Prof. Dr. Klaus P. Schäfer: Cross-border network for life sciences and biotechnology

After the technical revolu­tion started with the steam engine in the early 19th century, electrical engineering in the latter half of the same century and semiconductor electronics in the 20th century, the life sciences and bio­­technology have been some of the key technologies of the 21st century. Contributions to the solution of medical, technical and also social prob­­lems are expected from these fields of endeavour. In this context, biotechnology is one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy of our age. That its procedures add value is now axiomatic and these can be found in many areas such as foodstuffs and health, manufacturing and environmental protection. Laundry detergent enzymes are produced with the assistance of environ­­mentally friendly biotechnological methods, as are pharma­­ceuticals, such as insulin, vitamins, food additives and antibiotics.

The Lake Constance region, since 2005 officially recognized and accre­­dited as Baden-Württemberg’s fifth bio-region along with the Rhine-Neckar Triangle re­­gion, STERN, Freiburg and Ulm, has a well developed life science environment with research centres and companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. All these combined to form the BioLAGO Association in late 2007. An idea that originated at a table for regulars, the association achieved profes­sional status in mid-2008 when it established its own office at the Technology Centre Konstanz. Supported by public-private partnerships, including the city of Konstanz, Konstanz county, the (Swiss) canton of Thurgau (Office for Economy and La­­bour), the Busi­­ness Development Office of Ravens­­burg, the network supports and promotes interdisciplinary international exchange of ideas in modern biological sciences.

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Sector-specific interaction between research and industry. In this context, BioLAGO fulfils some central tasks: bringing together scientists and businessmen, converting ideas into products, and offering marketable services for and with the members – in short, it strengthens the region’s competitiveness. All its measures and activities serve to retain and increase the number of jobs and reinforce a financially healthy sector of industry for the life sciences.
The linking of research and industry is primarily advanced by issue-specific projects, events and formats. These are initiated and carried out in close coopera­tion with the research centres, companies and public institutions in the network.

These activities include the annual “Sci­­ence Meets Business Day” (WtW-Tag) at the University of Konstanz, the biggest life science encounter forum for busi­ness­­men and scientists in the Lake Constance region, as well as the intersectoral “Lake Con­­stance Finance Forum” for firms in new technology.

Assisted by partners such as BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg, BioLAGO will es­­tab­­lish a network for the foodstuffs industry in the Lake Constance area. With the help of networking and techno­logical partner­­ships, small and medium-sized companies will receive assistance to produce valuable and reasonably priced foodstuffs through innovation. In this work, methods of modern biotechnology are used, which make it possible to develop diet foodstuffs, espe­cially for diabetics and allergie persons or in case of intolerance, as well as food­­stuffs bene­­ficial to human health.


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A further aim of the network is getting new firms to settle in the Lake Constance region. The establishment of Mykotown Greentech AG from Dessau (Saxony-Anhalt) in Konstanz is one successful example of this. BioLAGO also organizes educational events in order to get children, young people and adults interested in the sciences.

Dynamic merging across national borders. As a lobbying organization and service platform, BioLAGO now unites over 70 member organizations from the scientific and business communities, which do inten­­sive work in the fields of medicine, medical technology, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, chemicals, food technology and environmental technology. Since the association was formed in 2007, the number of mem­­bers has more than doubled and the cross-border networking process has accelerated.

The members from Germany, Austria and Switzerland carry out research in the service of mankind – for example, in an attempt to develop new medications against life-threatening diseases such as cancer, strokes or diabetes, develop biologically degradable plastics in an effort to solve waste-disposal problems or produce highly-intelligent instruments for medical purposes. This merger represents some 5,700 highly skilled jobs, including some 500 scientists in R&D-oriented universities and research centres.

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Besides research centres such as the University of Konstanz and the EMPA (the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, a research insti­tu­tion within the Swiss Federal Institute of Techno­­logy, ETH Zurich) in St. Gallen and the VIVIT Institute in Dornbirn, these institutes include successful pharmaceu­­­ticals and biotech companies. Besides global players such as Nycomed and Vetter Pharma, GATC Biotech AG, a Europe-wide supplier of DNA sequencing services, is also based on Lake Constance. Other compa­­nies based there are young technology-oriented companies such as ESE GmbH and Sensovation AG, which develop op­­tical measuring instruments for use in medical technology. Over ten young companies have joined the BioLAGO Association and obtain support in the network, including a few spin-outs from Nycomed GmbH.


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Ideal conditions. As an innovation location, the Lake Con­­stance region offers excellent local basic conditions. Besides the favour­­able re­­search environ­ment (a university of ex­­cellence, clinics and research insti­tutes), a distinct infrastructure stands out. The “Border Triangle” BioLAGO makes it pos­­sible to rapidly exchange ideas and in­­for­mation across national borders. In com­par­ison to many large urban conur­bations, one travels through scenic land­­s­capes, which makes close cross-border cooperation a pleasure and makes it possible to establish an easily locatable local presence. The region is distinguished by its attractiveness for those spinning off a business or starting up their own companies, with competent partners, investors and legal expertise all available locally in the midst of an attractive tourist area.

 

AutorThe author studied chemistry in Kiel and then went to Göttingen to work at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine. There he trained in the young science of molecular biology to which he remained true at Yale University, the University of Konstanz and at the Ruhr University Bochum. He has been chairman of the executive board of Bio­­LAGO e. V. since 2007.