Obsessed biotechnologists and Swabian SMBs
16.12.2011 Obsessed biotechnologists and Swabian SMBs
The focus during the three-hour event attended by around 100 guests from political, business and research communities was on questions and answers rather than the anniversary itself. The discussion hosted by SWR radio presenter Jörg Assenheimer turned the spotlight on the future of biotechnology. Participants included Oliver Schacht, a Ph.D. from Tübingen and CEO of Curetis AG, Dr. Hans-Ernst Maute, CEO of Joma-Polytec GmbH in Bodelshausen, Dr. Saskia Biskup, Managing Director of CeGaT GmbH in Tübingen and Dr. Jan Stallkamp, Head of Production and Process Automation at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart.
As far as event host and BioRegio STERN Managing Director Dr. Klaus Eichenberg is concerned, the next steps are obvious: “The industry now has to make the leap from research to production, and from manual manufacturing to automation.” In most small start-up companies, the majority of processes are still carried out by hand. “If, however, cell products are to be integrated into general healthcare – in cell-coated vascular prostheses, for example – then automated manufacturing of these products is the next logical step.”
The automation of biotechnology is also the subject of a new cluster initiative entitled “Engineering – Life Sciences – Automation” (ELSA). This initiative promotes links between life sciences and engineer-driven SMBs from the automotive and mechanical engineering industries. BioRegio STERN Management GmbH has already successfully forged such links, for example between Curetis AG and Joma-Polytec GmbH whose development partnership is expected to result in the market launch of a mini-laboratory for molecular diagnostics as early as next year. This will be able to identify certain pathogens in just a fraction of the time currently required. “The testing period needed to identify the right antibiotic to use for a lung infection, for example, will be reduced from the present four days to just four hours,” explains Oliver Schacht from Curetis AG. In certain circumstances, this difference in time could prove life-saving for patients in intensive care suffering from severe infections. The core component of the mini-laboratory is a cartridge manufactured using injection moulding. For this, the biotechnology company had to call on the expertise of specialists like Joma-Polytec GmbH. “Bringing together academic start-ups and SMBs in the Swabian region is more easily said than done,” says Dr. Maute, CEO of Joma-Polytec. “Researchers and developers in the biotechnology sector are often obsessed by their own specific idea. They focus on that one product day in, day out, while their industrial development partners generally also have to deal with the day-to-day issues of their business.” This is a big change and a challenge for engineers who have built up their experience in the automotive sector, where feasibility, cost-effectiveness and market success take priority after a clear development period.
Company founder and managing director Dr. Saskia Biskup has already achieved market success. Her biotechnology company CeGaT is the only one in the world to combine human genetic diagnostics with high-throughput sequencing. The company was recently awarded the Deutscher Gründerpreis (German founder award) for its development of diagnostic panels that can simultaneously decode all the genes associated with a specific disease and study them for certain clinical pictures. For Dr. Biskup, there is only one response when it comes to dealing with the many inquiries pouring in: “Manufacturing processes need to be automated. That’s the only way to ensure faster and more cost-effective diagnosis.”
Dr. Jan Stallkamp of the IPA is investigating faster and more cost-effective production processes for the life sciences sector. Working in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB and the Fraunhofer Institutes for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI in Leipzig and Production Technology IPT in Aachen, the IPA’s bioproduction laboratory produces industrial volumes of human skin to enable drugs and cosmetics testing without the use of animals. Dr. Stallkamp is convinced that “automation can become a success factor for the research sector, too.” Dr. Maute believes this development could open up opportunities for the economy as a whole: “Interdisciplinary cooperation between engineer-driven branches of industry and the highly academic and research-intensive biotechnology sector offers numerous opportunities. BioRegio STERN’s activities bring together existing potential in the region, provide new ideas and suggestions for relevant communities and thus contribute to a very necessary structural change in the region.” Speaking on the occasion of the anniversary, Barbara Bosch, Lord Mayor of Reutlingen and chair of the Supervisory Board of BioRegio STERN, said: “After its first decade, the BioRegion now faces a fresh set of challenges. With that in mind, the title of this event “Thinking business forward” is extremely apt.”
Die Clusterinitiative Engineering – Life Sciences – Automation (ELSA) wird unterstützt durch das Ministerium für Finanzen und Wirtschaft Baden-Württemberg aus Mitteln des Europäischen Fonds für regionale Entwicklung (RWB-EFRE). Mehr Informationen unter www.rwb-efre-baden-wuerttemberg.de.