Dr. Detlef Terzenbach: White Biotechnology: always a step ahead thanks to connected expertise

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.


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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.

 

TerzenbachThe 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.