According to a recent EU study looking into the power of innovation in European nations, Germany ranks third behind Sweden and Denmark. The otherwise promising field of life sciences only plays a secondary role in terms of innovation in Germany. For example, despite major international potential to innovate in life sciences, the biotechnology industry in Germany is developing at a slow rate. The German government has spearheaded a number of initiatives in recent years but they have had little impact. Indeed, Germany hasn’t been the world’s pharmacy for years, decades even – and in the short term this loss will be irreversible. Measured in sales and investments in pharmaceutical technology and biotechnology, Switzerland, England and the United States in particular lead in the field. This is primarily due to government policy. In Germany, there is general animosity in society toward the pharmaceutical industry. There are such strong reservations about biotechnology that politicians are declaring fields like plant biotechnology a lost cause. There is widespread disdain for genetic engineering. Because of this overall situation, venture capital for biotechnology in Germany is extremely hard to come by. So given the writing on the wall, is it time for this chapter of German life sciences and biotechnology to draw to a close and for industry to focus instead on well-established drivers of innovation such as mechanical construction and engineering? Well, at least at Steinbeis the number of innovative ideas being thought up in life sciences is growing – reason enough for life sciences to be the focal topic of this edition of TRANSFER magazine.
The field of life sciences stretches from biotechnology to bio-engineering, genetic engineering, genetic diagnosis (or DNA testing), medical technology and pharmaceutical technology. A mere glance at the innovative concepts and developments emerging from the Steinbeis Network makes it clear that there is no shortage of ideas in this field in Germany; the scientific community moves in the highest circles at an international level. In some of the specific applications areas, such as medical engineering and medical laboratory diagnostics, Germany is a frontrunner or even number one. In other areas, discoveries are made in Germany and only during the translational process do they find their way into applications abroad to make use of the more favorable government policies and local capital. It is no coincidence that foreign investors and businesses are on the lookout for innovations in countries like Germany. So even if – based on the volume of investments and the level of turnover – the statistics are somewhat sobering, Germany is brimming with ideas, innovation and expertise in the field of life sciences. If we succeed in improving the implementation and application of the life sciences in Germany, the innovative power in the country will return it to the leading role it previously occupied on an international level, especially with respect to classic technology. After all, there is one thing everyone agrees on: The future will revolve around close ties between material sciences and life sciences.
Steinbeis has developed key instruments to enhance the important transfer process in Germany. For years, our iService Steinbeis Research Center has put us in a position where we can make our scientific and academic know-how in the field of a new substance class of drugs, the therapeutic oligonucleotides, available to other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. These research and development services are used by a variety of European and American companies. Our specific role is to analyze the immunological properties of oligonucleotides, providing important information for the clinical development of oligonucleotides. To license the rights to the patented developments we have made in this field to other companies, we originally founded Celo GmbH, also a member of the Steinbeis Network and now called ImmunOligo GmbH. At this company, we made preparations for a spinoff company with the aim of driving in-house translational development of therapeutic oligonucleotides forward. This resulted in the founding of Rigontec GmbH in January 2014, which now develops RIG-I agonists for the treatment of tumor disease. On a number of levels, Steinbeis is thus supporting the transfer of scientific know-how and translational processes into clinical development. Steinbeis transfer is on the road to success in the field of life sciences and it only remains to be desired that plenty of academic groups now use this outstanding instrument to take the German biotechnology industry to the place it rightly belongs on the international stage: right at the front.
Prof. Dr. med. Gunther Hartmann
Prof. Dr. med. Gunther Hartmann is director of the iService Steinbeis Research Center and director of the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology at the University Clinic in Bonn.