Innovation Report

 
report Precision Medicine

“Momentum for blockchain in healthcare is growing in Basel”

03.12.2018

Marco Cuomo and Daniel Fritz from Novartis got engaged in blockchain two years ago. Today, their aim is set high: With other pharma companies under the Innovative Medicines Initiative, they formed a “Blockchain Enabled Healthcare” program, due to kick off in 2019. The program that they presented at the Blockchain Leadership Summit in Basel – Switzerland’s largest conference in this field - wants no less than to define how blockchain is applied in healthcare.

BaselArea.swiss: You both work for Novartis that is known for pharmaceutical products but not for technology. How come you started to explore the possibilities of Blockchain in the first place?

Marco Cuomo: We got curious about blockchain and wanted to know which problems we can solve with the technology. A handful of interested people had an informal meeting, we formed a group and basically got to the essence of blockchain. That started two years ago.

What did you find?

Marco Cuomo: First of all we found use cases to learn more about it. This is how the supply chain got on our radar because Blockchain is applicable to tracking and tracing. We involved Dan who is our Supply Chain Domain Architect to build a supply chain from the manufacturer to the pharmacy with LEGO robots…

Daniel Fritz: …where we integrated IoT sensors for temperature and humidity as well as a counterfeit product check. We learned for ourselves about the power of blockchain and what is possible.

Marco Cuomo: Our LEGO demo clearly helped to illustrate our point internally as well as externally. We also quickly realized that other pharmaceutical companies must have the same discussions. So we brought other companies to the table.

Why did you not just develop something on your own?

Marco Cuomo: Of course, you can have for example your own cryptocurrency – and then what? To exchange it, you need other parties who use the same cryptocurrency as you do. No, blockchain is not just a new technology that you learn, implement and benefit from. The key feature is to transfer something valuable from one party to the next. Take the supply chain of pharmaceutical products that involves the manufacturer, the distribution center, wholesale, pharmacy, doctor and hospital. Here, blockchain starts to make sense. 

How so?

Marco Cuomo: With blockchain, you do not have to change any supply management system on your side. Instead, you create a kind of common ground. You do not need an intermediate as blockchain is taking that role. We tend to say that it is a team sport because everybody has to play by the same rules.

What is in it for the life sciences industry?

Daniel Fritz: When we show and explain what blockchain is about, we not only cover the basics. Instead, we also look on what we could potentially design as a solution to build upon the regulatory framework. People think, wait, we can even go beyond the law and uncover some business value. I think most people can quickly see that blockchain offers many benefits over the existing technologies that we have in place.

Marco Cuomo: What is in it is efficiency which comes down to saving money, be faster and more secure. Electronic records can be transparently shown in the blockchain. If something fails in the cool chain, everybody can see what happens immediately. Now you wait till a product arrives at the target to then find out that it is flawed and finally start the process for a resend. With blockchain the flawed product never even has to leave the manufacturer.

Daniel Fritz: With other supply chains it is similar. People want to buy organic food – how do you know it is bio? With blockchain, we can guarantee the provenance of a product and remove or reduce counterfeits from the supply chain. This benefits the industry and the patients.

Marco Cuomo: Speaking of patients: It is the holy grail to bring patients in control of their data. Today the data sits in the different silos, with the hospitals, with physicians for example. With the blockchain, we think there is the potential to open that up so that patients can decide who sees my data.

Where do you see other advantages of Blockchain based healthcare?

Marco Cuomo: Our CEO Vas Narasimhan has the vision to create a medicine based on data only, from real world evidence. Blockchain can help to track and trace the data to guarantee its proper provenance. Another opportunity are data marketplaces where you can offer your data to pharmaceutical companies and researchers. Blockchain could help with that. Where normally it would take time to build up the trust for such an exchange of very sensible and valuable data, there is no need for that with blockchain. Novartis hopes that we can use this data to create new medicine in the future. We are also looking into third party risk management.
How can we make sure that our suppliers comply to our labor and safety rules? Why should we have the same audit ten times a year instead of once? Why should these assessments not be owned by the supplier – if we are guaranteed that the supplier is not manipulating them?

You started two years ago as a small group. Where are you now?

Marco Cuomo: We realized that we need to define certain standards to lay the infrastructural ground for Blockchain in healthcare. That is why we submitted the project “Blockchain enabled healthcare” with the Innovative Medicine Initiative where Novartis is already heavily engaged with more than 100 projects. We convinced eight other companies to join: J&J, Bayer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, UCB, Pfizer, Novo Nordisk, and AbbVie are part of it. The money comes half from the industry, the other half is from the EU, in total 18 million Euro for three years. Applications for the consortium that should include hospitals, labs, patients, SME and universities to work with us closed in October. After that, we will form a project together and start with it late next year.

What is blockchain enabled healthcare about?

Marco Cuomo: The main goal is to define standards to create a governance body that will last longer than the project itself. Like the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium that is defining technical standards of the web, we hope to be the same for Blockchain in healthcare. Take the internet – it also needed someone who defined some standards so everyone could build on that. The same will happen here, hopefully. Imagine if Novartis was to implement their own blockchain and has to convince thousands of suppliers to use it. If the next company does the same, end-to-end product tracking becomes impossible for the parties involved. Why should doctors use our system or the other one? Also, the patient journey does not only include pills from Novartis. You need a standard.

How easy was it to convince the other companies to come on board?

Daniel Fritz: Some of the companies we asked jumped on board immediately. Others needed to understand our vision in more detail. So we had a lot of talks which were very positive as we were able to establish a high level of trust and collaboration within the consortium, which is really what blockchain is about.

In which ways did it help to be in Basel to start this journey?

Marco Cuomo: It started here and Novartis is leading it. All the companies and the academia we talked to form the initial approach to the program are close. It also helps to have a CEO who strongly supports digital initiatives and a CDO who sees the potential.

Daniel Fritz: Momentum for blockchain in healthcare is growing in Basel, in Novartis, and globally. It will benefit patients and the industry, but we have a lot of hard work in the consortium and with public partners to get there.

About

Marco Cuomo is Manager of Applied Technology Innovation and a Senior Digital Solutions Architect with Novartis. He started with Novartis in 2005 as a Business Informatics Engineer and gained a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

Daniel Fritz works as the Supply Chain Domain Architect at Novartis. Before that he was an engineer officer with the US Army and a Materials Manager. He studied at the US Military Academy at West Point and gained a Master of Business Administration from Duke University.

report Supporting Entrepreneurs

Belles rencontres pour nos 3 gagnants du concours i4Challenge 2018 au salon Industrie du F...

13.12.2018

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Resistell closes successful financing round

11.12.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Connecting Innovators App Launch

11.04.2018

How the BaselArea.swiss-App connects innovators and supports an innovative idea.

One of the major assets of BaselArea.swiss is its broad network, which has been confirmed time and again by the participants of our seminars, workshops and conferences. To simplify the networking during and after the events, BaselArea.swiss launches the App “Connecting Innovators” together with SAS Papott.

The use is simple: After downloading the app from Google Play or from the App Store, connect with your LinkedIn account and complete your profile. You will see the other event attendees in a list with their name and picture, filtered according to proximity to your location, thus facilitating connect with other participants. Not only will you see which users attend the same events but it is also easier for specialists to connect to people with similar interests or for entrepreneurs to approach potential investors.

Networking made simple

Originally, the developer and founder of SAS Papott, Maxime Vitrey, had the vision of improving our ability to connect with our fellow human beings on a more general level. He designed an open app and everybody who created a profile could see who is close by. “I wanted to make it easy for everybody to get in touch with each other.” He also realized the potential the technology holds for networking at conferences. “I know from personal experience how hard it is to get in touch with other participants I do not know yet”, Maxime says. The challenges are manifold: Groups of people who stay together because they know each other already; name tags that are hard to read; the slightly impolite act of interrupting people who are engaged in conversation. And last but not least: finding the people you should talk to because you share the same area of interest.

The World of entrepreneurship

After attending a startup seminar organized by BaselArea.swiss, Maxime approached Sébastien Meunier, Head of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, to suggest creating an application according to the needs of the organization. “We quickly decided to give it a shot”, says Maxime. Being a seasoned project manager, he developed new techniques and gained experience during the implementation of the project since the whole value chain was in his hands. Currently, he approaches new customers to build clones of the app. He sees potential to ease interaction in large companies during meetings or amongst their employees. Further, the technology could be used in hospitals to allow patients to socialize with other patients. While Maxime still works for his long-term employer, Jet Aviation, he is also pleased that his entry into the world of entrepreneurship is successful. “It is extremely exciting to finally be the entrepreneur I always wanted to be.”

For BaselArea.swiss, the app allows the participants of the more than 70 events per year to be served even better: “The app helps to strengthen one of our core disciplines in creating an open and supportive business culture - a solid network with approachable members,” says Sébastien Meunier. “We are looking forward to seeing a lot of our participants using it.”

Join us to keep networking simple, efficient and useful. Download the app “Connecting Innovators” from Google Play or from the App Store and let us know what you think.

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Die Wirtschaftsregion Basel-Jura entwickelt sich stabil

28.03.2018

Die Wirtschaftsregion Basel-Jura bietet Unternehmen ein erstklassiges Umfeld. Dies das Fazit des aktuellen Jahresberichts 2017 von BaselArea.swiss.

In ihrem Jahresbericht 2017 zeigt sich BaselArea.swiss zufrieden mit der Entwicklung der Region Basel-Jura. Zwar pendelte sich die Zahl der von der Innovationsförderung und Standortpromotion der Kantone Basel-Landschaft, Basel-Stadt und Jura betreuten Ansiedlungen nach dem Rekordjahr 2016 wieder auf Vorjahresniveau ein. Gemessen an der Anzahl der geplanten Arbeitsplätze in den kommenden drei bis fünf Jahren knüpft das Ergebnis jedoch ans 2016 an. «Dies ist angesichts der erschwerten Rahmenbedingungen ein gutes Resultat», freut sich CEO Christof Klöpper. Insbesondere habe die Ablehnung der Unternehmenssteuerreform III zu Verunsicherungen auf Kundenseite geführt.

Bezüglich geografischer Herkunft und Tätigkeitsfeld der angesiedelten Unternehmen dominierten einerseits die USA sowie die Life Sciences (inklusive Chemie). Zu den grösseren Ansiedlungen zählten: Bio-Rad (USA), die in Basel den Europäischen Hauptsitz eröffneten, Idemitsu (Japan), die in Basel ein Forschungszentrum für organische Leuchtdioden einrichteten, sowie SpiroChem, die ihren Hauptsitz von Zürich nach Basel verlegten. Zudem gelang es, die Pipeline mit neuen Ansiedlungsprojekten zu füllen: So besuchten im vergangenen Jahr 90 Firmen im Rahmen einer Standortevaluation die Region.

Mehr Unternehmertum

Positiv entwickelten sich die Unternehmensgründungen in der Region Basel-Jura. So verzeichnete BaselArea.swiss eine erhöhte Nachfrage nach Dienstleistungen im Bereich Supporting Entrepreneurs und konnte mehr als 60 Neugründungen und Start-ups unterstützen. Die von BaselArea.swiss organisierten Veranstaltungen, Seminare und Workshops brachten über 5500 Teilnehmende zu Innovationsthemen zusammen, was ebenfalls ein deutliches Plus gegenüber dem Vorjahr darstellt.

BaselArea.swiss gelang es im Jahr 2017 eine Reihe von Aktivitäten in neuen, für die Region wichtigen Innovationsthemen anzustossen. So wurden die Aktivitäten im Bereich Industrie 4.0 ausgebaut. Diese sollen im 2018 mit Partnern aus dem benachbarten Ausland innerhalb eines Interreg-Projekts weiterentwickelt werden.

Ein weiterer thematischer Schwerpunkt fokussiert auf Innovationen in der chemischen Industrie. Unter dem Namen DayOne wurde 2017 eine vielbeachtete Initiative zum Thema Precision Medicine und Digital Health lanciert.

Überaus erfolgreich erwies sich der im 2017 lancierte Healthcare Accelerator BaseLaunch. Nicht nur gelang es mit Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer und Roche sowie Roivant Sciences die Unterstützung von fünf Industrieschwergewichten für den Accelerator zu gewinnen. Auch am Markt wurde BaseLaunch gut aufgenommen: Über 100 Bewerbungen von Start-up-Projekten aus mehr als 30 Ländern gingen bei BaselArea.swiss ein. Sechs Start-up-Firmen werden nun in der Region Basel-Jura gegründet und während eines Jahres beim Firmenaufbau mit bis zu 250'000 Franken sowie Infrastrukturleistungen im Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area unterstützt.

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The creative power of the chemical industry

04.12.2018

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So navigieren Unternehmen die Digitale Transformation

03.12.2018

report Life Sciences

“I enjoy thinking about seemingly unsolvable problems”

13.03.2018

Andreas Plückthun continues his research where others stop: 40 employees work in his laboratory on protein engineering. Their results form the basis for three biotech companies: Morphosys in Munich, as well as Molecular Partners and G7 Therapeutics (today Heptares Zurich) in Schlieren. At the Antibody Congress 2017 in Basel, Andreas Plückthun told us why he remains true to his research.

Mr. Plückthun, you co-founded three biotech companies in three decades. How did this come about?

There was always this curiosity in the beginning to discover something – but never the wish to found a company. After we produced artificial antibodies and learned how to mimic the immune system, we established the company Morphosys. Then the next question arose: can we do this with other protein molecules and solve new problems? Out of this emerged Designed Ankyrin Repeated Proteins (DARPins) and a second company, Molecular Partners in Schlieren. The next challenge was then to stabilize receptors by means of protein engineering in order to develop better drugs for these points of attack. Based on this research, we founded the third company, G7 Therapeutics.

Who pushed ahead with the spin-offs each time?

For the first company, it was my research colleagues. I was the more sceptical of us three at the time. The other two companies were traditional spin-offs of my doctoral and postdoctoral students.

How are the companies doing today?

Morphosys now has 430 employees and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. We also received the first FDA approval for an antibody that is now available on the market. This is one of the few companies that is still doing exactly what we once wrote in the business plan, and successfully too. Molecular Partners has 130 employees, several Phase 2 and 3 studies, and, like Morphosys, is listed on the stock exchange. G7 Therapeutics was sold to the British company Heptares, which in turn belongs to the Japanese company Sosei. In short: all companies are doing well. I don’t consider founding a company to be a particular achievement. The achievement is more that the companies are flourishing and bringing drugs to the market.

What changes have you noticed over the decades when it comes to founding a company?

The climate has changed completely. It was totally against the grain in Europe 25 years ago to found a biotech company. That’s why people went to California. At a symposium in America, I was once introduced as a researcher and a founder with the words; “He’s like us.” It was very common there for a long time to be both a researcher and an entrepreneur. That scepticism has since disappeared here, and founding a company is now judged positively. A venture capital scene has also developed since then. To be fair, I have to say that it helps investors if you’ve already successfully founded a company. The first deal is always the hardest.

You seem to be quite successful when it comes to founding companies. Did it ever tempt you to move to one of your companies?

It was never a question for me to leave the university. It’s an incredible privilege to be paid by the state to do crazy things. I always wanted to think about the next challenge at the university. Not having to account for quarterly profits is the only way forward in this context. In a company that conducts research with money from investors, you simply cannot undertake the type of risky and long-term projects that interest me. But I can say that thanks to the companies that are based on my research, I have repaid my dividends and created many jobs.

So you’ll continue to devote yourself to basic research. Can this be steered towards commercialization at all?

We’ve always wanted to solve a problem that seemed important enough to us. At some point in the research the question arises of how to use the results, what you can make of them. If we hadn’t commercialized the results, the problems would have simply stopped at an interesting point. We would have stopped halfway along. This is comparable to a coming up with blueprint for a computer and then not building it. By founding the companies, we could ensure that the projects would continue.

Is there any collaboration with industry within the scope of your research?

Direct collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and our laboratory has never worked properly. Expectations and time horizons are very different. We develop new ideas and concepts that are often not exactly in keeping with large-scale pharmaceutical research. I don’t think anyone will feel offended when I say that the pharmaceutical industry is very conservative. We do have many contacts but hardly any collaboration. That being said, our spin-offs work very well with the pharmaceutical industry.

Which topics would you like to focus on next?

We are researching artificial viruses that cannot reproduce. The viruses should produce proteins directly in the body that are needed as therapeutic agents. This is so far away from practical implementation that such a project is only possible at a university. But I am absolutely convinced that it would have enormous significance if it worked. I couldn’t sit still if we didn’t at least try. We are once again trying to solve a problem in my laboratory that most people in the field would consider impossible to solve. That’s what makes me get up in the morning. I want to show how it works.

Learn more about Andreas Plückthun between basic research and biotech entrepreneurship at our event on 24 April 2018.

About
Andreas Plückthun (*1956) is a scientist whose research is focused on the field of protein engineering. He is the director of the department of biochemistry at the University of Zurich. Andreas Plückthun was appointed to the faculty of the University of Zurich as a Full Professor of biochemistry in 1993. Plückthun was group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry , Germany (1985-1993). He was elected to the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 1992, and named a member of the German National Academy of Science (Leopoldina) in 2003. He is cofounder of the biotechnology companies Morphosys (Martinsried, Germany), Molecular Partners AG (Zürich-Schlieren, Switzerland) and G7 Therapeutics (Zürich-Schlieren, Switzerland).

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth, BaselArea.swiss

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Three projects to start in the DayOne Accelerator

03.12.2018

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Basel scientists receive European grant

30.11.2018

report

Meet the BaseLaunch Startups

11.03.2018

Six of the BaseLaunch startups recently started Phase II. They received either grants up to 250,000 Swiss francs or gained free of charge access to BaseLaunch laboratory and office space at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. Hear what the startups, the BaseLaunch team and selection committee members experienced in the first year. Find out more about what makes BaseLaunch unique.

The BaseLaunch accelerator is now open for applications for the second cycle. Entrepreneurs with a healthcare based project or a game-changing innovation in diagnostics, medtech or related field at the pre-seed or seed funding stage are invited to submit their applications to the program.

Following the application deadline on 14 May, promising projects will be admitted to the accelerator program for a period of 15 months. In phase I, the startups will benefit from the support of industry experts, office- and laboratory space free of charge and access to healthcare partners. After three months, they will be invited to present their idea to the selection committee. They will determine which promising startups will proceed to Phase II that runs for one year.

BaseLaunch is backed by five industry leaders — Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer, Roche and Roivant Sciences. Other public and private partners such as KPMG and Vossius & Partner also support the initiative.

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University hospital fights multiresistant bacteria

16.11.2018

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Swiss Innovation Forum 2018

08.11.2018

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“As an entrepreneur, you have to own up to your decisions”

06.02.2018

Five years ago, Alisée de Tonnac quit her job at L’Oréal and travelled the world to set up the first edition of the startup competition Seedstars World. Five years later, Seedstars is present in more than 85 cities worldwide, runs its own co-working and educational centers and plans to have 15 Seedspaces for co-working and co-living by the end of 2018. BaselArea.swiss sat down with Alisée de Tonnac after her keynote at the Swiss Innovation Forum that took place in Basel last November.

BaselArea.swiss: What was the most compelling argument for you to leave your career at an international corporation and become an entrepreneur?

Alisée de Tonnac: I remember coming across this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I thought: Gosh, I do the opposite. I was complacent (I wonder if that is not the definition of unhappy), my corporate and personal life at that time was not engaging me in the right fashion, or at least I did not know how to engage with it in the right fashion. I did not foresee that entrepreneurship and building something of my own was the necessary change, but it definitely became part of who I am today.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

First of all, I think there are different types of entrepreneurs. One builds everything from scratch and does not sleep until his idea transforms into reality. Others, like myself, follow; they support and scale the idea. So, potentially, entrepreneurship is for everyone, depending on your personality traits and of course you would need to be comfortable with uncertainty, taking risks, and self-management. I love about my lifestyle that I decide how my day roles out. It is spectacular. To be honest, one of the main ingredients to my professional and personal success is that I work with an unbelievable team. My co-founders make the difference. I do not know if I would have been able to launch a company on my own. The team is crucial – keep in mind that you spend every day with them.

What do you think is important in a team of co-founders?

My co-founders and I are very complementary. I am an operational person, definitely not a strategist. A strategist looks five years ahead, sees all the obstacles and still heads forward. More importantly though, we made sure that our values are aligned. We asked ourselves whether we would stick together during the highs and lows. Shared values have proven to be our biggest strength and one of the reasons why we are still sustaining, five years later. We want to build good things with good people. We believe that we can build a profitable business and be good, but more importantly we have an underlying foundation of values that keeps us together no matter what – at least until now...

Before you co-founded Seedstars, you worked with L’Oreal. How do you benefit from your corporate experience?

I learned so much in terms of business, culture, teamwork and social pressure. I also know what I do not want to do, which is just as important. It also taught me a lot on how I would want to build the culture within our new structure. The culture is so fundamental in managing and scaling the business. I think you learn while working at corporations what differentiates them and how a uniquely defined and communicated culture makes the difference.

What was the biggest surprise for you when becoming an entrepreneur?

The ownership of your day and actions. Because you really have to own up to your decisions. You cannot bullshit and you cannot hide behind the brand or the cc- emails. It was a bit terrifying initially to be the only person that can start the whole machine – and very gratifying at the same time.

You work with entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries. Which challenges are these entrepreneurs tackling?

In healthcare, we see many digital platforms, like one that allows you to recognize if a medicine is fake or not – which is an issue in Nigeria and other emerging markets. There are telemedicine platforms to connect rural areas with specialists and educational apps for pregnant women, as childbirth is still a huge cause of death in those regions.

Seedstars launched its own trainings. Why was that necessary?

There is talent everywhere, but not every talented person gets the same access to education, network opportunities and infrastructure. With our training, we tap talent that is not yet exposed to such opportunities.

What did you learn from your experience in Lagos?

We are in markets that represent a big part of the world. Exposing yourself to different consumer habits, radical transformations and growing cities helps to understand the world of tomorrow. We are living in a global economy today, the world does not end at the borders of a nation. People who ignore that fact are limiting themselves professionally and personally. Take Lagos, for example: there are 20 million people, the streets are buzzing, everyone is young and you witness a dynamic “everything is possible”- spirit. It is so contrary to coming back to Geneva where we have meters of space between one person and the next. After two weeks, I am complaining when the bus is five minutes late. We are very comfortable and very fortunate – which can also be seen as a problem for innovation. Being comfortable can be a goal, but it is in many ways the opposite of being innovative.

Your company is registered in Geneva. How important is the Swiss headquarters?

First of all, we are very proud of the “Swiss made” brand, which has supported us in successfully scaling the business around the world. The values that the flag carries – like quality, professionalism and neutrality – we aim to represent on the ground. As all partners grew up in Switzerland, we also keep close ties with our private and public network. Switzerland is an amazing hub with strong public institutions like the UN in Geneva or the WEF in Davos that play an important role in the markets where we are present with Seedstars. Many multinational companies residing here are also very interested in these emerging markets, not least in terms of talent acquisition. Moreover, they provide potential solutions. It is crucial to be present in Switzerland as well as in the countries where we have our competitions. Interestingly, we slowly start to see reverse innovation: Safaricom, the biggest mobile service provider in Kenya launched the payment solution M-Pesa. They are now testing their solution in Romania and Albania. I am certain that the usual way of doing business by conducting a product in the north and selling it in the south will blur out eventually.


About Alisée de Tonnac
Alisée graduated from HEC Lausanne and obtained her Masters in International Management at Bocconi University. The French citizen lived in Singapore, Silicon Valley, Switzerland, Italy and in Lagos, Nigeria. She was a product manager for luxury brands at L’Oreal Group and worked at Voyage Privé, a leading European startup. After traveling around the world for a year to set up the first edition of the Seedstars World startup competition back in 2013, Alisée is now managing the company. She has accumulated deep knowledge of trends in technology, social media & consumer behavior in emerging markets. Alisée is a board member of the School of Management of Fribourg and a member of the Swiss National Innovation Council. She was nominated Social Entrepreneur Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017 and was Innovation Fellow of Wired UK in 2015.

About Seedstars
Seedstars is a Switzerland based group with the mission to impact people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship. Seedstars connects stakeholders, builds companies from scratch with public and private partners, and invests in high growth startups within these ecosystems. Through different activities that range from startup scouting to company building and acceleration programs, the team has built the most powerful network of entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, corporations and government officials from more than 65 fast growing economies around the globe. Seedstars started running its operations in 2013, launching its startup competition model on 20 emerging markets. By 2018, the competition is present in more than 85 cities, and the Seedstars Group will be launching 15 strategic hubs (Seedspaces, co-working activities, acceleration programs and academy centres) around the world. The business model relies on recurring partnership deals with both local and international players seeking to be involved in impact investment in the fields of technology and innovation. Part of the revenue channels also includes a hybrid company building model through which Seedstars launches new companies in new markets, with tested business models adapted to the local environment. So far, Seedstars has invested in 15 startups. Another 10 to 15 investments are foreseen for the first semester of 2018.

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“Precision medicine is the best opportunity to reconfigure healthcare”

04.12.2017

After 20 years with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, Bernard Munos set out to better understand pharmaceutical innovation – specifically what makes it possible and how to get more of it. Munos is now a Senior Fellow at Faster Cures, a Center of the Milken Institute, and the founder of the consultancy InnoThink, which advises biomedical research organizations on how to become better innovators. He also contributes to Forbes magazine, an American business publication. Munos travelled to Basel in October, on behalf of HKBB and DayOne to participate in the “Powertalk”.

Mr. Munos, precision medicine has been around for a couple of years. These days everybody seems to talk about it. Why is that?

Bernard Munos: The healthcare system is increasingly torn apart by powerful forces. On one hand, science is delivering amazing things such as protein therapeutics (peptides, monoclonal antibodies); cellular therapies (CAR-T); gene editing (CRISPR); and a growing array of technologies based on a molecular understanding of diseases. The only problem is that this is very expensive. In addition, the population is aging, and older people tend to get diseases that are costlier to treat. The result is nearly infinite demand for costly care, which is clashing with the limited resources available to fund it. But, as it turns out, precision medicine is the most promising opportunity to change the economics of pharmaceutical R&D, reconfigure healthcare, and deliver affordable care to all.

In other words: the current system is not built to distribute the benefits of the new technologies?

For decades, R&D was much simpler: We took a disease that we typically did not fully understand, threw a bunch of compounds at it and saw if something would work. If it did, you had a drug. This was crude, but not a bad strategy since it gave us drugs long before we understood the diseases they treated. Sometimes, however, it does not work. For example, we have thrown over 350 compounds at Alzheimer’s, but none has worked, and we still do not know what causes the disease. There’s got to be a better way, and that is precision medicine.

What will change with precision medicine?

Once we understand how diseases work, our capabilities are so powerful that we can often design a disease modifying molecule literally within months. Precision medicine, along with the technologies that enable it, will give us the insights we need to develop those drugs. But it translates into a smarter – and ultimately cheaper –  way to do science and develop drugs –which is why it will prevail.

What do we need to establish to get precision medicine taking up more speed?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the number one impediment to innovation is the lack of natural histories for most diseases. This means that we do not have baseline data that describes the course of the disease, and therefore we cannot measure the improvement that a therapy would bring. It really limits our ability to innovate. Many diseases progress quietly for many years before they are diagnosed. Take Alzheimer’s or pancreatic cancer: by the time they show symptoms, it is too late for an intervention. Precision medicine will change that by collecting data while the diseases progress but the patients are asymptomatic. This will advance disease discovery and give us the knowledge we need to develop better therapies. Much of this will be enabled by new and inexpensive data-capture technologies such as biosensors, apps and other plug-in devices that are advancing very rapidly.

But first of all this means new investments – who is going to pay for all this?

At the moment, public companies spend US$110 billion per year on clinical research, much of which goes to collect data. This is an enormous amount of money, and companies gather indeed vast quantities of data, but they are limited in scope and often of mediocre quality. In 2014, the company Medidata Solutions ran an experiment to test the capabilities of biosensors. They assembled a couple hundred patients and equipped them with a few low-cost biosensors such as activity trackers and heart monitors. Over a couple of months, they collected up to 18 million data points per patient and per day. That data was later reviewed by regulators and declared to be “FDA-compliant”. One key point, however, is that its collection cost was trivial. Other evidence suggests that, by redesigning trials to leverage digital technologies, we can cut down the cost of data collection by as much as 80 percent. This is big enough to change the economics of clinical research, but it does more. It also enables better research. Today, drug trials focus on homogenous patient populations, because one needs to minimize the sources of variance. But the result is trials that do not represent very well the populations that we want to treat. Biosensors, on the other hand, can collect lots of data on larger populations, and statistical significance is usually not an issue. It is also high-frequency longitudinal data which gives us a much better picture of what happens to patients.

How will this change medicine?

Today, when someone comes down with Alzheimer’s, we don’t know when it started, or why, and therefore have no way to intervene on the course of the disease before it is too late. If we had data on pre-symptomatic patients, scientists could look back and pinpoint when the disease might have started and how it progressed. With such information, we could design better drugs and intervene earlier when the prognosis is better and treatment costs cheaper. It could potentially move medicine from treatment to prevention, but implementing it won’t be easy. Our whole healthcare system is designed to treat not prevent. Changing it will require a lot of retraining, but it’s the way to go.

Crucial will be the question who owns the data and who will have access to the data?

A key requirement of precision medicine is that data needs to be connected. It will be scattered over hundreds of databases, but they need to be interfaced so that they can easily be searched. Some of the data will be public, but much of them will be collected and controlled by the patients themselves. A majority of patients has signaled a willingness to share their data for legitimate research purposes, but whoever controls data will also control innovation. Patients hold values that are dear to them – such as transparency, openness, and affordability – and they will likely expect the recipients of their data to comply with these values. This will be a big change for the culture of R&D and will have significant consequences for the design of clinical research.

This will change the Value Chain – who will win, who will loose?

Precision medicine will bring some desirable changes: Historically pharmaceutical companies have generated their own data and competed on the basis on such proprietary data. Increasingly, however, data will become a commodity. For instance, the data from the “All-of-Us” million patient cohort that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is assembling will be in public access. There are numerous other large patient cohorts around the world that are being created and whose data will also be public. This will change the basis of competition. Scientists will increasingly work from shared, public data, and their performance will depend upon their ability to extract superior knowledge from the same data used by their peers

What does this mean for the Basel Life Science Cluster?

Big corporations struggle to generate enough internal innovation. The bigger they get, the greater the bureaucracy and the more regimented they become. This creates a climate that is less hospitable to innovation precisely at a time when large companies need more of it. To sustain revenue, they must access a source of external innovation that can supplement their own.  Relying on licensing, mergers or acquisitions does not work well, as companies seldom find what they want to buy at a price they are willing to pay. Innovation hubs such as BaselLaunch or DayOne are a better solution. They allow the local community to create shared infrastructure – such as incubators and support services – that can become a global magnet for entrepreneurs. They also give the local large companies an opportunity to mentor the startups and offer scientific support. For them, it is a way to seed the local ecosystem with innovation that they can harvest later on.  Basel is especially suited for this because innovation tends to blossom where cultures overlap. This has been a factor in the city’s past success, and it is an asset that can be leveraged again.

Do we have enough data scientists?

You certainly have them in Switzerland. Data sciences have long been a strength of Swiss education. It goes hand-in-hand with engineering, physics and other sciences in which Switzerland excels. It is also an important advantage since there is an acute shortage of data scientists around the world. Processing the big data flows discussed earlier requires much larger numbers of data scientists that we are currently training. In America, this has been identified as a critical workforce issue. Switzerland is in a stronger position.

Would an open data platform work like a catalyst?

Scientists flock to data. In all scientific projects, a huge amount of resources – as much as 80% – is spent on data collection and cleanup, which are seldom the most interesting parts. If Basel can offer rich data that is already curated, scientists will be able to accomplish much more while focusing on the part of their work where they really add value. Having data in open free access will also help attract researchers from other disciplines who currently do not engage in biomedical research – such as mathematicians and artificial intelligence experts. Such cross-pollination is a powerful catalyst of innovation.

About Bernard Munos
Munos is a Senior Fellow at FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute, and the founder of InnoThink, a consultancy for biomedical research organizations. He regularly contributes to Forbes and is a board member and independent non-executive director of innovative healthcare companies.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer, Annett Altvater

report Innovation

Basel insurtech wins international insurtech award

24.10.2018

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WORKTECH18: The New World of Work

23.10.2018

report Innovation

“We want to improve the visibility of startups at the University of Basel”

06.11.2017

Christian Elias Schneider has been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel for eight months now. His job is to promote entrepreneurship and projects in collaboration with industry.

Mr. Schneider, you took on a newly created post at the University of Basel. The idea is to give innovation a face at the university. What specifically does that mean in terms of your work?

We picked two focal areas: first, attention should be drawn to the topic of entrepreneurship at the university. Researchers with good ideas should have incentives to monetize these ideas. And those who are already working towards this goal should receive more support. The second focal area is on collaboration with the business world. The objective here is to realize more projects together with industry partners.

How do you go about this task?

In the many conversations I’ve had with startups at the university in recent months, it has become clear that there are hardly any connections within this scene; many of the entrepreneurs have never met each other. Of course, many young entrepreneurs struggle with the same problems, so we brought them together and founded the Entrepreneurs Club to give them a platform for sharing and discussion. We want the entrepreneurs to see themselves as a team – a group that is recognized and valued by the university and by society. We can offer them access to people who would be difficult to approach individually.

What can you offer the entrepreneurs? What have they been waiting for, and what have they been lacking?

First, the startups at the university were lacking visibility. People didn’t know who they were, and they were often completely on their own. We believe our role is to offer them visibility – both within the university and externally – and help them build relationships with industry partners, the financial sector and other service providers. There are also plans to offer startups expert coaching and mentoring at an early stage.

For a few months you have been offering courses that teach University of Basel students and staff important startup skills, such as preparing business plans, handling IP rights and much more. How have these new resources been received?

Demand is huge. We have been practically overrun and overwhelmed by the success. As a result, we are considering to expand the service, with the goal of talking to students about these important issues at an early stage. The earlier that entrepreneurs deal with these issues, the fewer mistakes they will make later. For example, it’s important that we make researchers aware of IP issues very early in the game. Otherwise, they run the risk of revealing important knowledge too soon and then being unable to protect it. These courses offer help at an early stage, and this support can then be smoothly incorporated into coaching.

For the last eight months, you have been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel. What responses have you seen so far?

Everyone I’ve talked to in recent months has given very positive – in fact, enthusiastic – feedback about our innovation initiative and other resources. Clearly, it was time that the University of Basel actively tackled this issue and filled a gap.

On November 10, the University of Basel will be holding its first Innovation Day in Allschwil. What can we expect?

At the Innovation Day, we will demonstrate what is important to us: bringing people together, debating innovation, developing new ideas – and doing this in a stimulating and open atmosphere. More than 200 people have signed up, the waiting list is long and we’re happy that this new event has been so well received right from the start.

What would you like to achieve over the next two years?

Startups should feel at home at the University of Basel. The individuals should connect with each other, and an active, dynamic scene should emerge that will also interest startups in the region as a whole. In the long term, we may certainly evolve into a hub with an international appeal that will attract founders and young entrepreneurs. We want to help Basel become a preferred place for many startups to realize their visionary ideas. We will be able to do this only if we work closely with all partners: with the local universities, with institutions such as BaselArea.swiss – and, most importantly, with industry partners. In discussion with business, it is clear that the doors are open.

Interview: Matthias Geering, Head of Communications & Marketing at University of Basel

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Basel company revolutionizes battery market

16.10.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Den Digitaltag in der Region Basel erleben

15.10.2018

report Life Sciences

"You should always have something crazy cooking on the back burner"

03.10.2017

When Jennifer Doudna gave her keynote at Basel Life in September, the auditorium in the Congress Center was packed. Susan Gasser, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Basel introduced Doudna as groundbreaking and extremely innovative. The Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley was on top of Gassers wish list for the Basel Life. The leading figure of what is known as the CRISPR revolution among scientists sat down with BaselArea.swiss during her stay in Basel to talk about her lab, flexible career paths and what makes a great researcher.

In your keynote you stated that you always did a lot of basic research. What changed for you and your lab after you published the CRISPR findings?

We are still doing deep dives into CRISPR technology. A lot of our work is about discovering new systems and looking at RNA targeting and integration. These things do not necessarily have to do with gene editing, but are our primal motivation. But there were quite a few changes. We started doing a lot more applied work. That led to all sorts of interesting collaborations with people that I would probably never had the chance to interact with in the past. It has been a great opportunity to expand both deeper and broader.

How do you manage to direct your students and postdocs in your growing lab?

I hire really good people that can focus on both innovative initiatives mixed with projects where a clearer outcome can be forecasted. I give them some guidance and then I cut them loose. We also build teams in the lab which works really effectively. I do not always get it right, but when I do, amazing science happens.

You live in an area where entrepreneurship seems to be some kind of lifestyle. What is your view on the environment in Europe for both doing research and creating companies compared to the benchmark California?

There are some interesting – probably cultural – differences in the way people approach science. At Berkeley, a lot of our students are planning to go into academia. And a lot of students in California not only want to go into industry, but want to start their own company or join a startup. From talking to my Swiss colleagues, it sounds like many students in Switzerland are uncomfortable with that. They want to go to a large company and get a nice salary. Nothing wrong with that. Still, I think that it is good to encourage students to take a risk and to try something that is outside of their comfort zone.

How does that work out in Berkeley?

Two of my students started companies with me directly based on their work in the lab. One company creates new technologies that will be useful therapeutically or in agriculture. In the other case, we are figuring out how to deliver gene editing to the brain. Both students became CEOs and were able to do all the steps it takes to build their company, deal with the legal stuff and funding, conceptualize the business plan and the science. They had to hire people, build a team, and make deals. I always tell those students, I could never do their job.

How do you motivate students to take that step anyway?

I think one of the reasons that we have a lot of entrepreneurship in the bay area is because Silicon Valley is around the corner. That kind of mindset permeates everything. My kid sees young entrepreneurs who are not that much older than a teenager building the next robotics and AI companies. Granted, there is lots of failure for every single success. But teenagers see a successful person and feel motivated to give it a shot.

How can a culture like that be created?

You cannot replicate Silicon Valley culture. But I think you can create a culture that values risk taking and that validates people who do things that are not traditional. If you try something and it does not work out you should not be penalized. Instead, you should be able to go back and get the job at the big corporation. If we encourage our students to see all those options from academia to corporation and startup, they realize that they do not necessarily have to commit themselves to one path for their entire career.

Were you ever tempted to switch sides?

I toyed with it. Back in 2009, I left my job at Berkeley and joined Genentech as a Vice President of basic research. I only lasted a couple of months.

Why was that?

From the outside, it seemed like an exciting way to take my research in a much more applied direction. When I was inside I realized I was not playing to my own strengths. Instead, I realized what I am good at doing and what I really like. It all boiled down to creative, untethered science. I love working with young people and I like creating an environment where they can do interesting work. Not that I could not have done that with Genentech, but it was very different. The process was super painful, but also valuable. I returned to Berkeley and decided to go with the reason why I am in academia: crazy, creative projects that might not be clinically relevant but are interesting science. That was when I decided to expand the work on CRISPR. Had I not made the foray to Genentech and then back to Berkeley, I might not have done any of the CRISPR work.

One topic you are dealing with is the unsolved patent struggle about CRISPR Cas9. Does this effect your work?

I try to look at it very pragmatically. Because ultimately I am an educator. You could say this is my own education. I have learned a huge amount about the patent and legal process, some of it unpleasant. Someday I will write a book about that.

Another jury might be more distinctive on your achievements: You are a hot candidate for the Nobel Prize. How does that make you feel?

I try not to think about it too much. Yet, I feel very humbled. It makes me take a step back and ask myself: What is the purpose of prizes like that? I think they highlight science, the advances that are made and how these might influence people’s lives positively. I did not chose this job to win prizes, but because I really love science.

Is that enthusiasm for science what makes a great researcher – or is there a magic formula?

I think it is a combination of willingness to try new things coupled with a willingness to listen to people. I have seen these extremes both in myself and in my lab. I have real maverick students with creative ideas. But they can never follow a protocol because they are sure they will do better. This often does not lead to good science. The flip is true as well: If you always just follow protocols and never take a step out of the procedures you also do not create the most interesting science. We usually set up one line of experiments that are following a path and where we will surely get some data that are of interest for us. The second project is something that is of interest to the student. This mixture often leads to the best science.Let’s face it: You do not get rich in academic science. The joy in science is the freedom of making discoveries, of finding things out. I tell students: ‘If you stay in academic science, play with that.’ You should always have something a bit crazy cooking on the back burner. That is what makes it fun.

Interview: Alethia de León and Annett Altvater, BaselArea.swiss

report Life Sciences

Chinese Pharma Goes Global

27.09.2018

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Basler Kantonalbank creates innovation lab

25.09.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

13 startup projects qualify for the first phase of BaseLaunch

18.09.2017

The BaseLaunch Healthcare Accelerator program from BaselArea.swiss started on September 14. Over 100 applications were received from more than 30 countries, and the selection committee has selected 13 projects to go on to Phase I. Now, the project teams will work with industry experts to further develop their business case over the next three months.

More than 100 projects from over 30 countries were submitted to the BaseLaunch accelerator program from BaselArea.swiss. The submitted projects ranged from therapeutics and diagnostics to digital healthcare and medtech. Instead of 10 as originally planned, the selection committee chose 13 promising projects, which will now proceed to Phase I. "The innovation potential of the project proposals was impressive," says BaseLaunch Selection Committee Chairwoman Trudi Haemmerli, CEO of PerioC Ltd and Managing Director of TruStep Consulting GmbH. “We look forward to seeing how the chosen project teams fine-tune their business cases during Phase I.”

According to Stephan Emmerth, the BaselArea.swiss Business Development Manager for BaseLaunch, the selected projects cover a wide range of objectives: from new approaches for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's or novel immunotherapies to innovative drug delivery methods and next-generation gene therapies for cancer treatment. Other projects focus on new diagnostic procedures for finding cancer biomarkers or revolutionizing the detection of neurological diseases by deploying digital measurement methods.

The development stages of the projects were just as varied. Some projects were submitted by entrepreneurs wishing to establish a company with the support of BaseLaunch. Other projects came from existing startups that had already successfully managed the initial rounds of financing and wanted to further develop the company with the help of BaseLaunch. The founders of these companies and members of project teams also had different professional career histories. Some of the applicants selected for Phase I have many years of R&D experience in the industry; others come from a university background.

"We have chosen the most promising projects. Additionally, selected projects should benefit as much as possible from BaseLaunch and its regional life sciences ecosystem," says Alethia de León, Managing Director of BaseLaunch. “We paid particular attention to a sound scientific and technical foundation, a high level of innovation and the entrepreneurial potential of the founding team.” Alethia also commented on the productive and collaborative selection process with representatives from healthcare partners that included Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer and Roche. "Our discussions during the selection process were very constructive," she says.

The 13 selected startups will have three months from September 14 to develop their business ideas. They will be supported by the BaseLaunch team as well as a number of experienced entrepreneurs and consultants. In this first phase, up to CHF 10,000 will be available for each of the projects. The selection committee will then select three of the Phase I projects to progress to Phase II. This phase lasts for 12 months, with each project receiving funding of up to CHF 250,000. The selected project teams in Phase II will also have access to the BaseLaunch Lab in the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, where they will be expected to achieve important research milestones and further develop their business cases.


Overview of the selected projects:

ABBA Therapeutics develops therapeutic antibodies against novel targets for cancer immunotherapy.

The β-catenin project aims to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of colorectal, lung, liver, breast, brain and ovarian cancers by removing pathological proteins from the human body.

CellSpring analyzes human cells grown in special 3-Dimensional environments to develop new tools for diagnosing early-stage cancer.

Eyemove strives to detect early-stage neurological diseases through eye-tracking.

Polyneuron Pharmaceuticals is committed to the development of a promising new drug class to treat autoimmune disorders.

The SERI project develops new medicines to treat anxiety and stress related disorders by modulating the activity of cannabinoid molecules in the human body.

SunRegen develops novel drugs for neurodegenerative diseases.

T3 Pharma develops the next generation bacterial cancer therapy.

The mission of T-CURX is to exploit its unique ‘UltraModularCAR’ platform to provide best-in-class immunotherapy.

The mission of TEPTHERA is to offer individualized therapeutic cancer vaccines.

TheraNASH develops precision medicine for fatty liver disease (NASH) - a rising cause of liver cancer world-wide.

VERSAMEB is a regenerative medicine research and development company.

One biotech in stealth mode is developing novel Immuno-Oncology drugs.

report BaselArea.swiss

First semester starts well for FHNW Campus Muttenz

20.09.2018

report ICT

See you @ Blockchain Leadership Summit in Basel

20.09.2018

report Precision Medicine

"In Switzerland, we often sell promising technologies too early"

05.09.2017

Ulf Claesson is a "serial entrepreneur". During the past 25 years, he has set up companies that have gone on to become firmly established in the market. In 2012, he joined Clinerion as CEO and shareholder. Since then, the company has positioned itself in the medical data field and recently entered into a partnership with British company Cisiv. Clinerion's software helps recruit patients for clinical trials run by major pharmaceutical companies – in real time. But the competition never sleeps. A growing number of competitors is now appearing, especially in the USA where there is no shortage of risk capital. In this interview for the Innovation Report, Claesson explains how the Basel-based healthtech company plans to maintain its leadership position.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer

Mr Claesson, what was behind your decision to get on board with Clinerion?

Ulf Claesson: Clinerion was originally an IT platform with a complicated name. Its founders hit upon the idea of building a large data hub for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. That was quite an ambitious idea. I reckon that the WHO or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could possibly manage it. But a small company in Basel? As an IT person, I quickly saw how good the core technology was.  What wasn't clear, however, was the problem that the technology was going to solve. So we started working on that and felt our way slowly but surely towards the patient recruitment use case. Today, we are the only company in the world able to identify in real time from millions of patient data records those patients who are suitable for a specific clinical trial.

So you have aligned the company with a particular niche?

Yes, absolutely. When you are building a company, you must concentrate on solving a genuine problem. Our technology gives the customer clear benefits. Finding patients usually takes months, sometimes years. We cut this to weeks, or less. We ensure that a pharma company, hospital or contract research organisation already before the start of a clinical trial knows exactly where candidate patients are located and exactly how many there are. Depending on the goal, the study protocol can then be optimised as required. Because we avoid guesswork and identify genuine patients who meet the study criteria in this very moment, the study design is robust and risk is minimised. Not only that, but a study sponsor knows exactly where and how many of his "sites" he must place. Real-time information is particularly valuable for this. As soon as I activate a study protocol, the doctors involved are notified and can call their patients in.

Is it easy to convince hospitals to collaborate with Clinerion?

We were rather naive about this at first. From an IT perspective, it makes sense to do everything in the cloud. That is exactly what we tried to do, but most people were negative about it. We also found that attitudes to data protection, as well as the regulations themselves, vary considerably from one country to the next. These factors make a cloud solution virtually impossible to implement. Today, we are installing a hardware appliance within a hospital's IT infrastructure. The data therefore remains exactly where it is collected and it is as secure as all other patient data. We can also only access consolidated and aggregated meta information, which earns us the trust of decision-makers and the people using the system.

What exactly motivates hospitals to disclose their data?

We all basically share the same objective of providing relevant patients with drugs as soon as possible. We play a role in achieving this. The university hospitals are carrying out research to some extent for their own interests. We help them to carry out their internal studies more quickly. The pharmaceutical companies remunerate the hospitals for each patient who participates in a study. The doctors feel that participating in interesting studies is important. In our experience, the number of studies that hospitals are offered increases significantly as soon as they start working with us.

How many patients do you currently have access to?

We have access to 35 million patients via the hospitals. And we certainly need that many. The numbers can start dwindling rapidly depending on the symptoms you are searching for.

You operate mainly in emerging markets such as Brazil and Turkey.  Why is that?

With the exception of the UK, Europe is more cautious about taking part in clinical trials. By 2020, Turkey expects to have increased the EUR 50 million turn-over in clinical trials in 2014 to EUR 1.5 billion. In Brazil, they are even changing the law to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to carry out more studies in the future. In clinical trials, it is important for all participating patients to receive the same standard of care. Participants in trials might therefore receive better care than usual. This applies to some countries in Eastern Europe, for example. For some patients, this can be an incentive.

Does your data acquisition prioritise emerging markets?

No, not exclusively. We are also well positioned in a number of European countries. But we can certainly do better. We would also like to expand our presence in India and Taiwan, for example. Great Britain is a key focus for us and our partnership with Cisiv will help here. We recently entered into a partnership with this UK company. Cisiv’s platform complements our screening programme perfectly.

It sounds like a data contest. How close is your main competition?

There are three competitors. But we are the only ones able to provide real-time results. Our competition in the USA, however, has access to much more capital. At the last investment round, one of our competitors raised 32 million dollars.

Do you find it difficult to compete with that?

It is certainly difficult for an ICT start-up in Switzerland to obtain those kinds of amounts. We are not completely dependent on external investment, however. We have a very loyal shareholder base and have sufficient funding, even though we are still a long way from being profitable.

Could a sale be on the cards?

Our vision is to provide patients with medicines. If we see that we can achieve this goal more quickly, we would be willing to consider it. But selling is not currently under consideration. I have already founded a number of companies. Some were sold too early, even though we could still have helped them progress through one or more growth phases. I am convinced that Clinerion will succeed in that regard.

Do you consider the lack of growth financing to be a problem for the Swiss start-up scene?

Most certainly. Good technologies tend to be sold off too early because their owners cannot find the money they need for the next major milestone, typically for the global expansion phase.  

What do you suggest?

Imitating Silicon Valley will get us nowhere. Also because costs there are unacceptably high at the moment. We really need to focus on our strengths. Just to give you one example: twice as many startups are established at ETH Zurich each year than at UC Berkeley. When universities foster a supportive environment, a start-up community develops all on its own. The students I meet at ETH are ambitious and full of energy. I also note, however, that many Swiss students prefer the security of working in a large corporation. We need a greater willingness to accept risk. We need to work on it.

How do you see innovation hub Basel?

We have good access to the sector here, and we can also recruit staff from neighbouring Germany. The labour market is therefore less competitive than in Zurich for example. We feel right at home here in Basel.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Annett Altvater

About Ulf Claesson
Ulf Claesson studied production technology at Chalmers University in Gothenburg and also gained a management degree at the University of St. Gallen. He worked for IBM and Hewlett-Packard, established spin-offs for various companies, and founded his own start-ups. In his lecture on "Technology Entrepreneurship" he passes on his experience as a "serial entrepreneur" to students at ETH. He is a member of the board of directors of various companies, the Foundation Board Director of the AO Foundation, and has been the CEO of Clinerion since 2012.

report Innovation

University of Basel and ETH Zurich co-found the Botnar Research Centre in Basel

19.09.2018

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BaseLaunch’s second round – 10 projects enter Phase I

18.09.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

"I want to turn innovative research into new drugs"

04.07.2017

Each year some 250,000 patients develop a type of cancer because of faulty communication between cells. This malfunction occurs in what is known as the NOTCH signal path. There are currently no effective treatments – but this is set to change. Cellestia Biotech AG is developing an innovative drug against this type of cancer by using a novel active ingredient that selectively attacks the malfunctioning cell communication. The drug could be used to treat leukaemia, lymphomas and solid tumours such as breast cancer.

In 2014 Professor Freddy Radtke and Dr Rajwinder Lehal, who had dealt with this subject in his dissertation, founded the company Cellestia Biotech AG. In 2015, an experienced team of pharmacology and oncology development specialists led by Michael Bauer came on board, investing in Cellestia as co-founders. Bauer and his team had previously spent several years examining various projects in an effort to help shape the development of such a start-up company. We spoke with him about the risks and implications of founding a company.

Interview: Stephan Emmerth

Mr Bauer, how long did you have to look before you found a project you wanted to invest?

Michael Bauer: Over the course of many years and alongside my regular jobs, I and my colleagues examined, evaluated and rejected a number of projects – sometimes more intensively, sometimes less. Some of the projects were great, some being unbelievably innovative. However, something always led us not to pursue a project in the end.

The search did not just cost you a lot of time, but also a lot of money as you have to conduct due diligence every time.

We of course had to put effort into the search. You could say that we identified, examined and evaluated projects acting similar to a small venture fund. Thanks to the make-up of our team, we were able to undertake many of the tasks ourselves, at times bringing in experts. There were many instances when specialists from our network assisted us. There was a considerable amount of good will. To some extent we footed the bill ourselves.

Why did this not work out before Cellestia?

A number of conditions have to be met. The basis is of course excellent, innovative research results protected by patents. Also important are ownership rights to the inventions and reasonable licencing terms. Finally, there has to be agreement on the expectations of the people involved in the project. We have experienced pretty much everything. Many times it emerged over the course of the investigation that, for example, the research data was not quite so convincing as had initially been presented. Or the expectations with respect to the licencing conditions were too far apart. In one project, they wanted to sell us patents that had expired. It often happens that the scientists have unrealistic ideas about the value of their project. One retired professor who had tried in vain for many years to finance his company expected us to try for five per cent of the shares. This is of course not the basis for a partnership.

Juggling research and entrepreneurship is a big challenge, isn’t it?

It is necessary to develop an understanding of the relations and contributions of the various partners involved in such a project, each of who have very different personal risks. On the one hand, there is some 20 years of basic research behind Cellestia, 11 of which were at the EPFL. Rajwinder Lehal has been working concretely on this project for the past nine years, initially as part of his dissertation, then as a post-doc and since 2014 as Chief Scientific Officer. We respect this history from the management team and are happy to have access to the resulting knowledge. At the same time, the inventor’s side has to have regard for the entire expenditure: some five million of public funds were invested over the years at the EPFL. However, it could take hundreds of millions until a product comes onto the market. Moreover, the path from the first successful experiment in lab animals until a drug is approved for human use is long. Altogether, the cost of research could be marginal in comparison to the development and marketing, amounting to only a few per cent. And the development costs are paid for by the investors, who need the investment to pay off. All of these factors have to be considered and respected in a partnership. This worked with our team.

You have many years of industrial experience. What attracted you to the entrepreneurship?

The challenge of turning ground breaking inventions into products attracted me. I consider myself a product developer and had wanted to start a company even as a student. Looking back, I have to say that I am lucky to have gained nearly 20 years of professional experience in product development as it is important to be able to understand and appreciate just how complex the challenges are in product development in life sciences and pharma. This wealth of experience also helps you understand where your own knowledge ends and when experts have to be brought on board to be able to successfully advance a project or a company.

What was the incubation from first contact until you joined as co-founder at Cellestia like?

The current Chief Scientific Officer, Rajwinder Lehal, and I had been in regular contact with each other for a number of years. At that time, however, the project was not advanced enough to establish a company. Initially, Professor Radtke, Rajwinder Lehal and Maximilien Murone founded Cellestia in 2014. We met a few times in summer 2015 with the Lausanne research and founder team at i-net, the predecessor of BaselArea.swiss. Things moved quickly from there. In just a few meetings, we were able to evaluate the project and develop a good personal understanding, which for me and my partners was very important if we were to invest in Cellestia. We could agree on matters quickly, more or less by handshake. Then came the necessary contracts and in November we were already listed in the commercial register. Our lawyer and co-founder Ralf Rosenow saw to the formalities. We decided to move the headquarters from Lausanne to Basel but to leave the research activities in Lausanne, resulting in a sort of transcantonal partnership.

Why move the headquarters to Basel?

For us, the most important argument in favour of Basel was access to talent and resources for product development, resulting from the proximity to leading pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Roche, Actelion and many others. Such access to experienced development specialists is more difficult in Lausanne. In addition, our co-founder Roger Meier and other colleagues already have an active investor network in Basel with an affinity to the sector and Basel itself. We did not have such access in Zurich or Geneva at the beginning. I personally also like the quality of work and life in Basel. The city is of a manageable size yet international, with diverse cultural offerings. Furthermore, the Basel airport has excellent connections – you are in the middle of Europe and in just one to two hours you’re practically anywhere Europe, be it London, Berlin or Barcelona. Lausanne, on the other hand, has in its favour the outstanding academic environment with the EPFL and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research. Here, too, there is an excellent environment for start-ups, but in our opinion more toward engineering and technical disciplines or medicine technology. Many companies are founded each year at the EPFL and the innovation potential is enormous, but Cellestia is the first company founded at the EPFL that seeks to bring a drug to clinical development. We are happy to be able to combine the positive elements of both regions via what is now an established approach with two locations.

Which pre-conditions were decisive enough that you ended up collaborating and founding the company?

Actually, everything was right from the very beginning. First of all, the personal atmosphere between the people involved has to be right. This was also the basis in coming to a fair agreement for all co-founders with respect to understanding the evaluation and allocating the respective shares in the company at the time it was founded. On the other hand, it was of course crucial that the substantive examination of the project – as concerns both the scientific basis and the quality of the data – and the examination of the patent as well as license conditions of the EPFL were positive. Also important to us was that the risk profile is manageable, i.e. there is a good balance between innovation and reference to the research already carried out.

How will Cellestia develop further operationally?

Cellestia already has a long history, starting with the research activities at the EPFL. When the management team was expanded in 2015, other co-founders joined at the same time that I did: Dirk Weber as Chief Medical Officer, as well as the already mentioned co-founders Ralf Rosenow and Roger Meier. Cellestia now has six employees. Then there are the numerous service and consulting mandates, which complement our internal resources as needed. If you take into consideration external services, I reckon there are now well over 100 people involved in Cellestia. We expect that we will continue to grow in the direction of clinical development as our first project progresses and further expand the team. Moreover, we would like to develop additional products in our pipeline as soon as possible. This will definitely require additional financial resources. The Board of Directors will also develop further, expanding and adapting with each financing round in order to properly represent new investors. Research work is increasingly being carried out by external services providers, and at the same time continuing in the laboratory of Professor Freddy Radtke at the EPFL. We are currently setting up new framework agreements with the EPFL concerning the further use of their infrastructure. The flexibility there is very helpful for us.

What are the next milestones?

A key milestone is the treatment of the first cancer patients. We hope to be able to treat the first patients in October.

How are the clinical studies organised?

The course of a clinical trial for new drugs is strictly regulated. In the Phase I study, the compatibility of the active ingredient is first examined. This is when we treat patients who are suffering from a form of cancer in which NOTCH most likely plays a role. In the following Phase II study, the efficacy of our drug is researched in different types of cancer. This is when we select patients in whom activation of the NOTCH signal path is detected with a Cellestia diagnostic method. The therapeutic benefit for these patients is therefore very likely.

Have there been any surprises so far?

No, not really, because we have considered everything. Or yes, but pleasant surprises: due to the considerable amount of preparatory work, we were already quite certain with respect to the effect mechanism. It has now finally been possible to detect the precise binding mechanism of the drug, which confirmed all former studies. This is also the basis for significantly expanding the programme. We can now build a new platform on whose basis we can generate new drugs for new indications. In addition, it was not that easy to manufacture the drug in large quantities and in a high quality. Innovative steps were needed, which ultimately leads to a patent.

What do you have in mind for the next five years?

We are very optimistic about Cellestia’s prospects for success and are planning the next couple of years in detail. We of course also have a plan for the overall development over the next five years, but as experience shows, such plans always change with the results obtained. This is also the fascination and challenge in medication development – it does not allow you to plan everything in detail, and you have to respond flexibly to new results. This also applies to possible setbacks, of course. It is important to have sufficient reserves to deal with these and resolve them. Thanks to the successful financing rounds that we could close in January 2017, we are in a position to begin with Phase I while at the same time pursue further financing.

Who has invested in Cellestia so far?

The first investors after the deposit of the initial capital were predominantly many of our advisors, i.e. experts who are familiar with the sector as well as private people involved in life sciences and the pharma sector as investors. Around one-third of the shareholders are experts from the pharma and life sciences setting. Over the course of the Series A, B and C financing rounds, larger investments from family offices also came. The first institutional investor, the PPF Group, invested after its own, extensive due diligence that was conducted by experts from Sotio. So far, we’ve been able to mobilise a total of CHF 8 million to drive product development at Cellestia. In preparation of the next financing round, we are in talks with private investors, venture funds and pharmaceutical companies. We are confident that we will be able to win good partners for Cellestia’s next phase. The right combination of partnerships and financing is important. We need strong partners on board to give patients access to our medications quickly.


About
Michael Bauer (born 1966) has been CEO at Cellestia since November 2015. He studied chemistry at the University of Hamburg and completed his doctoral in biotechology from 1994 to 1997 at the Hamburg-Harburg University of Technology. After working in metabolic research at Zeneca in England, he moved to Syngenta in Basel in 2001 where he worked as Global Regulatory Affairs Manager in project and portfolio management. From 2007 to 2009 he was a project leader at Arpida, a biotech firm in the field of antibiotics development. From 2009 to 2012 he was a Global Program Manager at Novartis where he led global development projects in the field of oncology and brought a range of products to clinical development. From 2012 to 2015 he was the Head of Clinical Development at Polyphor.

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Roivant is creating a buzz in Basel

13.06.2017

Roivant Sciences, a fast-growing life sciences company from the US, recently opened its global headquarters in Basel. In celebration of their newly established location, Roivant, together with BaselArea.swiss, invited stakeholders from the life sciences sector to “Halle 7, Gundeldingerfeld” in Basel on June 8th 2017 for a panel discussion on the future of healthcare.

More than 150 guests were interested in hearing this success story first-hand from Roivant Sciences’ founder and CEO, Vivek Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy, a member of the renowned “Forbes 30 Under 30” list and also named a “prodigy” by Forbes magazine for the biggest biotech IPO in US history, gave a trenchant keynote speech before being joined by a panel of experts from Basel’s pharma and biotech industry.

Ramaswamy explained his mission: “We concentrate on promising science and passionate people to systematically reduce the time, cost and risk of bringing new medicines to market”, he said. Roivant Sciences buys and develops drugs that are shelved by other large pharmaceutical companies, and that are stuck in the middle of the drug development traffic within the organization. Ramaswamy’s mission is to create an “alternative highway” by bringing together top talent in drug development and other industries and focus on those assets within lean and dynamic structures. Ramaswamy is certain that data will make the difference in bringing drugs speedily to market.

Roivant Sciences is the umbrella company of five (and the number growing!) late-stage biopharma companies in different therapeutic areas: Axovant tackles dementia, Dermavant deals with dermatology, Myovant focuses on women’s health, Urovant concentrates on urology and Enzyvant develops therapies for patients with rare diseases. All Roivant-family companies can tap into standard capabilities built at Roivant, while each company can develop capabilities of their own to address their specific market requirements.

Settling in Basel without red tape

In his speech, Ramaswamy also made a case for Basel as a headquarters location: “Different nationalities are coming together in this place, three different languages are spoken on the street.” Although relatively small, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft would be “punching way above their weight”. He also mentioned the thriving biotech scene and the deep humanistic tradition in Basel. In addition, Ramaswamy thanked the Basel authorities for lowering barriers in setting up a business: “There was no red tape. They made setting up here a pleasure.”

During the subsequent panel discussion, Vas Narashimhan, Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer at Novartis, Jonathan Knowles, Chairman of the board of directors at Immunocore Limited, David Hung, CEO of Axovant and Vivek Ramaswamy discussed the future of healthcare. Moderated by Alethia de Léon from BaseLaunch, the conversation included topics such as data collection, and critical questions about the current challenges and opportunities of the pharma industry were raised. Big data and biomarkers were some of the highlighted topics as potentially helping to address some of the R&D productivity issues the industry is currently facing. 

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A molecular assembly line to cure the body

08.06.2017

Imagine that certain forms of blindness could be cured. Or imagine that the body itself could produce a cure for some of its own diseases. These may be just some of the results of the National Centre of Competence in Research Molecular Systems Engineering (NCCR MSE). Its long-term goals are to create molecular systems and factories for the production of high added-value chemicals and develop cellular systems for new applications in medical diagnostics, therapy and treatment. Director Thomas Ward is aiming high: He wants to make Basel the leading hub for the next European flagship project. At stake: one billion euro.

Interview: Ralf Dümpelmann

Thomas Ward, you are the director of the NCCR MSE. How did you end up in this position?

Thomas Ward: During my work at the University of Neuchâtel we became curious about artificial metalloenzymes. For instance, we could take ruthenium ion that nature does not have much of at its disposal, and incorporate it in a protein to yield an artificial metalloenzyme. Pursuing this curiosity driven pathway, my group became more and more interested in biological questions. Ultimately I wanted to collaborate with molecular biologists – and this is one of the main reasons why I moved to Basel. When I arrived here nine years ago, the ETH Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) had just moved to Basel. That led professor Wolfgang Meier, then head of the Department of Chemistry at our university, to initiate talks with the D-BSSE which were very productive. In the end, he and co-director professor Daniel Müller set out for a National Centre of Competence and Research that ultimately got funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

What was the goal when starting the NCCR?

Wolfgang Meier and Daniel Müller saw the opportunity to start a collaboration between biologists who relied quite heavily on chemistry and chemists who can provide the required chemical building blocks to address challenging biological questions. This is scientifically a very unique match. In my view this is also reflected in the most important aspect in the title of our NCCR – molecular systems engineering – namely the systems aspect.

Do you build artificial biological systems with the help of chemistry?

At the end of the road, we want to reproduce the properties and the complexity of a living system. There are two ways to get there. The chemical way is to take a compartment, put objects inside one by one and see what evolves. That is the bottom-up approach. On the other hand, a biologist takes a complex system and knocks out components, one at a time. In doing so, biologists focus on computing a system. And they are doing this very well. They can control things, even without fully understanding the molecular details of such systems. These two approaches meet at some point, and that is where our NCCR comes into play.

What could a potential end result look like? A small golem?

If you take the definition of what is life, there are a few features that we are definitely not trying to mimic. We are rather focusing on an artificial organelle, something that you could introduce into a living system and which would work in a living system, but which does not have all the features of a living system itself. I like to call such components molecular prostheses. It is like an artificial Lego block that fits into living systems. There we are already quite advanced.

Can you explain how the work of the NCCR is structured?

The network is planned to work over twelve years, split in three phases. There are roughly 30 groups associated with this NRCC, with some 20 in Basel. When there is somebody outside of Basel who has a competence that we need, they can be integrated to the network. That might be people in the Paul Scherrer Institute or at the University of Bern, for instance.
We are now approaching the end of the first phase of four years. The first step for us as chemists is to synthesise and assemble molecules into modules, an assembly of several molecules. For example, Sven Panke at the D-BSSE and myself synthesise artificial enzymes. Daniel Müller of the D-BSSE on the other hand manipulates pore proteins which allow to control the trafficking of substrates and products in and out of a cell. The goal is assemble an artificial organelle containing two or three enzymes and to introduce this prosthesis inside a cell. With that we can complement the natural metabolism of a cell with an artificial metabolism to produce new chemicals. At the end of the first phase, we ideally want to have solved the module’s problem. In the second and third phase, we can then focus on creating molecular factories and cellular systems.
Ultimately, a chemical factory could produce something that could be useful and a cellular system could be used to cure a disease. For both of these goals, you need a molecular assembly line, much in the spirit of what Henry Ford developed in the early twentieth Century, but at a molecular scale.

Do you already get a stable system out of these assembly lines?

Yes. The question is, however, how stable and for how long. We have systems that function in a cell for two weeks. Whether this is enough to cure a disease remains to be demonstrated.

What benefits may come out of it?

Our aim is to change the way biology and chemistry work in the long term. It is a risky strategy, but with a potentially high payoff.

What would be the high payoff?

You put a molecular or cellular system in the body and it treats or cures a disease.

When will that be feasible?

There are two systems, which are already very well advanced. Both were initiated and funded by the NCCR. Botond Roska of the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research has developed a system that can be injected into the eye to regain vision. This system will enter clinical trials in Winter 2017. It is based on genetic engineering, where you have to inject DNA so that your eye starts to produce pigments again. The other one is aimed at curing diabetes. Your fat cells are re-programmed into cells that are capable of producing insulin. They are then injected into your body and allow you to autonomously produce insulin when the body needs it.

Will these ideas be used in start-ups?

Yes. There are already two start-ups that were created in the past three years. The diabetes treatment is also seriously being looked at for a start-up. The SNSF wants to see things like that. It wants us to bring our research to an advanced stage.

You are organising the International Conference on Molecular Systems Engineering in Basel at the end of August. What is its main goal?

It is a challenge to organise such a conference because people who attend conferences like to talk to specialists in their fields. In our case, we want to apply our approach to a number of different fields. There will be outstanding speakers, but we have to convince people that it is worth looking at the subject from a broader perspective. The good news is that there are similar projects in Europe, in the Netherlands and in Germany. We will have a pre-conference, where graduate students from these other projects can exchange experience and ideas with students from the NCCR.

Is the conference a step to the European level?

Four years ago, the EU funded so called flagship projects. One of them was the Graphene project in Manchester, the other one the Human Brain project at the EPFL in Lausanne. These flagships have a budget of a billion euro. It seems that Europe will have a second round of such flagship projects in a few years. Our aim is to apply for the funding together with our partners in Germany and the Netherlands which would ensure the development of molecular systems engineering at a European level in the future.

In unique events the conference combines art and research. What is the idea behind this special mix?

It is about communication and ethics. We asked ourselves how we can talk about our research as it is quite complex for lay people to understand. One answer is to interact closely with artists and see if they can show their interpretation of what we do, and hopefully this would speak more to the public. We worked with artists hoping that they might rise interest in our research. Furthermore we can engage the public in a dialogue about ethical questions.

When will this dialogue start?

At our conference the argovia philharmonic will present a composition based on illustrations and videos we have provided them with. On the same day, we will also have a public ethics debate. We have brought in an editor of “Science” who will animate the debate and there will be three people debating. We hope one of them will be a bioethics officer of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the two others will be scientists.

What was for you the scientifically most exciting aspect of this NCCR?

When we started, we had a very broad approach and we had quite a number of curiosity-driven research projects. Without it, we would not have come as far as we did in these three years. For the second phase – we have just submitted the pre-proposal – we are much more focused.

What do you hope to achieve at the end of the NCCR?

If we only get one product in use this would already be a very nice achievement. Imagine, for example, that we could say: This NCCR has cured some forms of blindness.

About:
Professor Thomas Ward, born in 1964 in Fribourg, is the director of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering. He heads the Ward Group at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Basel. The group’s research focuses on the exploitation of proteins as a host for organometallic moieties with applications in catalysis as well as in nano-biotechnology.
Ward studied organic chemistry at the University of Fribourg. He wrote his PhD thesis at ETH Zurich. He did a first postdoc with Roald Hoffmann at Cornell University in theory and then a second postdoc in Lausanne. He was then awarded an A. Werner Fellowship and moved to Bern where he obtained his habilitation. He moved to Neuchâtel in 2000 and to Basel in 2008. He was awarded a prestigious ERC advanced grant in 2016 and the 2017 Royal Society of Chemistry award in Bioinorganic chemistry.

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“I see a very innovation-friendly climate in Basel”

12.04.2017

It all began with research resources that were a quarter of a century old. Simon Ittig and his colleagues at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel turned these into a research project – and eventually a start-up. T3 Pharmaceuticals develops new therapies to treat solid tumours.

How did T3 Pharma come about?

Simon Ittig: I completed my doctorate at the Biozentum in Professor Guy Cornelis’ group, which dealt primarily with a secretion system of bacteria. Bacteria require these needles to inject proteins into cells and establish their pathogenesis. My doctoral supervisor discovered this mechanism 25 years ago and had researched it ever since. When I completed my doctorate in 2012 and Professor Cornelis retired, I was able to take over many resources such as bacterial strains and study protocols. As a postdoc in another group at the Biozentrum, I dealt with the question of how proteins can be transported rapidly into cells. This brought me back to my collection of bacterial strains, as they are by nature exactly the same. In a short time, I succeeded in showing that such a protein transport does in fact work – and rapidly, efficiently and synchronously. This potential enthralled my research colleagues and me.

What precisely can this technology be used for?

If you have bacteria that transport specific, for example human, proteins into cells, then you can stimulate these cells as you like. It has long been known that bacteria migrate to solid tumours. Accordingly, we focused on the field of solid tumour oncology and could achieve impressive results in a surprisingly short amount of time. We now have bacteria that grow specifically in a tumour over an extended period of time. We can also now program these in such a way that they produce certain active ingredients and pass them into the cells – precisely to where these substances can take effect. Our technology is very stable.

Was it obvious to you that you could go ahead and start a company with this idea?

Yes, this idea came relatively early. We received the first financial support from CTI, the Cancer League and smaller foundations when we were still just academic researchers. It was already clear then that we wanted to become self-employed with our protein transport technology. Founding our own company was even one of the conditions for further research funding from CTI. The Biozentrum supported us in many ways when we were spinning off. As before, the patents belong to the university, but we have an exclusive global license.

How did you finance T3 Pharma?

In the beginning and also subsequently we received substantial amounts of research funding. However, the funds are generally restricted to salaries and materials. Foundations mainly want to finance the actual research work. At some point you reach a limit, which is why we began to actively look for investors for our company.

With great success. What played a decisive role?

First of all, you have to have the right business idea. Second, you need a good amount of mutual trust. The whole set up should be able to accompany the company for several years. If every couple of years you need a few months to secure the next financing round, then this ties up too many resources, creates a lot of uncertainty and distracts from your research activities. For this reason, we looked – and found – investors who had the financial opportunities and necessary understanding, who believe in us and are ready to go the distance with us.

So were you in a privileged position where you could also turn investments down?

Maybe. I’m convinced that you shouldn’t accept every offer if you don’t have to. We carefully examine the conditions connected to the financing and also want to get a sense of the investors’ intentions. It’s also recommended that you keep your options open. If you become content with something too early, it can become very expensive later on.

You have received over 2 million francs from foundations. Is this unusually large for a start-up?

The effort for such financing is of course also very high, especially at the beginning when you can’t yet show proof of your achievements or have yet to receive any research grants. It’s crucial to bring experienced people on board at an early stage. This gives the foundations the necessary certainty when it comes to the project’s feasibility. It’s also important to appreciate smaller amounts. I’m also very grateful that I could learn a lot about the art of writing applications from an experienced and successful scientist, Professor Nigg. With Prof Nigg from the Biozentrum and Prof Christofori from the Department of Biomedicine, we had formed a professional and interdisciplinary consortium from early on. Without these two experienced professors our company wouldn’t exist in its current form.

How high then was the success rate?

I would estimate that half of our requests have been met with a positive result until now.

You’ve come far with this foundation funding, but you’re taking the next steps with the support of private investors. Is this better than turning to venture capital companies?

We of course looked at both alternatives. Private and institutional investors are not mutually exclusive. But we prefer private people because they are generally alone or in small committees and can decide quickly if they want to invest or not. A second point: it’s also important to me personally that we develop an idea together of the next few years and work towards these goals. The interactions, the shared vision and the sense of similar values bring a great amount of pleasure and confidence. It just has to be ‘right’, professional and personal.

How do you go about finding private investors?

Actually, this only goes via a good network and our experienced consultants. In contrast to venture capital firms, private investors tend to remain discretely in the background. It’s therefore important to think early on about the positioning of your own company, the team and its technology. A well-planned communication also helps. Once the ideas are known, it’s easier to get in touch with the right people. If you win someone over in a discussion, there’s a good chance that a private investor will get involved.

What are your next steps?

The financing of T3 Pharm is secured for the time being. We can therefore concentrate on our research and then validate our technology and prepare for preclinical development. As CEO, I’m working outside of the laboratory for the time being while my four colleagues are focussing fully on the research.

What is your long-term vision?

We want to bring our technology for use in patients. This is the major driver in our day-to-day work. How and when we will achieve this goal, I still can’t say today. And also whether or not T3 Pharma will still be an independent company. Who knows what the future holds. We’re therefore open and focused first and foremost on our research.

How do you see the local ecosystem for young entrepreneurs?

We have a good connection to the university and appreciate the open doors. If you trust people and approach them, you receive a lot of support. I see a very innovation-friendly climate in Basel. Of course the large life science cluster creates an incredibly positive environment for start-ups like us. And how BaselArea.swiss promotes innovation also helps in an uncomplicated way when it comes to meeting the right people.

And yet when it comes to start-ups, Basel lags behind other places. What needs to be done?

Nothing works without self-initiative and perseverance. If you have both, you’ll find the best conditions here in Basel and Switzerland. If I had one wish, it would be to more strongly institutionalise the informal exchange at the university. Earlier input from experienced professionals on a start-up idea could help young researchers gather the self-confidence for the next steps and be more successful in presenting their own ideas to a committee. Rejections can be quite discouraging sometimes.

Are there so many ideas that get buried before they’re even given a chance?

Yes, there are, and I find it a real pity. It’s not a matter of course for many people to stand up in front of others and say “I want this, I can do this, and I’ll do it”. Only a few young researchers trust themselves to overcome such a big hurdle and also pursue a project in the face of obstacles. Many talented young scientists remain on the academic track and continue to publish up until the train leaves for a start-up. It would help if they could discuss their ideas informally, without having to shout it from the rooftops. I’m convinced that there would be even more innovative start-ups. Once this hurdle is overcome, you get an unbelievable amount of support even from professors in other fields encouraging you to continue. This is what happened to me.

And was does your doctoral supervisor say about T3?

He’s extremely happy for us. Guy Cornelis also provides us with scientific advice and helps us where he can. The relationship has also since changed and has become very friendly.

About:

Dr Simon Ittig studied biochemistry and biotechnology at the universities of Bern, Vienna and Strasbourg and graduated from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel in microbiology. The start-up T3 Pharmaceuticals grew out of the research project Type 3 Technologies – Bacteria as a versatile tool for protein delivery.

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Swiss are among the happiest people in the world

20.03.2017

Switzerland is one of the four happiest countries in the world, according to the latest World Happiness Report. The study looks at GDP per capita, trust in government and business, and other social factors relating to well-being.

Switzerland is the fourth happiest country in the world, according to this year’s World Happiness Report. Along with Norway (first place), Denmark (second place) and Iceland (third place), the Swiss are among the happiest in the world. As the report’s authors point out, the differences among the top four countries are very low and they tend to swap places each year. Switzerland came in first place in 2015.

The top 20 countries in this year’s ranking include Finland (5), Canada (7), Israel (11), Costa Rica (12), the US (14) and Germany (16). At the bottom of the list is the Central African Republic.

International researchers analysed a total of 155 countries for this year’s report, taking into account both national data and the results of surveys conducted on the self-perception of residents. Factors such as GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, perceived absence of corruption in government and business, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity as measured by donations are compared.

 

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Startup accelerator BaseLaunch aims to attract promising healthcare ventures to Basel, Eur...

22.02.2017

BaseLaunch, Switzerland’s new accelerator for healthcare startups, provides handpicked ventures with access to the Basel region’s life sciences ecosystem. BaseLaunch has been initiated and is operated by BaselArea.swiss, supported by Novartis Venture Fund, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Pfizer, and partners with digitalswitzerland’s Kickstart Accelerator.

BaselArea.swiss, the office for promoting innovation and inward investment for the northwest cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura, today announced the launch of Switzerland’s new healthcare startup accelerator BaseLaunch. Harnessing the Basel region’s unique position as a global life sciences hub, as well as its rising popularity among investors and a program tailored to healthcare entrepreneurs, BaseLaunch is looking to attract the next generation of breakthrough companies.

“A healthy and well-endorsed startup scene is necessary to bolster and further expand the elite position of Switzerland’s exceptional life sciences economy,” stated Domenico Scala, President of BaselArea.swiss. “Switzerland has much catching-up to do in this regard and BaseLaunch is a strategic initiative to fill this gap.” “The expertise of BaselArea.swiss in connecting innovators and supporting entrepreneurs enables BaseLaunch to be extremely focused on the unmet needs of healthcare startups while at the same time contributing to the excellent Swiss innovation landscape, particularly in the life sciences arena,” added Dr. Christof Klöpper, CEO of BaselArea.swiss. As the designated healthcare vertical of digitalswitzerland’s Kickstart Accelerator and a partner of established public and private bodies, BaseLaunch is closely aligned with key national and regional initiatives. BaseLaunch has already garnered support from global biopharmaceutical companies and innovation champions Novartis Venture Fund, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Pfizer. These healthcare partners are engaging with BaseLaunch to find and support transformational innovations that solve unmet medical needs. “BaseLaunch aims to support the best healthcare innovators and offers them fast access to founder-friendly venture grants, insights, industry access and state-of-the-art infrastructure. We want to enable and individually guide them to become fully embedded into the life sciences value chain,” explained Alethia de Léon, Managing Director of BaseLaunch.

The program consists of two phases, which extend over a total of 15 months. During the first phase, lasting three months, entrepreneurs work closely with the BaseLaunch Team as well as a network of entrepreneurs-in-residence, advisors and consultants to further develop their business cases. Financial support through BaseLaunch can be as high as CHF 10,000 per project. Up to three startups accepted for the second phase will receive the opportunity to secure a one-year grant of up to CHF 250,000 to generate data and reach business plan milestones in the labs at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area.

BaseLaunch accepts applications for the inaugural acceleration program cycle until June 30, 2017. Additional program cycles will start in late 2018 and 2019. A Selection Committee of industry experts will handpick the ventures invited for each program cycle.

 

Comments from BaseLaunch healthcare partners

Richard Mason, Head of the Johnson & Johnson London Innovation Centre:
“This program offers grants and lab space to selected startups - with no strings attached - illustrating that what we want to create here is an optimal environment for startups that focuses on supporting transformative science and great ideas in Switzerland.”

Dr. Anja König, Managing Director, Novartis Venture Fund:
“We are pleased to help energize the Basel region’s center of gravity for European healthcare ventures, offering startups the support they need to accelerate their ideas.”

Uwe Schoenbeck, Chief Scientific Officer, External Research and Development Innovation & Senior Vice President, Worldwide Research and Development, Pfizer:
“Through Pfizer’s support of BaseLaunch, we hope to advance the pace at which promising science is translated into potential medicines.”

 

report Production Technologies

So bringt uns die Technologie 4.0 weiter

06.08.2018

report Production Technologies

L’impression 3D, des technologies en plein développement dans les sciences de la vie

18.07.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Blogging, tweeting, sharing and liking: BaselArea.swiss goes social media

09.02.2017

BaselArea.swiss has a new social media presence. At its heart is the Innovation Report, which serves as a blog regularly providing information on important issues from our services segments and technology fields, as well as delivering important information for the innovation landscape of Northwest Switzerland. The Innovation Report offers the opportunity to filter, share and comment on innovations.

BaselArea.swiss on LinkedIn
On LinkedIn we not only have a presence with a general company page, but also have four so-called showcase pages on our services segments Invest in Basel Region, Connecting Innovators, Supporting Entrepreneurs and Accessing China. These are managed by our experts and offer a broad view of activities and events both in Northwest Switzerland and further afield. We love to attract followers – also on the general company page, which provides information primarily on events or regional news.

Even more interaction and up-to-date information from the various fields of innovation are promised by our LinkedIn groups Life Sciences by BaselArea.swiss, Medtech by BaselArea.swiss, Micro, Nano & Materials by BaselArea.swiss and Production Technologies by BaselArea.swiss, which are administered by the respective Technology Field managers. They keep visitors who are interested in these fields informed about the latest developments in the technologies concerned both in Northwest Switzerland and further afield.

Special groups on LinkedIn
BaselArea.swiss also has another three LinkedIn groups: 3D Printing Schweiz, Entrepreneurs in Northwestern Switzerland and Precision Medicine Group Basel Area. In the Precision Medicine Group, industry experts from Novartis, Actelion and Roche, together with BaselArea.swiss, form an open and highly specialized community of experts, researchers and entrepreneurs. The aim is to tap into the growing digitalization with a view to developing new chances and opportunities for the life sciences and healthcare industry.

The aim of the 3D Printing Group is to document the rapid development of this technology worldwide and invite those interested to share their thoughts and comments. The Entrepreneurs Group is designed for people who have already benefited from our services and also investors, experienced entrepreneurs and SMEs that would like to know what young entrepreneurs in the region need and what drives them.

BaselArea.swiss also on Twitter and Xing
@BaselAreaSwiss tweets on Twitter. Whether you keen to receive notice of events, the latest news, information on interesting innovations from partners or even just an amusing story, BaselArea.swiss keeps you up to date here with its own contributions, retweets and favourites.

BaselArea.swiss is also represented on Xing with a company page. Here we provide regular information on exciting events and innovations in a wide range of fields from the north-western region of Switzerland.

Look us up on the social media channels and get in touch!
We look forward to a lively exchange of ideas and hope to gain lots of new followers.

Link list

Innovation reports: Link
Twitter: Link
Xing: Link
LinkedIn BaselArea.swiss
company page:
Link                                                                  
LinkedIn showcase pages: Invest in Basel Region
Connecting Innovators
Supporting Entrepreneurs
Accessing China
LinkedIn technology groups: Life Sciences by BaselArea.swiss
Medtech by BaselArea.swiss
Micro, Nano & Materials by BaselArea.swiss
Production Technologies by BaselArea.swiss
Other LinkedIn groups: 3D Printing Schweiz
Entrepreneurs in Northwestern Switzerland
Precision Medicine Group Basel Area

 

Article written by Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss  

report Production Technologies

Le Salon Be 4.0 à Mulhouse réunit les industriels européens

03.07.2018

report ICT

JELLIX IIoT Plateform, un pas de plus dans l’industrie connectée

03.07.2018

report BaselArea.swiss

Basel initiative supports life sciences start-ups

01.02.2017

BaseLaunch, an accelerator initiative launched and run by the location promotion organisation BaselArea.swiss, is a new partner of the start-up accelerator Kickstart. Life sciences start-ups will be promoted through a second Kickstart programme.

BaseLaunch, which will be launched on 22 February, is an accelerator initiative that aims to create the next generation of groundbreaking healthcare companies in the Basel region, according to a BaselArea.swiss announcement. The collaboration with Kickstart, one of the Europe’s largest multi-corporate start-up accelerators and an initiative of digitalswitzerland, will contribute towards accomplishing this objective. Kickstart is now starting a second programme.

“With the second edition taking place in Zurich and the extension of the programme to Basel, Kickstart will be one step closer to becoming the largest European start-up accelerator,” said Nicolas Bürer, managing director of digitalswitzerland, in a Kickstart statement. Kickstart describes Basel as a life sciences “hot spot” and says that the partnership will make it possible to “tap into the unexplored innovation potential”.

Kickstart Accelerator will select a shortlist of up to 30 start-ups that will be given the opportunity to develop their ideas in an 11-week programme at Impact Hub Zurich. In addition to life sciences, start-ups from the food sector, fintech, smart cities, and robotics and intelligent systems are also eligible.

The start-ups will receive support from experienced mentors and partner companies, and will have the chance to win up to CHF 25,000 as well as receiving a monthly stipend.

“Cooperation between the start-ups and corporate partners will allow the entrepreneurs to benefit from the corporates’ know-how and large customer networks, as well as enable them to develop new technologies and disruptive products together,” commented Carola Wahl, head of transformation and market management at AXA Winterthur, one of the corporate partners.

Interested start-ups can apply at Kickstart Accelerator.

 

report Invest in Basel region

Speedboat Meets Supertanker

02.07.2018

report ICT

Panalpina promotes digital technologies

26.06.2018

report Invest in Basel region

Roivant Sciences establishes global HQ in Basel

19.12.2016

Basel – The biopharmaceutical company Roivant Sciences is opening its global headquarters in Basel. Several of its affiliates are also moving to Basel. The city is a hub for pharmaceutical innovation and talent.

BaselArea.swiss assisted Roivant Sciences and its affiliated companies in evaluating and relocating to the site. The business location promotion organisation for northwest Switzerland welcomes the new companies to the region and is pleased that such exciting and fast-growing companies chose Basel for their headquarters.

"Roivant's mission is to reduce the time and cost of developing new medicines for patients," said Vivek Ramaswamy, founder of the Roivant group of companies, in a statement announcing the new global headquarters in Basel. "We believe this location in the hub of European pharmaceutical innovation and talent will support our vision."

With offices in the US, Switzerland and Bermuda, the biopharmaceutical company pursues innovative drug development, collaborating closely major industry players such as Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline and Takeda Pharmaceuticals. Roivant Sciences specialises in the fields of neurology, oncology, endocrinology, dermatology, and hepatology.

Several Roivant Sciences affiliates have opened their headquarters in Basel simultaneously, according to the statement. One of them is Axovant Sciences Ltd., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the treatment of dementia.

From its new headquarters in Basel, Axovant  Sciences intends to “build a fully integrated organization to manage global commercial and medical strategies, manufacturing and supply chain, intellectual property, and other business functions,” said Mark Altmeyer, President and Chief Commercial Officer of Axovant Sciences. “Our presence in Basel will provide access to a high-quality talent pool that will be key to our future success."

report Invest in Basel region

Rhine ports become digital pioneers

21.06.2018

report Precision Medicine

Artificial Intelligence – the Holy Grail to Healthcare Innovation?

21.06.2018

report ICT

Dr App – Digital transformation in the life sciences

30.11.2016

The future belongs to data-driven forms of therapy. The Basel region is taking up this challenge and investing in so-called precision medicine.
An article by Fabian Streiff* and Thomas Brenzikofer, which first appeared on Friday, 14 October 2016, in the NZZ supplement on the Swiss Innovation Forum.

So now the life sciences as well: Google, Apple and other technology giants have discovered the healthcare market and are bringing not only their IT expertise to the sector, but also many billions of dollars in venture capital. Completely new, data-driven, personalized forms of therapy – in short: precision medicine – promise to turn the healthcare sector on its head. And where there is change, there is a lot to be gained. At least from the investor’s point of view.

From the Big Pharma perspective, things look rather different. There is quite a lot at stake for this industry. According to Frank Kumli from Ernst & Young, the entry hurdles have been relatively high until now: “We operate in a highly regulated market, where it takes longer for innovations to be accepted and become established.” But Kumli, too, is convinced that the direction of travel has been set and digitalization is forging ahead. But he sees more opportunities than risks: Switzerland - and Basel in particular - is outstandingly well-positioned to play a leading role here. With the University of Basel, the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering ETH, the University of Applied Sciences Northwest Switzerland, the FMI and the University Hospital Basel, the region offers enormous strength in research. It also covers the entire value chain, from basic research, applied research and development, production, marketing and distribution to regulatory affairs and corresponding IT expertise. The most important drivers of digital transformation towards precision medicine include digital tools that allow real-time monitoring of patients – so-called feedback loops. The combination of such data with information from clinical trials and genetic analysis is the key to new biomedical insights and hence to innovations.

Standardized nationwide data organization
In rather the same way that the invention of the microscope in the 16th century paved the way to modern medicine, so data and algorithms today provide the basis for offering the potential for much more precise and cheaper medical solutions and treatments for patients in the future. At present, however, the crux of the problem is that the data are scattered over various locations in different formats and mostly in closed systems. This is where the project led by Professor Torsten Schwede at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) comes into play.

As part of the national initiative entitled Swiss Personalized Health Network, a standardized nationwide data organization is to be set up between university hospitals and universities under centralized management at the Stücki Science Park Basel. Canton Basel-Stadt has already approved start-up funding for the project. The standardization of data structures, semantics and formats for data sharing is likely to substantially enhance the quality and attractiveness of clinical research in Switzerland – both at universities and in industry. There is no lack of interest in conducting research and developing new business ideas on the basis of such clinical data. This was apparent on the occasion of Day One, a workshop event supported by BaselArea.swiss for the promotion of innovation and economic development and organized by the Precision Medicine Group Basel Area during Basel Life Sciences Week.

More than 100 experts attended the event to address future business models. Altogether 14 project and business ideas were considered in greater depth. These ranged from the automation of imaging-based diagnosis through the development of sensors in wearables to smartphone apps for better involvement of patients in the treatment process.

Big Pharma is also engaged
“The diversity of project ideas was astonishing and shows that Switzerland can be a fertile breeding ground for the next innovation step in biomedicine,” Michael Rebhan from Novartis and founding member of the Precision Medicine Group Basel Area says with complete conviction. The precision medicine initiative now aims to build on this: “Despite the innovative strength that we see in the various disciplines, precision medicine overall is making only slow progress. The advances that have been made are still insufficient on the whole, which is why we need to work more closely together and integrate our efforts. A platform is therefore required where experts from different disciplines can get together,” says Peter Groenen from Actelion, likewise a member of Precision Medicine Group Basel.

There is also great interest among industry representatives in an Open Innovation Hub with a Precision Medicine Lab as an integral component. The idea is that it will enable the projects of stakeholders to be driven forward in an open and collaborative environment. In addition, the hub should attract talents and project ideas from outside the Basel region. The novel innovation ecosystem around precision medicine is still in its infancy. In a pilot phase, the functions and dimensions of the precision medicine hub will be specified more precisely based on initial concrete cases, so that the right partners can then be identified for establishing the entire hub.

Leading the digital transformation
The most promising projects will finally be admitted to an accelerator programme, where they will be further expedited and can mature into a company within the existing innovation infrastructures, such as the Basel Incubator, Technologiepark Basel or Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area.

Conclusion: the Basel region creates the conditions for playing a leading role in helping to shape digital transformation in the life sciences sector and hence further expanding this important industrial sector for Switzerland and preserving the attractiveness of the region for new companies seeking a location to set up business.

* Dr Fabian Streiff is Head of Economic Development with Canton Basel-Stadt

report Invest in Basel region

Basel insurtech makes insurance easier

19.06.2018

report Innovation

Endress+Hauser drives IoT solutions with SAP

11.06.2018

report Production Technologies

Production Technologies – der neue Bereich von BaselArea.swiss

02.11.2016

Derzeit reicht es nicht aus, einfach zu produzieren. Unternehmen müssen zu geringeren Kosten produzieren, sparsam mit Ressourcen umgehen, die Wünsche der Kunden berücksichtigen – alles in kürzester Zeit und möglichst ohne Lagerbestand. Neue Produktionstechnologien versprechen Lösungen. Additive Fertigung, Robotik oder Internet of Things: Die Produktion von Gütern wird sich in den nächsten Jahren stark verändern.

Neu bearbeitet BaselArea.swiss den Fachbereich „Production Technologies“. Die Region Basel ist gekennzeichnet durch die Präsenz von High-Tech-Unternehmen, die komplexe, qualitativ hochwertige Produkte zu hohen Lohnkosten herstellen. Die Lage Basels an der Grenze zum Elsass und zu Baden bietet ihnen eine echte Chance für den Austausch und die Zusammenarbeit zur Verbesserung der Wettbewerbsfähigkeit sowie zur Entwicklung neuer Geschäftsmodelle.

Im Zentrum des Technologiefelds Production Technologies steht der sorgfältige Umgang mit Ressourcen und der Einsatz von sauberen Technologien. Der Fokus liegt dabei auf den folgenden 6 Bereichen:

  • 3D-Druck, additive Fertigung: BaselArea.swiss organisiert Informations- und Networking-Veranstaltungen sowie Workshops zu diesem Thema und den neuen Geschäftsmodellen. Darüber hinaus existiert eine LinkedIn-Gruppe mit rund 100 Forschern und Themenbegeisterten. 
     
  • Industrie 4.0: In Zusammenarbeit mit Schulen und Forschungszentren bietet BaselArea.swiss Informationsveranstaltungen und technologieorientierte Networking-Veranstaltungen auf regionaler und internationaler Ebene. Darüber hinaus bringt der Technology Circle „Industrie 4.0“ Unternehmen zusammen, um sich zu informieren und das Know-how in der Region weiter zu entwickeln.
     
  • Organische und gedruckte Elektronik: Die druckfähige Elektronik hat das Auftauchen neuer Produkte ermöglicht, beispielsweise OPV, OLED oder Anwendungen in den Bereichen Gesundheit oder Sensoren. BaselArea.swiss initiiert die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Unternehmen und Forschungszentren bei technischen Projekten sowie im Vertrieb und entwickelt zusammen mit der Industrie ein Netzwerk von Kompetenzen im Rahmen des Technology Circles „Printed Electronics“.
     
  • Effizienz bei der Nutzung von Ressourcen und Energie in der Produktion: Im Rahmen eines Technolgy Circles hat BaselArea.swiss ein Netzwerk von Unternehmern aufgebaut, das diesen regelmässigen Austausch pflegt.
     
  • Wassertechnologien: Die effiziente Nutzung von Ressourcen steht im Mittelpunkt. Die Forschung konzentriert sich auf Problemstellungen wie Mikroverunreinigungen, die Rückgewinnung von Phosphor oder auch die im Wasser vorhandenen antibiotikaresistenten Gene. Einmal pro Jahr veranstaltet BaselArea.swiss eine Veranstaltung in Zusammenarbeit mit der Hochschule für Life Sciences der Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (FHNW).
     
  • Biotechnologien für die Umwelt: Die Nutzung von lebenden Organismen in industriellen Prozessen ist nicht neu, gewinnt aber an Bedeutung, zum Beispiel bei der Behandlung von Ölunfällen. Dank Biokunststoffen aus erneuerbaren Rohstoffen (wie Lignin) bieten ökologischere Lösungen echte Alternativen zu den herkömmlichen chemischen Prozessen. BaselArea.swiss organisiert regelmässig Veranstaltungen zu diesem Thema und schafft Verbindungen zwischen Forschern, Industrie und Verwaltung.

Die gemeinsame LinkedIn-Gruppe „Production Technologies by BaselArea.swiss“ zählt heute bereits 46 Mitglieder, die sich gegenseitig über die neuesten Entwicklungen in den oben genannten Gebieten austauschen. Die Gruppe ist offen für neue Teilnehmer – melden Sie sich an!

Wenn Sie Interesse am Austausch mit Unternehmern und Forschern zum Thema „Production Technologies“ haben oder weitere Informationen über unsere Services wünschen, dann kontaktieren Sie einfach Sébastien Meunier (siehe Kontaktdaten links).

report Medtech

A Miracle in Innovation from Switzerland Innovation Park Allschwil

05.06.2018

report Innovation

Innovation made in Jura at the EPHJ EPMT SMT Trade-Show from 12 to 15 June

05.06.2018

report Medtech

“This is the century of biology and biology for medicine”

05.10.2016

Andreas Manz is considered one of the pioneers in the field of microfluidics and at present is a researcher at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Saarbrücken (KIST Europe) and professor at Saarland University.

In our interview, the successful scientist explains the motivation that drives him to research and what it means to receive a lifetime achievement award from the European Patent Office.

You are known as a pioneer of microfluidics. How did you come to start researching in a completely new field?
Andreas Manz*:
Even as a child I was really fascinated by small things. They were mostly stones, insects or bugs that I took home with me. This interest in small things stayed with me, and eventually I went on to study chemistry at the ETH Zurich. In my PhD thesis I examined the natural law of molecular diffusion. If you entrap two molecules in a very small volume – rather like two birds in a cage – they cannot get away and become faster. I was instantly fascinated by this acceleration. My professor Willy Simon, an expert in chemical sensors and chromatography, talked in his lectures about processes can also get very fast when they are reduced in size. And that instantly fascinated me.

But so far you have been talking about pure chemistry – when did you get the idea of using chips?
I started working for a company in Japan in 1987. That’s where I first came into contact with chip technology. I was part of the research department myself, but I kept seeing colleagues disappearing into cleanrooms and coming back with tiny chips. That inspired me and got me wondering whether you could not also pack chemistry onto these chips instead of electronics. After all, even the inner workings of the tiniest insect involves the transportation of fluid, so it should also work on a small chip. At Hitachi I was eventually able to get my first microfluidic chip produced for test purposes.

From Japan your journey then took you to Ciba-Geigy in Basel. What prompted that move?
Michael Widmer was then Head of Analytical Chemistry Research at Ciba-Geigy in Basel. This brilliant fascinated me from the word go: he had the vision that you should also integrate crazy things in research and not only look for short-term financial success. Industry should allow itself to invest in quality and also develop or promote new methods in the research activities of a company if it could be of benefit to the company. So Professor Widmer brought me to Basel, where it was my mission to pack “the whole of chemistry”, as he put it, on a single chip. While Michael Widmer did not yet know what to expect, he had a feeling that it could be worthwhile.

How did you go about it?
At that time, chips were very new and not entirely appropriate for the world of pharmaceuticals. Ciba-Geigy, too, was not enthusiastic about the new application initially. There was no great interest in making changes to existing technologies and processes that worked. But in my research I was able to try out what might be possible. I found, for example, that electrophoresis – a method for separating molecules – could work. It would be relatively easy to miniaturize this method and test it to see whether it also speeds up the process. And the results were very good: We were able to show that a tenfold miniaturization of electrophoresis makes the process 100 times faster without compromising the quality of the information. This realization was really useful for clinical diagnosis and the search for effective molecules in drug discovery. At the same time, we were also testing different types of chips that we sourced from a wide variety of producers.

When did the time come to go public with the new technology?
At the ILMAC in Basel in 1996, Michael Widmer organized a conference in the field of microfluidics – which proved to be a bombshell. We had planned for this effect to a large extent, because in the run-up to the meeting we had already invited selective researchers and shown them our work. This hyped things up a little, and at the conference we were eventually able to mobilize researchers from Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, Japan and other countries to present the new technology of microfluidics.

Although the attention was there, Ciba-Geigy nevertheless later brought research in this field to an end. Why was that?
Basically we lacked lobby groups within the company and a concrete link to a product. Our research was somewhat too technical and far ahead of its time, and within Ciba-Geigy they were simply not yet able to assess the potential of the technology. Added to which, we had not given any concrete consideration to applications; we were more interested in the technology and experiments than in its commercial use. When a large picture of me then appeared in a magazine with a report on microfluidics, and the journal pointed out on its own initiative that Ciba-Geigy was not adequately implementing the technology, the research was stopped. I was quite fortunate under the circumstances: Since the company had terminated the project, I found that – despite a non-compete clause – I was able to follow the call to Imperial College in London within a short time, where I could continue research in microfluidics with students. In addition, I joined a company in Silicon Valley as consultant.

Is it not typical that a large company fails to transform a pearl in its portfolio into a new era?
You should not see it so negatively, because microfluidics was a pearl not for the pharmaceutical industry, but rather for environmental analysis, research or clinical diagnosis. The pharmaceutical industry dances to a different tune. It prefers to buy in the finished microscope at a higher price than get it constructed itself for relatively little money. Michael Widmer and his team in research and analytical chemistry at Ciba-Geigy developed many things in a wide variety of fields – with which were far ahead of their time.

Microfluidics is an established field today. What are the driving forces now?
To my mind there are two driving forces: firstly the application and the users and secondly academic curiosity as regards the technology and also training. The first of these is the stronger driving force: there are cases in which the application of a microfluidic solution is not absolutely necessary to do justice to the application. Take “point of care”, for example. The objective is to analyse a patient directly at the place where he or she is treated – for example, in intensive care. The patient is evaluated, blood and respiratory values are analysed, and it is possible to assess immediately whether the measures taken are having an effect in the patient. Another possibility is to integrate the widest variety of analytical options in smartphones – similar to the Tricoder in Star Trek. I’m pretty sure that something like that is feasible. But at the moment the hottest topic in the commercial sector is clinical diagnostics. This came as a surprise to me, because you cannot reuse a chip that has come into contact with a patient’s blood. You need a lot of consumable material, which is also reflected in the price. But perhaps new funding models can be found in which, for example, the device is provided, but the consumable material – i.e. the chips – are paid for separately, rather like a razor and razor blades.

Where do you see opportunities for Switzerland in this field?
The education of qualified people is important. Here the ETH and EPFL play a particularly important role for Switzerland, because they attract students from all over the world. They hopefully leave Switzerland with good memories and could possibly campaign later for the commercialization of technologies. That could be a huge opportunity. Of course there are also generous people within Switzerland, but there is a tendency here to economize and think twice before deciding whether and, if so, where to invest one’s money. It’s a question of mentality and not necessarily typically Swiss. It’s also not a bad thing, because in precision mechanics, for example, reliability and precision are essential – and this technology fits with our mentality. “Quick and dirty” works better in Silicon Valley and Korea – but the products then often fail to ensure up to the quality standards here. As a high-price island, Switzerland offers little, opportunity for cheap production, which is why the focus is on education and existing technologies. This too is very important and has a good future.

Will microfluidics one day become as big as microelectronics is today?
I don’t think so, because it is limited to chemical and cytobiological applications and is also not as flexible as microelectronics. At most, I see the new technology being used on existing equipment or processes.

But most of the systems on the market today are very much closed, so it is difficult to integrate new technologies here.
Yes, but that’s only partly true, because existing devices also have to be upgraded. Take a mass spectrometer, for example. You can buy one of these, and there are certainly many companies that sell this equipment. But if ten companies offer something equivalent, you have to stand out from the mass. So if a “Lab on a Chip” is added on, then this mass spectrometer enjoys a clear advantage. While the company makes money from the sale of the equipment, it is the microfluidic chip that gives the incentive to buy – and there is certainly a lot of money to be made from this. You see, we are living in the century of biology and medicine and are only just beginning to takes cells from the body to regenerate them and then perhaps re-implanting them as a complete organ. When you see what has been achieved in physics and electrical engineering in the last century, and translate that into biology and medicine, then we have an awful lot ahead of us. Technology is needed to underpin these radical changes. SMEs in particular are very good at selling their products to research; that’s a niche. In most cases, small companies use old technology and modify it – such as a chip in a syringe that then analyses directly what the constituents of a fluid are when it is drawn up into the syringe. This opens up many opportunities.

You have also co-founded companies, but describe yourself mainly as a researcher. How do the two go together?
Actually I was never an entrepreneur, but always just a scientific advisor. I preferred to experience the academic world instead of becoming fully engaged in a company. Deep down, I’m an adventurer who comes to a company with wild ideas. Money is also never a priority for me; I always wanted to improve the quality of life or give something to humanity. It is curiosity that drives me. When I see a bug that flies, that drives me to find out how it works. There are ingenious sensors in the tiniest of creatures, and as long as we cannot replicate these as engineers, we still have work to do. This inspires me much more than quarterly sales revenue and profits.

But money is also an important driver for research.
Yes, it’s all about money, right down to university research. Research groups are commissioned by companies because of the profit they hope to gain. Even publicly funded research always has to show evidence of a commercial application. Curiosity or the goal of achieving something of ethical value is hardly a topic in the engineering sciences. Of course it’s important that our students can also enter industry; after all, most of the tax revenue comes from industry. But if I personally had the freedom to choose, then I would prefer to pursue work as a form of play – which can by all means result in something to be taken seriously. Take electrophoresis on a chip: That was also quite an absurd idea to begin with, and it led to something really exciting! A lot of my work therefore has a playful, non-serious aspect to it – for me that is exactly right. You see, I can produce a chip which deep inside it is as hot as the surface of the sun, but which you can nevertheless hold in your hand. It’s crazy, but it works, because only the electrons have a temperature of 20,000 Kelvin. The glass outside does not heat up very much as a result, and the chip does not melt. And suddenly you have plasma emission spectroscopy on a chip as the result of a crazy idea. I feel research calls for a certain sense of wit, and I often like to say that, with microfluidics research, we take big problems and make them so small that you can “no longer see them”.

You have covered so many areas of microfluidics yourself – are other researchers still able to surprise you with their work?
Admittedly, I am rather spoiled today by all the microfluidic examples that I have already seen. Sometimes I feel bored when I go to a microfluidics conference and see what “new” things have emerged – I somehow get the feeling I’ve seen it all before. The pioneering days, when there was also a degree of uncertainty at play, are probably definitely over. Today you can liken microfluidics to a workshop where you get the tools you need at any given time. This means of course that the know-how has also become more widespread: Initially I possessed perhaps a third of all knowledge about microfluidics worldwide; today it is much less. So I now enjoy casting my research net further afield.

You received a lifetime achievement award from the European Patent Office last year. What does this award mean to you?
You cannot plan for an award – at most you can perhaps hope for one. When you then get it, it brings a great sense of joy. The award process itself was also exciting: as with the Oscars, there were three nominees: a Dutchman who developed the coding standard for CD, DVD and Blu-ray discs, which is still used to this day, and a researcher from Latvia who is one of the most successful scientists and inventors in medical biochemistry with more than 900 patents and patent applications. Faced with this competition, I reckoned I did not have much chance of the award and was absolutely astonished when I was chosen. The jury explained that its decision was down to the snowball effect: citations almost always refer to my patents at the time with Ciba-Geigy.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

*Andreas Manz is a researcher at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Saarbrücken (KIST Europe) and professor at the Saarland University. He is regarded today as one of the pioneers in microchip technology for chemical applications.

After positions in the research labs of Hitachi in Japan and at Ciba-Geigy in Basel, he took up a professorship at Imperial College in London, where he headed the Zeneca-SmithKline Beecham Centre for Analytical Chemistry. In the meantime he was also a scientific advisor for three companies in the field of chip laboratory technology, one of which he founded himself. In 2003, Manz moved to Germany and headed the Leibniz Institute of Analytical Sciences (ISAS) in Dortmund until 2008.

Around 40 patents can essentially be attributed to him, and he has published more than 250 scientific publications, which have been cited more than 20,000 times to date.

report Invest in Basel region

Accenture Talks Disruption through Artificial Intelligence

05.06.2018

report Precision Medicine

5 take-aways from the digital nudges in healthcare event

28.05.2018

report Micro, Nano & Materials

The Chemical Industry is ALIVE in the Basel region!

07.09.2016

“The chemical industry is dead…” this was the provoking first sentence of the invitation to the Business Event «Chemical Industry: Opportunities in the Basel area», Sept. 1st 2016, at Infrapark Baselland (Link). And it really provoked the speakers to demonstrate the opposite! Over 90 people gathered at the Infrapark Baselland to listen to the stories of change and new successes.

Thomas Weber, cantonal counciler of Baselland, welcomed the audience. “The benefits of Chemical Parks” were quite obvious after the talk of Dr. Ulrich Ott, Head of Clariant Europe – make your own core process, but buy everything else, from analytics to logistics and technical services. Currently, the third wave in park development just happens: the business incubation of new companies.

Distribution of chemicals and prototype testing
Three speakers from three different companies at the Infrapark illustrated very nicely the different benefits for different needs. Dr. Albrecht Metzger of Bayer Crop Science Schweiz AG illustrated the very successful expansion of the production facilities of Bayer Crop Science. Within 8 years, the number of employees triplet and more than 100m CHF investments were taken to expand and improve the production. The engineering and services of the Infrapark were essential for this success.

Smart distribution of chemicals and conditioning is the core business of Brenntag, as Dr. Thomas Heinrich, of the Brenntag Schweizerhall AG explained. With a global turnover of over a billion Swiss Francs, there is no question that a company can make money by just distribution! Their service adds real value to the supply chain. At the Infrapark, there are not only many users of chemicals, there is also a very smart distribution system established by the right mix of tanks and piping. This saves the chemical companies a lot of own handling, decreases truck movements and increases safety. Really a smart business – right at the Infrapark.

The facilities provide also the ideal location for young companies. AVA Biochem has patented processes to turn sugars into valuable chemicals which might make plastic bottles 100% renewable. Already 20 tons per year of 5-HydroxyMethylFurfural (5-HMF) can be produced in Muttenz, as Dr. Thomas M. Kläusli of AVA Biochem BSL AG explained. This test production is the prototype for much larger capacities – and it is ideally suited at the Infrapark with all the infrastructure and the fast responses of the different service units.

Chemical industry economically important for the region
The chemical industry is very well alive! Renaud Spitz, Head of Infrapark Baselland AG and Country Head Clariant Switzerland, explained how Clariant developed the vision of an Infrapark in 2011 at what benefits it already has today for 15 different companies. Vaguely, he outlined an even larger vision of a great common Infrapark in this area with benefits for many stakeholders, even though the realization might take many years. Finally, Thomas Kübler of Economic Promotion Baselland, illustrated how important the chemical industry is economically for this area. He reminded us also that many products for the pharma industry are being produced chemically, even though pharma and chemistry are often taken as two very different industries.

In conclusion, a very impressive demonstration of the strength of the chemical industries here. Definitely, the chemical industry is very much alive in this region!

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BaselArea.swiss welcomes Biopharmaceutical Company Ultragenyx

06.07.2016

BaselArea.swiss Economic Promotion is pleased to announce that Ultragenyx, a biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of novel products for rare and ultra-rare diseases based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, is opening their European headquarters in the city of Basel, Switzerland. Stefano Portolano, M.D., has been appointed Senior Vice President and head of Ultragenyx Europe. In this role, Dr. Portolano will be responsible for building and leading the Ultragenyx commercialization efforts across Europe and developing the company's European organization.

«Ultragenyx selected Basel as our European headquarters because of the area’s thriving life sciences community, accessibility to the rest of Europe, business-friendly environment and strong international talent pool,» said Dr. Portolano. «On behalf of Ultragenyx, I would like to thank the team at BaselArea.swiss for their partnership throughout this process, as they have been invaluable as we look to establish our European presence and help bring promising therapies to patients throughout the region. We are focusing on key hires to establish necessary capabilities so that we are ready to launch if we receive approval, and we are confident we will be able to find and attract key talents in Basel».

Dr. Portolano brings over 20 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry, in medical, commercial and general management roles in both Europe and the United States. He has worked both on pre-launch and launches of products for rare diseases, both at Genzyme and Celgene. Before joining Ultragenyx, he spent ten years at Celgene Corporation in increasing leadership roles, most recently as Vice President of Strategy & Commercial Operations, EMEA. Prior to Celgene, he worked at Genzyme for eight years. Dr. Portolano received his M.D. degree from Federico II University in Napoli, Italy. He completed his postdoctoral fellowship and served as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

About Ultragenyx
Ultragenyx is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company committed to bringing to market novel products for the treatment of rare and ultra-rare diseases, with a focus on serious, debilitating genetic diseases. Founded in 2010, the company has rapidly built a diverse portfolio of product candidates with the potential to address diseases for which the unmet medical need is high, the biology for treatment is clear, and for which there are no approved therapies.

The company is led by a management team experienced in the development and commercialization of rare disease therapeutics. Ultragenyx’s strategy is predicated upon time and cost-efficient drug development, with the goal of delivering safe and effective therapies to patients with the utmost urgency.

The company's website for more information on Ultragenyx

About BaselArea.swiss
BaselArea.swiss is responsible for the international promotion of the economic region of Basel, Switzerland. In a joint effort, the economic promotion agencies of the Swiss cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, and the Jura support expansion and relocation projects of foreign companies, and offer consulting services to entrepreneurs and startups. The identification and procurement of suitable real estate and properties for international and national companies is an important service of BaselArea. BaselArea’s consulting services for interested parties are provided free of charge.

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«We will be certificating the world’s first autonomous robotic surgical device»

04.11.2015

The laser physicist and entrepreneur Alfredo E. Bruno is co-founder and CEO of the medtech start-up Advanced Osteotomy Tools (AOT) in Basel. Their surgical robot «Carlo» (acronym for Computer Assisted, Robot-guided Laser Osteotome) is an award-winning project (Pionierpreis 2014 and CTI MedTech 2015). The company will exhibit «Carlo» at the Swiss Innovation Forum 2015 on 19th November.

In the i-net interview, Alfredo E. Bruno explained his roadmap for AOT and what drives him to be an entrepreneur.

You are a laser physicist – what brought you to medtech?
Alfredo E. Bruno*: My younger daughter needed difficult orthognathic surgery to correct conditions of the jaw and face. This brought me into contact with Professor Hans-Florian Zeilhofer and Dr. Philipp Jürgens from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the University Hospital Basel. I was worried about my child, but the surgeons devoted a lot of time to explain the procedure to us. Their pre-operative approach to surgery fascinated me more and more. I asked the surgeons why they were not cutting bones with a miniaturized laser instead of mechanical tools to best reproduce the software-planned intervention. In another project, I had developed a laser of this kind to cut and drill through nails. At this point, we all realized that we could create something very useful together.

How did you gain your knowledge in surgery?
I had absolutely no idea about surgery until I met the surgeons – despite the fact that my father was a rural medical doctor. Indeed, when I see a drop of blood, I panic. But I wanted to know more about this new type of planned and navigated surgery the surgeons were talking about. I managed to find a good 160 publications and about 20 patents in the field, read them during vacations and became a «theoretical» surgeon. Reading these documents, I noticed that Professor Zeilhofer appeared as co-author in many of these publications and realized that he knew a lot about pre-operative planning and navigation. I started to design «Carlo» from scratch using all available state-of-the-art technology, and trying not to be biased by the robotic surgery products already on the market. What worried me most was the software, which is crucial to integrating the whole system. Hans-Florian Zeilhofer introduced me to Professor Philippe Cattin, an expert in navigation who liked the idea from the outset. He was the «missing link» to the realization of «Carlo».

Was it always clear that «Carlo» would be the goal of AOT?
As an entrepreneur, I made it very clear from the beginning that I wanted to have a product rather than a nice academic idea. Instead of writing a business plan, we first applied for patent protection of the innovations. The business plan came afterwards with a business model in which we at AOT would only focus on core technologies and would outsource the technologies mastered by other companies under contractual partnerships in order to reduce development time.

Were you ever afraid that AOT might fail?
While writing the business plan, I clearly saw that there was a need for our product. We had the right founder’s team, but I was worried about the funding, because there was a global economic crisis and investors had become cautious. Therefore, I decided to talk to a few experts I knew in the start-up media in Switzerland before launching the initiative. They reviewed the AOT case and encouraged me to pursue the project, because it was truly innovative and, for this kind of project, they argued that there are always funds available in Switzerland. And indeed, with our first pitch in BioBAC, we gained a lead investor. Shortly afterwards, we won the three stages of Venture Kick and I was then asked to participate in the Swiss Venture Day of CTI Invest to make a pitch. Despite some doubts I had about the completely new surgical device, many potential private and institutional investors were literally queuing right after my presentation to talk to me about the «Carlo» device and AOT as an investment opportunity.

Why do you think your pitch attracted potential investors?
I think the every one of the technical founder’s team had a remarkable technical record which inspired trust, and I also have a good entrepreneurial record, all of which make up the ingredients investors are looking for to fund new projects. The pitch is key to convincing investors. We cannot afford to devote much time to making «professional» slides, but the audience realizes that we have an unbeatable project and know what we are doing; and they can see during the Q&A sessions that we are very authentic.

In the beginning, you faced some criticism with regard to the feasibility of a complex medical device such as «Carlo». Do you still face negative reactions?
No, not anymore! When I started speaking of «cold» laser ablation, many physicists questioned this paradoxical term. Today, after we assessed the remaining surfaces of the bones and captured the ablation process with thermal cameras showing that this cutting method is even cooler than mechanical cuts, nobody has any doubts about our assertion anymore. Another critical issue raised by some experts was depth control. Some argued that we would never be able to have depth control working in real time. Again, this is no longer an issue.

You recently presented this depth measurement system for the first time. How does it work?
With the help of external academic partners we developed a laser interferometric method suitable for our device that provides not only the depth of the cut but also its width right after every laser shot so its entire profile can be reconstructed in real time. This «probing» laser beam is co-axially mixed with other visible pointing laser beams to ensure that the surgeon can observe the cut on the monitor. There are many computer-controlled processes such as the depth control running in parallel during some of the tasks. They are processed by a microprocessor which sends values that are already calculated to the «Carlo brain» to decide what to do next. With this software technology, we are pushing the envelope in three disciplines: laser physics, data processing and synchronization.

Could this know-how be used for other applications in or beyond surgery?
As pioneers in this field, we encounter many new problems to solve. But on the other hand, once we have found the solution, we file for patent protection and, in this way, we’re strengthening our patent protection. Some of these innovations could be used for other applications, but we have to remain focused on one thing: getting device certification. Once we «put our foot on the moon», we could follow up on other options with the technology we have discovered.

It sounds as if you are not facing any difficult situations anymore with AOT?
Problems are constantly arising, but we have a very professional and courageous team that brainstorms the problems at hand in complete transparency and always comes up with one or more solutions. Although scientists are trained to present nice results in conferences while leaving the bad results aside, we are upfront with the bad news. If a problem appears, it’s immediately brought to the attention of the team so we can find a solution together.

What in your opinion are the key factors for an innovative company?
Everyone knows what the main ingredients for innovation are: You have to have a product that addresses a need, a unique proprietary technology, the right people and the financial means. However these ingredients do not guarantee success, and many start-ups that have these ingredients fail. The causes of failure are often underestimated, but should be addressed in the risk analysis of the business plan. A classical killer of technological innovation is when investors strategically decide to sell the start-up to an established competitor. But the buyer wants to get rid of a potential competitor! A possible antidote is to have a good legal adviser. A lawyer can help you to set clear goals for the steps after the acquisition and implement penalties in the contract. Also, it is good to keep the founders of the company in-house, because these people are part of the success and often the «engine» of a start-up.

What makes Switzerland a good place for you to launch a medtech start-up?
I have worked with people and projects in a few countries. What I find unique in Switzerland is the scientific family: Everybody knows each other and has close relationships. For instance, when the issue of a suitable depth control appeared, we spoke to other scientists who had solved similar problems for eye surgery. They came up with friendly and open advice without speculating on what the benefit would be for them. This is by no means the rule in other countries, where often knowledge is seen as power. But the free flow of information in this country is crucial in ambitious high-tech projects.

Where do you see room for improvement of entrepreneurship in Switzerland?
Switzerland already ranks as leader when it comes to innovation, but I see there are three things that could be changed to foster even more innovation – namely, the no-risk mentality, the fear of failure and the loss of reputation. The Swiss education system teaches students to avoid risks instead of focusing on the possible reward associated with a risk. Indeed, the word risk has a negative connotation in Switzerland, but entrepreneurship without risk is as hypothetical as perpetual motion.
How can we overcome our fear of failure? One recipe for passing an exam is «to do the homework in time to get a good sleep the night before». In a high-tech start-up, this recipe means firstly drafting a comprehensive and realistic business plan and strong IP protection. Failure is part of the game, and the question needs to be how fast you can get back up after getting knocked down, not whether you are going get knocked down.
Regarding the loss of reputation, people look at you with suspicion when you’re trying to build your own company based on an unusual idea. And your employer may think you’re not happy with the job. But large established companies don’t have the framework for promoting new ideas. They should support their employees to pursue their own ideas and get trained on founding a new company.

What drives you as an entrepreneur?
I have always tried to do things I like and am capable of realizing. I have always been a curious person. As a child, I built rockets and blew the fuses in our house with my experiments – for example – to split water into O2 and H2 with 240 volts! My grandfather, who was a full-blooded entrepreneur, also taught me the basics of entrepreneurship. I guess the ideal situation for high-tech entrepreneurship is a «born scientist» with a flair for entrepreneurship, as management skills can be acquired.

Do you have any entrepreneurial role models?
Columbus has always fascinated me since childhood. Only later did I realize that he was an incredible entrepreneur who first had to convince the queen to get funds and had to overcome many odds. He definitely had the intelligence, the passion and the courage required to literally embark on such a project. And although pirates are not exactly good role models, they were excellent start-up entrepreneurs. Pirates planned their attacks rigorously in advance, had to get funding or develop advanced boats with higher masts to sail faster. Their structure was similar to a start-up nowadays, and they even had the equivalent to stock option plans, where the loot was distributed among all the hierarchies in proportion to their performance.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Alfredo E. Bruno holds an M.Sc in Quantum Chemistry and a PhD in Laser Physics from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada). Alfredo came to Munich in 1985 as an Alexander-von-Humboldt fellow followed by a teaching position at the University of Zürich. In 1988 he joined Ciba-Geigy and later Novartis where he accumulated more than 25 years of experience in biomedical, preclinical and clinical research in joint projects with Spectra Physics and Chiron Diagnostics.

At Novartis, Alfredo Bruno invented Transungual Laser Therapy for nail diseases, which was the basis for the spin-off of TLT Medical Ltd in 2004, where he was the sole founder and CTO. After three years of successful operation under his leadership, TLT Medical was sold to Arpida Ltd in 2007, where he became the Head of Antifungals. In 2009, he co-founded FreiBiotics in Freiburg (Germany), where he was CEO until mid-2011. In 2011, he co-founded Advanced Osteotomy Tools (AOT), where he is the CEO. He has published over 35 peer-reviewed publications and holds more than 15 patents and has been on the editorial board of three international scientific journals.

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«As an entrepreneur you have to be a little paranoid»

07.10.2015

Adrian Bult, the Basel private investor and member of various boards of directors, is an acknowledged expert with an in-depth knowledge of Switzerland’s ICT sector. Since March 2013, he has been engaged on a voluntary basis as head of the i-net Technology Field ICT. In this interview he explains that makes entrepreneur types and why he is convinced that Switzerland could quite easily produce the next Google.

What’s it like being a Business Angel in Switzerland?
Adrian Bult*: Basically I have an exciting life. I am constantly confronted with new ideas and incentives. I have to do with young entrepreneurs, and that is very enriching for me.

Do you also mean that in a literal sense?
Certainly, because I am primarily interested in the content and people. So I also don’t see myself as an investor but as an interested developer of companies.

You invest above all in ICT – are there enough interesting cases?
Yes, in my view there are an awful lot of good ideas in Switzerland and a distinct sense of enterprise. But most is privately funded. In this respect Switzerland is unique. There is probably no other country anywhere in the world where so much in the way of financial resources flows into innovation from private investors or companies. This is also different from Silicon Valley, where enterprise is driven by a highly professional venture capital industry.

So you also have to lower your sights accordingly in Switzerland?
Yes, and Switzerland also has a small domestic market. This therefore begs the question of ambition right at the outset of any start-up. In the B-to-C segment, if you don’t step up to the plate with a global vision, then you usually have little chance from the start. Switzerland is therefore above all a country with lots of interesting niche providers – especially in the B-to-B segment.

What is lacking in most of the cases you encounter?
Switzerland has a distinct pharmaceutical, engineering and chemical culture. But a good sales and marketing culture is also important for the success of a start-up. In this respect, other countries - especially the USA, for example - have a head start. They give much more emphasis to marketing. Young technology-driven entrepreneurs in particular believe the best product will succeed. But that is often just not the case. In most cases it is the product that is marketed best that comes out on top.

But in Silicon Valley aren’t companies still being founded by techies and nerds, not by marketing people?
That’s true, but marketing has the same importance as engineering operations. If you tell someone at a party that you’re a salesman, then the reaction is usually very muted. This has to do with the fact that, in Switzerland, understatement is seen as a great virtue. Self-marketing is nothing like as important as it is in other cultures. That’s something we Swiss have to learn.

Does a start-up founder without salesman qualities have no chance?
Absolutely. How else does he want to attract investors for his project? This is where it starts. And then you also need a certain ambition. There are founders who focus on the global market from the outset. In Switzerland, this is immediately greeted with smiles. But basically this is the right attitude in order to reel in the first customer. This is also a typical approach of many technology-driven start-up founders in Switzerland: pick up the phone and work through a list of leads. Most people feel this is beneath them.

Are there other patterns you often come across in young Swiss entrepreneurs?
Something I always see especially in start-ups is an underestimation of the time that is needed to achieve the desired results. If you underestimate the time and the funding is linked to this time axis, then you have to react in good time when you see that you are going to need longer. Otherwise you run out of steam.

So you should always plan for twice as much time and money as you think?
No, that would be wrong. I’m in favour of setting a tight deadline and keeping funds short. But you have to react in good time if you see that things are getting tight. You need the pressure – otherwise you don’t move.

Can Switzerland and Europe ever produce an ICT giant?
Why not? You always only hear of Google, Airbnb or Uber. But there are also companies that are working very successfully one or two steps below this radar. There are some areas where technologically very advanced solutions are being developed in Switzerland. Such as “Over the Top” internet TV.

Does Switzerland not simply make too little of its opportunities? It is not Zurich but London that is the FinTech centre of the world today.
In Switzerland there have certainly been developments in this direction; for example, companies invested early on in e-private banking, and apps from big Swiss banks lead the field today. But a cluster has not formed around this as it has in London. Why is that? To succeed in the FinTech sector, banks have to cannibalize their own business. Under these conditions it is simply difficult to drive innovation forward within your own organization. This is why I argue in favour of cooperative ventures. Twint from Postfinance is a good example of how this can succeed.

With the coalescence of ICT and Life Sciences, the next opportunity presents itself for Switzerland and the Northwest region in particular. What needs to be done to make sure this opportunity is not missed?
Innovation arises through collaboration. Small companies often lack the know-how and the resources for major roll-outs. Established companies on the other hand lack the agility to achieve the best-possible result with few resources. I would therefore suggest approaching such issues more in project networks. It is typically just a few people in the management of large companies who decide whether an idea is good or bad. A completely different approach is taken in Silicon Valley, where there is a sponsor for any given idea. This sponsor gets together with financial investors and technical experts and interacts with them. If the idea goes down well and there is potential for improvement, then it is on the right track. If the comments are constantly negative, then it is probably the wrong way. The upshot is that, in Silicon Valley, it is the competent people with a competent opinion who are the decisive actors, not an individual in management. It is noticeable that this model is slowly coming to be accepted in Switzerland as well.

And yet Switzerland is world champion in innovation?
I would take the assertion that “Switzerland is world champion in innovation” with a very large dose of salt. Such statements just make you feel comfortable. If an innovation is in the process of redefining a market, then it can never be too soon to notice it. As an entrepreneur you have to be positively paranoid in this respect and should be constantly considering whether you are good enough and what could be improved.

It is often said that enterprise is not highly regarded in Switzerland and the willingness to take risks is given too little regard.
I feel this has changed a lot. In fact I see a lot of young people who set about projects with a very strong appetite for risk. Failure today is also no longer so serious. It is also very valuable for personal development if you have established your own company. I see young entrepreneurs today who are much further on than I was at the same age because they have established their own company.

You said at the start that in Switzerland it is mainly private individuals who invest. What could be done to ensure that even more is invested?
It could be encouraged by giving people the possibility to experience this themselves. For example, instead of investing heavily in training and continuing education, large companies could give management staff the opportunity to invest training money also in a start-up. If an MBA costs 20,000 francs, for example, the company could get the manager to pay up 20,000 francs themselves on top in order to support a small company with this capital. I’m convinced the learning effect in terms of reading balance sheets and profit-and-loss accounts or driving projects is at least as great as it is when compiling a case study at a prestigious university. If you can convey this credibly in a job interview, then this experience is just as valuable as a title.

What do you think of tax incentives for companies that create added value?
Basically I always find it positive when incentives are created for people who are prepared to take a risk. If someone takes a big risk, he should also be rewarded for this. Tax incentives are one possible way of doing this.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Adrian Bult has worked on an honorary basis for i-net as Head of ICT since March 2013. Bult is an acknowledged expert with an in-depth knowledge of Switzerland’s ICT sector. From 1998 to 2007 he was a member of the group management of Swisscom and from 2007 to April 2012 he was COO of Swiss-based bank software vendor Avaloq. Today Adrian Bult is a consultant and investor. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors at Swissgrid and Enkom Group and a member of the Board of Directors at Adnovum, Swissquote, Regent Beleuchtungskörper and Alfred Müller AG.

Adrian Bult (born in 1959) studied business administration and marketing at the University of St. Gallen.

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