The colour spectrum of biotechnology – the key technology of the 21st Century – is a broad one. The red and white bands are the most relevant for the health care economy. Red biotechnology is concerned with applications for medical uses, from genetic diagnosis to new therapies and even cultivating replacement tissue. White biotechnology on the other hand, also known as industrial biotechnology, develops biotech processes with living cells or enzymes in order to produce chemicals, pharmaceutical active ingredients, feed additives and many other substances from renewable raw materials. There is no clear dividing line between red and white biotechnology, as medicines and other “red” products are produced with the help of white biotechnology.
CIB Frankfurt brings all the players together. Specialists from a wide range of fields are involved in the development of biotech processes for the health care economy, including experts from biotechnology, chemicals, genetics, medicine, bioinformatics, process engineering and other disciplines. They conduct their research in industrial laboratories, universities or non-university institutions; they work for large corporations or small start-ups. Investors who support good business ideas with capital are also essential for the sector.
Everyone needs to pull together if biotechnology is to develop its full potential. Hessen’s Cluster Integrated Biotechnology (CIB) Frankfurt makes a crucial contribution to this, connecting business with science, small with large companies, and the biotech sector with the world of finance. CIB Frankfurt emerged in 2008 as one of the five winners of the “Bioindustrie 2021” competition held by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. We see ourselves as a contact partner for industrial biotechnology, and a lively network is at the heart of what we do. As one of the pioneers of white biotechnology, Hessen offers the ideal conditions for our work.
Over 100 years of white biotechnology in Hessen. In Darmstadt, chemist Otto Röhm extracted enzymes from the pancreas of animals in order to tan leather in an environmentally friendly way as early as 1907. Today, Hessen is one of Germany’s leading locations for white biotechnology, and it is the many small and medium-sized companies such as BRAIN, BioSpring, nadicom, N-Zyme BioTec and AB Enzymes that are setting the pace. Together with the giants of the pharmaceuticals industry with sites in Hessen, including Sanofi-Aventis, Merck, Evonik and Sandoz, and the state’s universities and research institutions, they cover the full spectrum of white biotechnology.
The annual CIB Partnering Conference has established itself as a national meeting point for the sector and is the ideal forum for industry representatives and scientists to make contacts and create the basis for new joint projects. Companies from all over Germany are involved in CIB Frankfurt funding projects, including Sanofi-Aventis, Merck, DSM, BASF and Symrise.
The World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing 2012 in Orlando, USA, also showed how much Hessen influences the sector across the globe. In a panel discussion organised and moderated by Dolores Schmitt, Project Manager at CIB Frankfurt, the companies Merck, Sanofi-Aventis and Morphosys explained how they are making biotech processes more cost effective and expanding their potential even further, for example in order to produce new cancer drugs.
Meanwhile, the SYNMIKRO Congress, held annually in Marburg by CIB Frankfurt and the Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO), has established itself as a specialist conference for biotechnology experts from all over Germany. Participant numbers are growing all the time: 350 visitors were recorded in 2012 – 100 more than at the first SYNMIKRO Congress in 2011. The positive response can be seen time and again in the many inspirational discussions between academic researchers and business representatives. These clearly show where synergies lie and where cooperation needs to be intensified.
How large corporations and small start-ups work together. The SYNMIKRO Congress 2012 was dedicated to the topic of antibiotic resistance. Numerous speakers highlighted the fact that many large pharmaceutical companies have already withdrawn from developing new antibiotics, as the effort and expense needed for research are too high and the expected profit margins therefore too low.
Because new antibiotics are urgently needed, however, in order to keep infectious diseases under control, the commitment of smaller biotech companies is even more important. This also applies to the development of medicines against rare ailments or diseases that occur predominantly in the world’s poorer countries. Here, too, biotech companies and academic institutions are conducting their research in a niche area that pharmaceutical corporations barely touch. However, when promising potential active ingredients need to be tested in clinical studies or new biotech processes on an industrial scale, if not before, large companies need to step up, as only they have the necessary financial resources and sufficient laboratory and production capacity.
Hessen’s advantage in white technology is that the biotech sector based here not only conducts research but also produces. The stand-out production location in German biotechnology is Industriepark Höchst in Frankfurt. At the former headquarters of Hoechst, the world’s highest-grossing chemicals and pharmaceutical corporation, Sandoz – the generics branch of Novartis – now operates Germany’s largest fermentation plant. The products produced here include antibiotics. The insulin production conducted by Sanofi-Aventis here also has its roots in the former international corporation, Hoechst. In addition, Novartis Vaccines produces a wide range of vaccines in Marburg, while Heraeus has been using biotechnology to produce chemotherapy drugs in Hanau since 2004.
Network of investors for white biotechnology. Another key component of the cluster concept in Frankfurt is a network of financing and investors for white biotechnology projects. To achieve this, the investors’ conference CIB Invest was initiated as a meeting place for entrepreneurs, scientists and investors. One person keen to emphasise the value of the conference was the bio-economy expert and former Director of the European Commission, Christian Patermann. “Events like this, that put their emphasis on financing, are relatively rare, but they are vital, because without investment, nothing can happen.” Patermann, who presented the CIB Invest 2013 conference, underlined the need for new types of cooperation between the players throughout the entire value chain in white biotechnology. With its wide range of events and networking activities, CIB Frankfurt is laying the foundation for this.
The author holds a doctorate in Microbiology and completed vocational training as an industrial business management assistant. Following initial experience in the biotechnology sector at Landesinitiative BioGenTec in Cologne, he has worked for Hessen’s economic promotion agency since 1998. After working in technology, foreign trade and location marketing, he now manages the Bio-Nano-Environment division at HTAI GmbH.