| Success story

From Seoul to Switzerland:
Innovative Korean life sciences companies choose the Basel Area

The Basel Area in Switzerland has become a magnet for international companies seeking to tap into its vibrant ecosystem of innovation and talent. In recent years, a growing number of Korean life sciences companies have recognized the region‘s potential and set their sights on the Basel Area for expansion and growth.

For Prof. Jeong-Sun Seo, location is a top priority. The distinguished scientist founded Macrogen in Seoul in 1997 and developed the company to become Korea’s market leader in genotyping.

With his foresight, he expanded the company’s footprint and established European sites starting in 2008 in the Netherlands and later in Italy and France. Meanwhile, Jeong-Sun Seo is the company’s chairman and continues to play an active part in shaping its destiny. That’s why he visited Switzerland in 2022 to explore new opportunities for Macrogen.

After visiting different Swiss business hubs, he chose the Basel Area as the new location for Macrogen in Europe. The company has established its presence at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area Novartis Campus. Macrogen Europe plans to initially deploy two employees in Basel, gradually increasing up to ten staff members.

For Macrogen, Basel’s vibrant life sciences cluster and strategic location on the border with Germany and France made settling here the logical choice.

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An ideal environment for South-Korean life sciences companies

Macrogen is not the only Korean life sciences company considering the Basel Area. In 2019, Noul established its European subsidiary in the Basel Area. David Lim, co-founder and CEO at Noul, had been approached by a Swiss scientist seeking a partner to eradicate Malaria. David Lim admits that he was skeptical about the potentially high costs in Switzerland, but the landing was softened by a grant that allows the startup to cover the lab and office costs at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. The company benefits from scientific collaborations and has ongoing research projects. “Workers are highly skilled, and the employment system is very flexible,” David Lim says.

Another Korean tenant at the Main Campus of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is Preclina.

The top-tier non-clinical Contract Research Organization (CRO) specializes in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.

With over 20 years of scientific expertise, Preclina’s services include therapeutic efficacy evaluation and tailored support for the drug development process. They chose the Basel Area to grow their business development and licensing department in Europe.

Basel is the undisputed hub of European biotechs.

Youngmo KangCEO of Preclina

For Korean companies from a dense metropolitan area like Seoul, with a population of more than 26 million, the number of 560,000 inhabitants of the Basel Area might look small at first glance. But once here, Korean visitors are impressed by the high density of life sciences companies with big brands, such as Roche, Novartis, Moderna, or BeiGene, mid-size companies, and innovative startups. Pioneering fundamental and applied research is done at academic lighthouses, such as the Biozentrum of University Basel, D-BSSE of ETH Zürich, the Friedrich Miescher Institute, and many more academic institutions in the Basel Area. 

Img: D-BSSE, Basel, Switzerland

As soon as a company visits with us, they realize that the Basel Area plays in the premier league of life sciences destinations.

Anke HollnagelDirector Asia at Basel Area Business & Innovation

Exploring the opportunities in Europe

Yuhan Corporation, like many Korean companies, visits the Basel Area frequently when they come to Europe, for example during Bio Europe Spring which took place in Basel in 2023. Yuhan Corporation is a top-selling pharmaceutical company founded in 1926. The company has signed licensing deals with Gilead, Janssen, Boehringer Ingelheim, and other global pharmaceutical companies with a combined deal size exceeding $3.5B. Yuhan Corporation seeks collaboration opportunities to develop advanced life science ecosystems with other global pharmaceutical players worldwide. 

Novartis Pavilion, Basel, Switzerland

When it comes to the opportunity for Korean life sciences companies to get a thorough overview of the Swiss region, Anke Hollnagel, Director Asia at Basel Area Business & Innovation, ensures companies can discover the strategic location in the heart of Europe, the excellent road, rail, and air infrastructure, and the easy access to European markets and suppliers.

But the major benefit is the life sciences network, which unveils its power as soon as you join it.

More than 700 life sciences companies, prestigious universities, and research institutions are at home in the region. The proximity and connection to this one-of-a-kind network make collaboration easy, whether within the local industry or with European startups. The skilled life sciences talent Korean companies can count on is another big plus. 

Switzerland is widely known for its liberal labor law – and the Basel Area is no exception.

The process of setting up a business is easy. Once you’ve achieved that, hiring employees is simple, and work contracts are flexible. The cantons of the Basel Area are supportive of innovative businesses. They help with the initial setup and offer infrastructure for new companies.

The tax rates are also favorable for businesses.

The corporate tax rate is relatively low and innovative companies benefit from substantial tax reductions thanks to patent boxes and deductions for R&D. 

While expanding to a different region and culture is a challenge, Basel Area Business & Innovation softens the landing as we support new settlements in establishing a legal entity and find office and R&D locations.

The biopharma industry of Korea is very dynamic and will play a growing role of the global market. We are pleased to be able to support the international ambitions and provide a launchpad for them in the Basel Area.

Dr. Christof KlöpperCEO of Basel Area Business & Innovation

Close ties between Korea and the Basel Area

The influx of Korean companies to the Basel Area is a testament to the close ties between Korea and Switzerland in general and especially between Seoul and the Basel Area: The University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland nourishes partnerships with different universities in Korea and the University of Basel has a partnership with Seoul Biohub. In 2022, Seoul and Basel-Stadt renewed their partnership that focuses on innovation and research.

On the industry side the Korea Pharmaceutical- and Bio-Pharma Manufacturer’s Association (KPBMA) partners with Basel Area Business & Innovation to provide a springboard for Korean biopharma companies that want to enter the European market.  

Europe has an advanced pharmaceutical bio-industry ecosystem, but the infrastructure for Korean pharmaceutical and bio companies to enter the European market was not enough, compared to what we accomplished in the US market. (...) Working with the Basel Area Business & Innovation will be a great opportunity to expand the network in Europe, and we will actively support Korean pharma and bio-pharma to go to the European market.

From left to right:Hee-mok Won, Chairman of KPBMA; Dagmar Schmidt Tartagli, Ambassador-designate at the Swiss Embassy and Bon Oh, Chief Representative of Basel Area. (img: Jung Lyel Ahn)

Established biopharma companies and scale-ups from Korea can get support from additional initiatives that organize visits and networking events.

A great example is the Korea-Swiss Biohealth Partnership Forum organized by KOTRA (Korea Trade-investment Promotion Agency) during the Swiss Biotech Day. The event provided a platform for Korean startups and facilitated the exchange between Korean visitors and Swiss life sciences professionals, some with Korean roots. 

The direct encounter helps establish a better understanding of the ways and possibilities of doing business here and enables companies to establish roots. FatiAbGen is a company that has completed all the steps to set up a successful international branch in Switzerland. 

We are very excited to join the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area on the Novartis Campus and the exceptional life sciences ecosystem in the Basel Area. Through this subsidiary, we show our commitment to the global biotech ecosystem beyond Asia, seeking out the best collaborations and partnerships to bring innovative antibody treatments to patients.

Alexandre Joyeux, PhDCOO and President of FatiAbGen International

Founded in 2020 in Korea, FatiAbGen is a leading antibody engineering company developing best-in-class multi-modality antibodies for difficult targets in oncology and immunology. By setting up its new subsidiary in the Basel Area, the company plans to foster new collaborations and investments in Switzerland and the European life sciences ecosystem to advance its pipeline and expand its R&D operations. 

We are very excited to join the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area on the Novartis Campus and the exceptional life sciences ecosystem in the Basel Area. Through this subsidiary, we show our commitment to the global biotech ecosystem beyond Asia, seeking out the best collaborations and partnerships to bring innovative antibody treatments to patients.

Jayjay LeeCEO of FatiAbGen Inc.

Get support for your expansion to Switzerland 

The expansion process often takes years from start to finish—and rightly so. It’s a transformative decision, and companies want to be sure they’re making the right decision. Basel Area Business & Innovation is dedicated to helping companies make informed decisions.

We support entrepreneurs, SMEs, and established firms by offering startup acceleration, catalyst projects, events, workshops, and collaborative workspaces. Our accelerator, BaseLaunch, for therapeutic innovation, helps biotech startups launch and grow. 

We also provide incubation infrastructure at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area  for innovative development projects, SMEs and startups. Currently, around 250 people are working at 65 companies and 14 research groups are active at the park’s locations. 

FAQs:

What is the goal of KPBMA and Basel Area Business & Innovation’s partnership?

The Swiss Basel Area Business & Innovation KPBMA Customized Program seeks to leverage the Basel Area’s status as Europe’s leading biotech hub, boasting over 700 companies and significant R&D investment. The program, developed by KPBMA in partnership with Basel Area Business & Innovation and BaseLaunch, aims to support Korean biopharmaceutical companies in entering the European market through tailored assistance and collaboration opportunities.  

The collaboration also helps Korean companies that want to find research partners in the Basel Area and offers coworking spaces for visiting delegations at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. 

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Have a question or need guidance?
We help you discover success in our dynamic business environment.

Anke HollnagerDirector Asia at Basel Area Business & Innovation

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