Prof. Dr. Kai Simons: BIOPOLIS Dresden – A vision becomes reality

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.


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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.

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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.

 

KaiSimons2008Kai 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.