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Drug discovery has come a long way from crude extracts to pure chemicals, from guess work to a structural and targeted approach to finding new and better remedies. And yet, despite all the progress that has been made, we often do not have all the puzzle pieces that would enable us to see the big picture. To solve the riddle of a drug, to find the right target and to understand exactly how it influences processes at work in a human cell, scientists from many different fields have to work together: biologists, chemists, crystallographers, bioengineers, computer scientists and even physicists and engineers. Their combined know-how is now bringing drug discovery into a new era.
PARK INNOVAARE, the innovation park at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), is a preferred location for these types of collaboration. By utilizing large research facilities and specially developed methods, researchers can observe phenomena that have been unavailable up until now. For instance, with the new free electron laser SwissFEL, recently taken into operation at the PSI, scientists can see processes as fast as the vibrations of molecular bonds. It is an incredible step forward in basic research, or, as Professor Gebhard Schertler puts it in his interview, “With SwissFEL we are going to discover a new continent”.
Since 2016, PARK INNOVAARE has been developing a focused innovation ecosystem providing access to all premises for state-of-the-art pharmacological research. Based on the unparalleled technological infrastructure of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Switzerland’s largest research center for natural and engineering sciences, and its more than 2000 employees, a new breeding ground is in the making. The first companies have already begun to grow and flourish on this ground – for example, leadXpro AG, which has successfully identified novel ligand-bound GPCR structures with a great variety of binding modes within an unprecedented four-month period, or Crystallise! AG, which has successfully grown a single crystal of a penta-peptide, an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and thus determined its structure and absolute configuration.
Life science clusters such as Boston or Cambridge show that the mix consisting of the world’s leading research institutions, large international enterprises, innovative start-ups and forward-thinking venture capitalists creates all the conditions for the further development of drug discovery. All this is available here. Switzerland is part of one of Europe’s biggest life science hubs. With nearly 300 companies active in this field, including pharma giants such as Novartis and Roche, and billions of dollars being invested in R&D, Switzerland has all the potential to become a global leader in biotechnologies and drug discovery.