Myrte Muller and Flavio Razzino
At 100 kilometers, California’s Santa Clara Valley is as long as Ticino. Like Highway 101, the A 2 forms a major north-south axis. Magnificent nature and sunshine attract tourists both here and here. And not just her. Over the decades, the largest IT companies in the world have settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. While the Santa Clara Valley has already blossomed into the so-called “Silicon Valley”, the Swiss solarium is also on its way to becoming a leading European location for technology and research.
“When I arrived in Ticino from Rome ten years ago, I was amazed by the large number of research centers that already existed at the time”, says Silvia Misti (55) of the Institut Biochimique SA in Lugano TI. She and her team publish the “Ticino Scienza” news portal. Much of what is happening in Ticino in the area is not known to the general public, she says. They want to change it.
Research centers in Ticino – small but powerful
And there is a lot to report. In fact, in Ticino, a lot of money is being invested in the development and research of high technology. There is the new East Campus of the University of Ticino USI and of the Southern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences (SUPSI), inaugurated exactly one year ago. The new building in Lugano also houses, among other things, the Dalle Molle research institute for studies on artificial intelligence (AI). This is one of the best pioneers in the world in the development of swarm intelligence, machine learning, artificial neural networks and robotics.
The 120 employees and numerous students, including 40 PhD students, come from all over the world to start their careers at the Ticino institute. And the chances of becoming a high flyer in the southern canton are not bad. For example, Shane Legg, co-founder of the artificial intelligence company Deepmind, studied at the Dalle Molle Institute. The company was sold to Google in 2014 for $ 500 million.
Companies such as UBS and Mastercard collaborate with the Dalle Molle Research Institute. The Federal Armaments Office is also counting on their support in the fight against fake news and cyber attacks.
Ambitious projects: “It will make many things possible for us in the future”(01:13)
Andrea Rizzoli (57) explains why Ticino has become a research magnet: “On the one hand it is the location between Zurich and Milan, and there is also the proximity to the Lugano high-performance data center”, says the manager of the From the Molle Research Institute. The world’s most powerful supercomputer for AI is expected to go live in 2023.
The canton is also a member of the “Greater Zurich Area”. “This offers opportunities to get in touch with companies, including foreign ones. Every week I receive calls from innovative companies that want to establish themselves in Ticino. Many come from telecommunications, ”Rizzoli says.
Therapies against omicron and Ebola
In November 2021, a modern laboratory building was also opened in Bellinzona TI. The Institute for Biomedical Research (IRB) and the Institute for Oncological Research (IOR) are working side by side with photovoltaic panels. His results in research on cancer cells and antibodies to coronaviruses and pathogens such as Zika and Ebola have been highly acclaimed internationally. The latest member of the IRB Board speaks for itself: Charles M. Rice (69), winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine from the United States and discoverer of the hepatitis C virus. 125 scientists work in 13 research groups in the Newly created Bio-Pol “Bellinzona Institutes of Science”.
Humabs Biomed AG in Bellinzona is also making headlines. The company has developed the world’s only therapy for the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Its monoclonal antibody Sotrovimab is now manufactured by the British pharmaceutical giant GSK. In collaboration with the Institute for Biomedical Research, Humabs Biomed has already succeeded in developing a drug against Ebola.
And soon Ticino will also become the leading location for the development of drone technology. A base camp for drones is currently being planned in the municipality of Lodrino TI for around 3 million francs. For this purpose, Switzerland’s “first exclusive flight space for drones” has already been created, as the Federal Office of Civil Aviation writes.
Already in 2017, the Canton of Ticino became a drone test laboratory. In Lugano, for example, Swiss Post has activated the first transport service for laboratory samples with drones in the world. Since then, a drone has been flying back and forth between the Italian Hospital and the Civic Hospital.
The European Commission’s annual “Innovation Index” shows how strong Ticino has become as a place of activity in terms of innovation and research. There, Ticino, together with the Zurich area, is one of the most innovative regions in Europe.