Dresden is not only the “Saxon Silicon Valley” with a leading position in the field of microelectronics. The Dresden region puts tremendous effort also in the ambitious project which would make biotechnology a second supporting pillar and therewith achieve the vision of BIOPOLIS Dresden.
The driving force behind this project was the foundation of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG). The development was aided by 100 million euros from the Saxon state government and the allotment of a 25-million-euro “InnoRegio” research project by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This lead to the creation of a new centre – the BioInnovationCenter in Johannstadt, where biological basic research and newly founded biotechnology organizations work together under one roof. Today a dense network has been generated by non-university research institutions, including the MPI-CBG, the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems and the Max Bergmann Centre for Biomaterials as well as the Biotechnology Centre (Biotec) and the Medical Theoretical Centre of the Dresden University of Technology, in teaching as well as in research. More than 600 scientists work in this biotechnology concentration area. Dresden has rapidly become known everywhere in the world due to its research in the “life sciences”.
The attractiveness of this research field is emphasized by the success of the postgraduate programme, which educates students from more than 30 countries. It accommodates around 230 postgraduates and is one of the largest in the country. One reason for the success is the interdisciplinary approach in cell biology, genetics, biophysics, neurobiology, stem cell biology and bioengineering.
This concentration of research has been strengthened by the excellence initiative of the BMBF – the establishment of of the “Excellence Clusters for Regenerative Therapy-CRTD”. The initiative is currently being carried out in the BioInnovationCenter at Biotec at the Dresden University of Technology. Occupation of the section to be newly-erected is expected in 2010.
This concentration of research competencies has been accompanied by a wave of new company foundations. Today Dresden has 25 biotech companies, which employ 1,547 people. A number of biotech companies are in the BioInnovationCenter, in which leading scientists of biotechnology at the University of Technology are also resident.
They are for example the companies Cenix BioScience GmbH, Jado Technologies GmbH, Ambition GmbH, InnoTERE GmbH, Gene Bridges GmbH, Scionics Computer Innovation GmbH, Transinsight GmbH, NAMOS GmbH, HPC BioInno Tec GmbH and Biote(a)ch. They are mainly small companies that amongst other things work in pharmaceutical diagnostics, bioinformatics or in the service areas in Dresden. Larger pharmaceutical companies also operate in Dresden. GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals opened an additional building for the production of vaccines in 2007, which was taken into full operation in February 2008. In Hellerau, another quarter in Dresden, a new biotechnology centre was also founded with six companies such as Biotype AG, Labordiagnostik GmbH Leipzig and Qualitype AG.
Dresden however also invests in another future area – nanotechnology, the research activities of which are currently strongly supported.
Our existing technology foundation is starting to shake. The fossil resources and metallic raw materials we use to ensure our prosperity, are subject to an increased consumption with limited supply. It is therefore a key task to develop technologies that are sustainable and are based on more efficient principles. Miniaturization is the key thereto. We must switch from the micro-technological age into nanotechnology – our micro-technological instruments have to become a thousand times smaller. For this technological revolution, we have to learn from nature. Biological research will therefore play a decisive role. All organisms on this planet contain small machines, nanomachines. They consist of different proteins and are extremely capable. Cells, for instance, contain “waste processing facilities” with outstanding recycling capacities and tiny motors that are responsible for transport and communication systems. Biological systems work according to nanotechnological principles. Biology is nanotechnology and the technology of the future will be bio-nanotechnology.
What is publically debated today – red and green biotechnology, gene technology and stem cell research – is only a small part of what will in future constitute biotechnology. Tremendous efforts will be necessary to make these new developments possible.
The engineers of the future will obtain their inspiration from biology. Consequently, new interfaces between biology and engineering should be developed.
Kai Simons obtained his doctorate at the university in Helsinki in 1965 and was professor for biochemistry there. In 1975 he became the group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg and headed the Cell Biology Programme until 1998. He is the founding director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. He has been the chairperson of the board of BioDresden eV since 2002.