The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the country’s leading source of research funding, is for the first time investing specifically in centres for clinical trials.

Citing the present meagre capacity for clinical studies in Switzerland and the lack of networking between existing centres, the SNSF is putting a total of SwFr 3.4 million (€2.07 million) into three clinical trial units at, respectively, the University Hospital of Basle; Berne University’s faculty of medicine and the Hôpital de l’Île in Berne; and Geneva University’s faculty of medicine and the University Hospitals of Geneva.

The funding commitment is the outcome of a bidding process launched by the SNSF in October 2006. Three out of the eight tenders submitted were accepted by the foundation in consultation with a commission of international experts. A second tranche of subsidies for clinical trial units will be put out to tender at the end of the year.

The seed financing from the SNSF is geared mainly to setting up the new units and reinforcing their infrastructure. The host institutions are expected to generate further funds through their own activities, such as running courses or collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry, or through subsidies allocated by the SNSF for specific projects.

Support and collaboration

The role of the units will be to support clinical researchers from as wide a range of institutions as possible, guarantee adherence to internationally recognised quality criteria for clinical trials, and collaborate with the relevant authorities and ethics committees. The units will also work together at the national level, in association with a national collaborative centre for clinical trials that will be set up at the end of 2007.

Patient-oriented clinical research is an essential foundation for the development of new preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, the SNSF notes. But it requires specific expertise, sound organisation and sufficient numbers of patients to deliver good-quality results.

As things stand, Switzerland’s clinical trial capacity is limited to small and specialised centres that hardly ever operate as a network, the SNSF points out. Accordingly, the country lacks a clinical trial culture that conforms to international standards. This is despite two of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies, Roche and Novartis, having their base in Switzerland.

The Foundation therefore set itself the goal of supporting multidisciplinary centres with a professional infrastructure that would work together in the pursuit of clinical research. The three clinical trial units funded by SNSF over the next three years will create new opportunities for Phase I-III studies and encourage multidisciplinary research directed at patient needs, it says.