich Area being vital. Tecan’s Senior Vice President, Martin Brändle, says: “We particularly value the experience exchange and the pool of talents with industry experience in this economic area.” Tecan collaborates with the ETH Zurich, among other institutions. Over 600 employees of the 2,000-strong workforce have a scientific background.

Over recent years, Tecan has grown almost 9 percent per year on average following its research-based strategy; percentage sales growth in the low to mid-teens is forecast for 2020. Tecan is convinced that a positive trend can also continue once the pandemic is over. For one thing, there are now many instruments in place that require consumables and for another, we can now see the importance of in-vitro diagnostics within the healthcare system.

By Yvonne von Hunnius

This success story was first published by Greater Zurich Area Ltd (GZA).

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