Biopôle SA’s corporate partnership programme links local companies to Biopôle’s community, infrastructure and network – including their innovation pipeline. Clinique La Prairie, which offers luxury health and wellness programmes, is one of Biopôle’s six corporate partners. We spoke to CEO Simone Gibertoni about the special relationship that Clinique La Prairie has with Biopôle SA and the mutual benefits that it brings, including through its collaboration with Biopôle members.
A long history of innovation
Simone followed, in his own words, ‘a very strange path’ into life sciences, starting in banking, moving to consulting, then cosmetics and innovation. He joined Clinique La Prairie in 2016 with an aim of building the brand and scaling it internationally. He brought his obvious passion to working in one of the fastest growing industries – the US$4.5 trillion wellness market.
According to Simone, Clinique La Prairie’s vision is to be ‘the world’s most renowned and progressive spa-clinic’. It has a long history and was famous in the 1950s as a sophisticated, pioneering destination clinic. Simone explains: ‘We were the first to say that we didn’t want to only focus on wellness, talks and fasting – we wanted to have a strong medical partner.’ So Clinique La Prairie built a medical centre, concentrating on traditional and preventative medicine. At the start of 2023, its medical centre houses 50 doctors and three operating theatres. The company’s central focus has always been longevity, and its ambitions continue in that field. By 2040, Clinique La Prairie plans to have built ten more health resorts globally, as well as 40 longevity hubs in major cities. Simone outlines the rationale: ‘The weak point of what we do here in Montreux is that the people tend to come here, complete their programme, then go home, thinking that they can do whatever they want for the rest of the year because they’ve been in the clinic for one week. So I thought, how can I build a system that sustains the result I’ve been able to deliver during that week?’ The global clinics and the longevity hubs, three of which are already open, were the answer.
Technology at the service of longevity
When asked about Clinique La Prairie’s approach to innovation, Simone states: ‘I want people to see us as an innovation company. I believe that in the long term people will come to us, not to do fasting or wellness programmes, but to get the best technology in longevity.’ But, of course, such technology requires new ideas and development, often coming from dynamic start-ups. Simone explains why the company needs partners: ‘I don’t have billions to put into the innovation myself, so we need to scout for it. We’re very lucky to have a company like Biopôle 20 minutes down the road. They make vital introductions.’ Of course, another challenge is helping clients to understand the benefits of new products. Simone explains that it’s all about trust: ‘We have the very important role of translating the value of innovative treatments for our client, to help them understand them. For that to work, you need credibility.’ He gives the example of genetic testing. Clinique La Prairie was the first clinic in the world to perform such tests on all guests as standard, although at first it was an optional extra. Simone clarifies: ‘We were offering this service, but nobody was taking it. They didn’t want to know what was “wrong” with them. We had to make it clear that the tests are not just a way to spot rare diseases or cancer – they can help you live a longer, better life.’ By making it a standard part of its programmes, Clinique La Prairie could help its clients understand the benefits.
Collaborating with Biopôle
We asked Simone why Lausanne is the right place to look for new technologies. He explains that there are opportunities elsewhere, for example in Asia, but innovation there focuses on volume, scale and price, which doesn’t match Clinique La Prairie’s more sophisticated needs. In the USA, there are interesting offerings, but Simone outlines a different issue with scale: ‘There you need a lot of money because as soon as there’s a very interesting innovation, boom, there’s venture capital and hundreds of millions of dollars heading towards this company. In Switzerland there are smaller start-ups, which are not thinking about growth in the same way – they want to work with a smaller company like us.’
According to Simone, it was an easy decision to partner with Biopôle: ‘For me it was a no-brainer. It’s one of the most incredible innovation hubs in the world. They help us understand what is happening in our field and, of course, they introduce us to a lot of companies that we could potentially work with.’ Naturally, there are benefits for Biopôle’s members too. Simone explains one advantage that Clinique La Prairie has to offer: ‘We physically meet clients. That’s why a lot of start-ups like to work with us – they see us as a way to test their technologies.’
One of Biopôle’s introductions has led Clinique La Prairie into new territory: direct investment, namely in Volumina Medical, a Biopôle based company developing breakthrough innovations for regenerative medicine, plastic and reconstructive surgery. Their first product AdiPearl™ is an implantable biomaterial that targets the regeneration of soft tissue of the human body. Why Volumina Medical? Simone describes the situation as ‘quite unique’. Clinique La Prairie had already been collaborating with the company – Volumina Medical won its Innovation Award in spring 2022 – and was impressed with the start-up’s storytelling and vision for its product. Simone is also looking ahead: ‘There are lots of possibilities in the future on the beauty side. There are ways to work together in terms of branding and distribution, especially given the global network that Clinique La Prairie is building.’
Genknowme is another Biopôle member working closely with the company – it performs all the epigenetic testing for Clinique La Prairie’s clients. But why was Genknowme selected? It came down to the needs of the clients, who usually attend a week-long residential programme. The tests need to be performed by a doctor at Clinique La Prairie and the results need to be delivered in person before a client’s stay is over to offer them real impact. It’s a challenge, but according to Simone: ‘Genknowme was the only company in the world able to deliver the test in five days, and they’ve been delivering 30 to 50 tests a month to us for almost two years now.’ Clinique La Prairie is also exploring opportunities for collaboration with other companies. But Simone explains that, even when they decide not to partner with a startup, they value the experience of meeting them: ‘Biopôle SA has presented many, many companies to us. We’ve been part of many assessments and lots of discussions – and we always feel enriched by them.’
Investment: A new strategy
Simone outlined that the company is currently positioned between luxury, medicine and hospitality, but innovation is becoming more and more prevalent: ‘It’s part of our history. Almost 100 years ago we were pioneers in cellular therapy. We want to deliver cuttingedge innovation to our clients now too.’ One way to access the latest technologies and methods is to invest in them, as Clinique La Prairie has done with Volumina Medical, and Simone feels they’re in a strong position to do that more often as they have a number of strengths they can offer. The accumulated knowledge of Simone and his team would benefit an innovative company, plus having a hospital on site and long-standing client relationships (some have returned every year for 40 years), it’s possible to track the effectiveness of its programmes and treatments in a way that most longevity centres can’t. Finally, Clinique La Prairie can leverage financial capacity and knowledge from its clients. Simone explains: ‘They have such trust in us and what we’re doing that many of them would invest with me in tomorrow if I decided to start an investment programme.’ With the life sciences ecosystem around them, Biopôle SA as a partner and Simone’s drive, it’s easy to see how the company’s vision could become a reality.