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15.02
2024

The value of a fresh perspective

There’s an abundance of highly educated young professionals working in the life sciences industry today, all of whom bring a much-valued fresh perspective to the field. We spoke to a number of Biopôle members to understand how and why attracting new talent and ideas is crucial to the development of the life sciences.

The life sciences job market across the globe has been tight over the past few years, with a high proportion of unfilled positions and a scarcity of qualified workers, according to a recent study by Cushman & Wakefield. This was reflected in the results of Biopôle’s 2022 Community Survey, in which companies responded that access to talent was their biggest challenge. But it’s not all gloom and doom; there are a number of different ways to recruit fresh talent and expertise into the life sciences, which might be right under your nose. The vibrant Biopôle campus, which houses a combination of start-ups, multinationals and academic departments, brings together a wide variety of highly educated, talented people – thus creating a plethora of opportunities to collaborate across disciplines and spheres of influence. So much the better, as interdisciplinary collaboration has been proven to increase innovation, creativity, problem-solving and employee engagement: by working with people who have a different age profile, educational background and/or skill set, companies are able to draw on fresh insights and produce new ideas of their own. Indeed, a paper for the Harvard Business Review outlined the merits of ‘shadow boards’ – these teams, made up of younger, creative, non-executive employees, advise leaders on key decisions and strategies. When trialled by Gucci, this initiative produced innovative ideas that helped the company drive digital growth.

The positive effects of this sort of collaboration and exchange can be seen throughout the Biopôle community, where life sciences academics regularly work alongside and impart their expertise to industry stakeholders, and vice versa. In recognition of the fact that life sciences academics can bring much- valued new eyes and skills to the life sciences industry, Biopôle has introduced a number of initiatives in the past year. All of these are aimed at encouraging talented graduates and postgraduates to either share their insights with or pursue careers in industry at Biopôle companies. Here’s a taste of how these initiatives have played out thus far, demonstrating the value of a fresh perspective.

Catalyze4Life allows EPFL graduates to explore career options at Biopôle

Earlier this year, Biopôle announced a new partnership with Catalyze4Life, an initiative run by the EPFL School of Life Sciences, which will give EPFL students the opportunity to try out a career in the life sciences industry by working at a Biopôle start-up for six months. A total of three EPFL students will be able to take part each year.

The Biopôle start-ups involved are able to connect with the brightest young minds from EPFL, who can give them an overview of the latest academic developments in the field and inject new energy into their projects. This shone through during the pilot programme, which took place in summer 2023. Thomas Eaton, COO of Limula, one of the Biopôle start-ups that took part, stated: ‘Hosting an intern allowed us to incorporate an outside perspective into our work, while also re-enthusing the permanent members of the team, who got to see the technology they were working on through fresh eyes. What’s more, Marius Plancherel [our EPFL intern] brought a can-do attitude, matched with critical thinking, which meant that he actively contributed to the design and implementation of new device functionalities, automation protocols and standard operating procedures.’

Marius himself expressed his gratitude to Limula for creating such a welcoming, supportive environment. In his own words: ‘When I had questions or doubts, my colleagues were unfailingly ready to help me. This was combined, however, with a sense of ownership and autonomy, as I often performed experiments and analysed data on my own.’

Our intern brought a can-do attitude, matched with critical thinking, so he actively contributed to company operations and design.

Thomas Eaton, COO of Limula

Postgraduate consultants put new start-ups under the microscope

Earlier this year, Biopôle also introduced a Postgraduate Consulting scheme as part of its Investment Readiness Programme, in collaboration with Alcimed. This is open to all companies that have been awarded funding by Biopôle’s Start-up Fund, and is designed to assess whether these new companies are strong enough – across a number of areas, ranging from legal, finance, regulatory, intellectual property (IP) and science – to present competitively to investors.

It is in assessing the start-ups’ scientific ‘readiness’ that the postgraduate consultants come in: Biopôle has enlisted a number of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers from EPFL and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) to analyse the science behind each company, with help from specialist tech consultants at Alcimed, who provide a professional evaluation framework. As things stand, there has been one pilot project, two others have recently finished and there is still another one underway.

The Innovation and Partnerships Director at Biopôle, Pierre-Jean Wipff, who manages the Biopôle Postgraduate Consulting scheme, was very positive about its early results, highlighting that ‘companies are rarely challenged on their own science during the early stages – but thanks to this initiative, they have a unique opportunity to get some insights into the quality of the scientific data produced in the context of start-up development, as well as their ability to communicate this complex data in an accessible way to investors’.

This is exactly what the postgraduate consultants provided according to Andreas Schlaepfer, CEO of AC Bioscience, the start-up that took part in the pilot scheme. As he put it: ‘We certainly obtained “fresh eyes” and this enabled us to view our data in a new light, as well as highlighting a few points that required additional research for validation. The advantage of working with the PhD consultants was that they approached the review with an open mind and outside-the-box thinking.’

For his part, Maxime Nachit, a postdoctoral researcher at EPFL and participant in the Postgraduate Consulting scheme, praised AC Bioscience’s openness to the consultants’ feedback, ‘despite the challenges of questioning costly and time-intensive experiments’, while noting that ‘identifying potential issues early on can save the company a lot of time and resources’.

Similarly, his colleague Philipp Walch, a postdoctoral researcher at UNIL, expressed pride in the perceived impact of his work on the company, declaring that he ‘felt highly valued throughout the entire process’. As he continued: ‘I fully recommend this sort of collaboration to anyone who is interested in the transition between academic research and the entrepreneurial world, and I feel honoured that I’ve had the chance to contribute to making a new treatment available to patients who need it.’

The PhD consultants approached the review with an open mind and outside-the-box thinking.

Andreas Schlaepfer, CEO of AC Bioscience

Biopôle’s collaborative campus environment facilitates the exchange of ideas and people – and its jobs page allows members to keep an eye on professional opportunities

The significance of Biopôle’s close-knit campus environment cannot be overstated – in fact, in the recent survey of corporate leaders at Biopôle, 87% of respondents stated that proximity is often an important factor when choosing a new collaboration partner, and the community survey established that the current collaboration rate for on-site community members (including research organisations) stands at 63%.3 Local partnerships can certainly generate amazing results: for example, over the past two years, Tigen Pharma has partnered with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and CHUV in a joint academia–industry effort to develop new cell therapies.

After all, there are advantages to recruiting local talent and expertise. As Pierre-Jean Wipff commented, ‘companies will often look for nearby academics who have a thorough grounding in research and who can work flexibly – it often makes sense for an academic researcher finalising a PhD or a postdoc on the same campus to start collaborating with a company which is a five-minute walk from their lab’. Beyond the practical characteristics of its physical campus, however, Biopôle takes further steps to highlight routes for academics who are interested in moving into industry roles – such as via its dedicated jobs page, which advertises vacancies at Biopôle companies. And it’s noteworthy that a significant number of former PhD students and postdoctoral fellows from on-campus UNIL departments have subsequently taken up jobs in industry at Biopôle. It should be noted that 21% of respondents to the Biopôle Community Survey 2023 stated that they had worked for more than one company or research organisation on site.

Dmitry Kopelyanskiy, who previously completed a PhD in Immunology and Infectious Diseases at UNIL and who now works at HAYA Therapeutics as Business & Corporate Development Project Manager, was keen to stress that a background in academia can dovetail with a successful career in industry. He explained that ‘my experience in public speaking and science communication from my PhD’ has helped when ‘representing the company at conferences, events and meetings with various external stakeholders’. Paired with his ‘scientific background in PhD- level research’, he believes this gives him a ‘competitive edge’, even in a highly skilled field.

Meanwhile, Camille Grandclement, who holds a PhD in Molecular Oncology, completed a postdoc at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and has worked at not just one but two different Biopôle companies, highlighted that her multifaceted experience and extensive network has helped her hugely: ‘I am still in contact with people I was working with 15 years ago and as soon as I need some help, I know that I can count on them. When I was working at Ichnos, I remember contacting former colleagues from the Ludwig to access some instruments and expertise that we didn’t have in house. In this sense, having academic labs near biotech companies on the Biopôle campus is amazing.’ This continues to hold true after her move to Onward Therapeutics, where she is Director of Project Evaluation and Preclinical Development: ‘Since we don’t have pure research activities in house, we partner with academic labs, start-ups or biotech companies to develop therapies – I am responsible for identifying these.’

This chimes with the trajectory of Davide Croci, who recently took up a position at Novigenix after completing his PhD at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. He expressed excitement to harness (and to continue to develop) his advanced lab skills in his new professional capacity as Biomarker Scientist, ‘responsible for analysing RNA sequencing results and gene expression data’ – and he declared that he felt both ‘trusted and supported’ as he embarked on this new chapter of his career.

Likewise, Laurence Romy, who completed a PhD in Life Sciences at UNIL in 2022, described how she gradually developed her professional career over time, building on and making new connections in the life sciences field. As she put it: ‘I started at 10% as an intern, but I took on more and more responsibilities, and I am now Biopôle’s Project Lead in Business Intelligence. I was also previously involved in a non- profit which aims to bridge the gap between academia and the private sector, and which helps young researchers find jobs in Switzerland – mentoring is so important in this field.’

This sentiment was echoed by Sérgio Ribeiro, who, after completing his PhD in Lisbon and a subsequent postdoc at UNIL, became Senior Scientist in Analytical and Process Development at the aforementioned Tigen Pharma. He was glowing about the ‘culture of knowledge- sharing’ at Biopôle, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to align and shape his career aspirations over time, in part thanks to ‘outstanding mentors in both the academic and the professional sphere’. As he underscored, the exchange of ideas and people ‘is crucial when it comes to creating a community that thrives on excitement and innovation’.

To be sure, the success of Biopôle’s community is underpinned by collaboration and exchange. Biopôle is thrilled that its companies have been able to leverage the experience and skills of academics entering the industry for mutual benefit – and looks forward to seeing how these initiatives develop in 2024.

Camille Grandclement
Evaluation and Preclinical Development at Onward Therapeutics
Laurence Romy
Project Lead in Business Intelligence at Biopôle
Dmitry Kopelyanskiy
Business & Corporate Development Project Manager at HAYA Therapeutics
Davide Croci
Biomarker scientist at Novigenix SA
Sérgio Ribeiro
Senior Scientist in Analytical and Process Development at Tigen Pharma
Philippe Walch
Postdoctoral researcher at UNIL
Our offer for talents

In 2023, Biopôle launched two impactful initiatives to bolster talent and innovation in the life sciences sector. Partnering with Catalyze4Life from the EPFL School of Life Sciences, Biopôle offers EPFL students a six-month internship at a Biopôle start-up, providing hands-on exposure to the life sciences industry. In addition, the Investment Readiness Programme has introduced a Postgraduate Consulting scheme for companies funded by Biopôle’s Start-up Fund. This scheme evaluates the companies across a number of domains, including legal, finance, regulatory, IP and science, with PhD students and postdoctoral researchers from EPFL and UNIL focusing on the scientific readiness of these start-ups. Finally, Biopôle’s website now offers a platform for those seeking job opportunities in their member companies, reinforcing Biopôle’s commitment to nurturing talent and fostering innovation in the life sciences.
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