Innovation Report

 
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Spirochem opens new state-­of-­the-­art Services and R&D facilities in Basel

29.09.2017

Basel – The fine chemicals company SpiroChem has relocated to state-of-the-art facilities in the Rosental area of Basel, offering the company an ideal location to significantly expand its operations. SpiroChem has also strengthened its board of directors.

SpiroChem is a spin-off of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, where it was also located until recently. According to a statement, the company is now fully operational at its new facilities in Basel.  

“We are excited to announce our move to state-of-the-art facilities in Basel. Our new set-up is ideal for interaction and collaborations with large and small organisations, providing flexibility and speed to solve problems, allowing our clients to focus on effectively designing the drugs of tomorrow,” said CEO Thomas Fessard.

SpiroChem offers new molecules, which are used in the R&D of new medications, and it is now a world leader in this industry, developing innovative solutions for the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors.

“SpiroChem intends to become a key player in Basel’s vibrant, innovation-driven, life science scene, supporting our ambition to increase our portfolio of clients and recruit talented employees to join our growing, cutting-edge company,” said Fessard.

In anticipation of the upcoming growth path, SpiroChem has also strengthened its board of directors with the appointment of Anthony Baxter, who has extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

“His industry experience and network will be invaluable as we continue to grow our portfolio of small, medium, and large pharmaceutical, agrochemical and life science clients worldwide,” added Fessard.

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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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“The Basel region should not simply be part of the transformation, but should be helping t...

07.12.2016

Dr Falko Schlottig is Director of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwest Switzerland (FHNW), in Muttenz. He advises start-up companies in the life sciences and has founded start-ups himself.

In our interview, he explains how the School of Life Sciences would like to develop, why close interdisciplinary collaboration is so important and what future he foresees for the health system.

You come from industry and have also been engaged in start-ups yourself. Is it not atypical now to work in the academic field?
Falko Schlottig*:
If it were atypical, we would be doing something wrong as a university of applied sciences. Many of the staff at the FHNW come from industry. That’s important, because otherwise we could not provide an education that qualifies students for their profession and because through this network we can drive applied research and development forwards. With our knowledge and know-how we can make a significant contribution to product developments and innovation processes.

Is this how the FHNW differs from the basic research done at universities?
It’s not about making political distinctions, but about a technical differentiation. As a university of applied sciences, we are focused on technology, development and products. The focus of universities and the ETH lies in the field of basic research. Together this results in a unique value chain that goes beyond the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland. This requires good collaboration. At the level of our lecturers and researchers, this collaboration works outstandingly well, for example through the sharing of lectures and numerous joint projects. On the other hand, there is still a lot of potential in the collaboration to strengthen the life sciences cluster further, for instance in technology-oriented education or in the field of personalized health.

Does “potential” mean recognition? Or is it a question of funding?
Neither nor! The distinction between applied research and basic research must not become blurred – also from the students’ perspective. A human resources manager has to know whether the applicant has had a practice-oriented education or first has to go through a trainee programme. It’s a question of working purposefully together in technology-driven fields even better than we do today in the interest of our region.

Are there enough students? It’s often said there are too few scientists?
Our student numbers are slightly increasing at the moment, but we would like to see some more growth. But the primary focus is on the quality of education and not on the quantity. What is important for our students is that they continue to have excellent chances on the jobs market. Like all institutions, however, we are feeling the current lack of interest in the natural sciences. For this reason, we at the FHNW are committed in all areas of education to subjects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics - or STEM subjects.

You have now been head of the School of Life Sciences at the FHNW for just over a year. What plans do you have?
We want to remain an indispensable part of the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland. We also want to continue providing a quality of education which ensures that 98 percent of our students can find a job after graduation. In concrete terms, this means that we keep developing our teaching in terms of content, didactics and structure and follow the developments of the industrial environment and of individualization with due sense of proportion. In this respect, we’ve managed to attract people with experience in the strategic management of companies in the industrial field and people from institutions in the healthcare and environment sectors to assist us on our advisory board.
In research, we will organize ourselves around technologies based on our disciplinary strengths and expertise in the future and will be even more interdisciplinary in our work. We will be helped by the fact that we are moving to a new building in the autumn of 2018 and will have one location instead of two. In terms of content, we will establish the subject of “digital transformation” as an interdisciplinary field in teaching and research with much greater emphasis than is the case today. Finally, we should not simply be part of this transformation, but should be helping to shape it.

Apropos “digital transformation”, IT will also become increasingly important for natural sciences. Will the FHNW train more computer scientists?
Here at the School of Life Sciences we are successfully focused on medical informatics; the FHNW is training computer scientists in Brugg and business IT specialists in Basel. But we also have to ask ourselves what a chemist who has attended the School of Life Sciences at the FHNW should also offer in the way of advanced IT know-how in future – for example in data sciences. The same applies to our bioanalytics specialists, pharmaceutical technology specialists and process and environmental engineers. Nevertheless, natural science must remain the basis, enriched with a clear understanding of data and related processes. Conversely, an IT specialist who studies with us at the School of Life Sciences also has to come to grips with natural science issues. This knowledge is essential if you want to find a life sciences job in the region.

Throughout Switzerland – but also especially in the Basel region – there is a lot of know-how in bioinformatics. But from the outside, the region is not perceived as an IT centre. Should something not be done to counteract this perception?
We do indeed have some catching up to do in the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland. The important questions are what priorities to focus on and how to link them up. Is it data mining – which is important for the University of Basel and the University Hospital? Or is it the linking of patient data with the widest variety of databases in order to raise cost-effectiveness in hospitals, for example? Or does the future lie in data sciences and data visualization to simplify and support planning and decision-making, which is one of the things we are already doing at the School of Life Sciences? The key issue is to know what data will serve as the basis of future decision-making in healthcare. Here it is also a question of who the data belongs to and both how and by whom the data may be used. This is one of the prerequisites for new business models. Since we are engaged in applied research, these issues are just as important for us as they are for industry. This hugely exciting discussion will remain with us for some years to come.

The School of Life Sciences at the FHNW covers widely differing areas such as chemistry, environmental technology, nanoscience and data visualization – how does it all fit together?
It is only at first glance that these areas seem so different – their basis is always natural science, often in conjunction with engineering science. The combining of our disciplines will be even better when they are all brought together in 2018, at the very latest. You can see it already, for example, in environmental technology: at first glance, you wonder what it has to do with bioanalytics, nanoscience or computer science. But the School of Life Sciences is strong in the field of water analysis and bioanalytics, and one of the biggest problems at the moment is antibiotic resistance. To find solutions here, you need a knowledge of chemistry, biology, analytics, computer science and also process engineering know-how. As from 2018/19 we will have a unique process and technology centre in the new building, where we will be able to visualize all the process chains driving the life sciences industry today and in the future – from chemistry, through pharmaceutical technology and environmental technology to biotechnology, including analytics and automation.

You’ve been - and still are - involved in start-ups. Will spin-offs from the School of Life sciences be encouraged in future?
We are basically not doing badly today when you compare the number of students and staff with the number of start-ups. But we do like to encourage young spin-off companies; at our school, start-ups tend to spring from the ideas of our teaching staff. Our Bachelor students have hardly any time to devote themselves to starting up a company. On the other hand, entrepreneurial thinking and engagement form part of the education provided at the School of Life Sciences. After all, our students should also develop an understanding of the way a company works. A second aspect is entrepreneurial thinking in relation to founding a company. The founding of a start-up calls for flexibility and openness on our part: How do we deal with a patent application? Who does it belong to? How are royalties arranged? Our staff have the freedom to develop their own projects. Our task is to define the necessary framework conditions. We already offer the possibility today of a start-up remaining on our premises and continuing to use these facilities. We have reserved extra space for this in the new building. We also make use of all the opportunities that the life sciences cluster of Northwest Switzerland offers today. This includes, for example, the life sciences start-up agency EVA, the incubator, Swiss Biotech, Swissbiolabs, the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, BaselArea.swiss and also venture capitalists, to name just a few. We are well-networked, and here too we are doing what we can to help foster the development of our region

Why do you think it is apparently so difficult in Switzerland to establish a successful start-up?
There are two factors in Northwest Switzerland that play a part: a very successful medium-sized and large life sciences industry means the hurdles to becoming independent are much higher. When you found a start-up, you give up a secure, well-paid job and expose yourself to the possible financial risks associated with the start-up. The second big hurdle is funding, especially overcoming the so-called Valley of Death. Compared with the second step, it is easy to obtain seed capital. Persevering all the way to market with a capital requirement of between one and five million francs is very difficult.

That should change with the future fund.
It would of course be fantastic if there were a future fund of this kind to provide finance of between one and two million francs. This would finance start-up projects for two or three years. In this respect, it is incredibly exciting, challenging and moving to see the whole value chain from research to product in use, to be familiar with networks and to be involved. Today this is almost only possible with a start-up or a small company. But in the end, every potential founder has to decide whether he or she would prefer to be a wheel or a cog in a wheel.

Will the healthcare sector look dramatically different in five or ten years?
Forecasts are always difficult and often wrong. The big players will probably wait and see how the market develops. The healthcare sector may well look different in five to ten years, but not disruptively different. We will see new business models, and insurers will try exploring new avenues. This may lead to shifts. At the moment we are experiencing the shift from patient to consumer. On the product side, the sector is extremely regulated, so it is not easy to launch a new and innovative product onto the market. In my view, many regulations inhibit innovation and do not always lead to greater safety for the patients, which is actually what they should do.

How could this transformation be kick-started?
I believe that we at the University of Applied Sciences in Northwest Switzerland have a major contribution to make here. For example, we take an interdisciplinary and inter-university approach collaborating on socio-economic issues based on our disciplinary expertise within strategic initiatives. In this way we are trying to our part to help find solutions or answers. Switzerland and our region in particular have huge potential in this pool of collaboration. This now needs to be exploited.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

*Prof. Dr. Falko Schlottig is Director of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) in Muttenz. He has many years of experience in research and product development and has held a variety of management positions in leading international medical device companies. Falko Schlottig has also co-founded a start-up company in the biotechnology and medical devices sector.

He studied Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry. He holds an Executive MBA from the University of St Gallen.

 

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“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 Life Sciences

The Revival of Antibiotic Research

07.05.2018

report Micro, Nano & Materials

Millions of EU funding for two researchers from the University of Basel

12.04.2018

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!

report Micro, Nano & Materials

Universität Basel feiert Kavli-Preisträger Christoph Gerber in Liestal

12.03.2018

report Micro, Nano & Materials

Basel researchers create images of atoms

23.01.2018

report Micro, Nano & Materials

«If a scientist doesn’t know how to recognise commercial potential, he won’t found a busin...

02.12.2015

Robert Sum and Marko Loparic are both entrepreneurs with a scientific background. In the i-net interview, they tell the stories of Nanosurf and Nuomedis, explain why the Basel region is a great place for their startups and what could be done to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the scientific environment.

Robert Sum, you co-founded Nanosurf in 1997, just shortly after completing your thesis. What motivated you to create your own startup?
Robert Sum*: I was motivated by the possibility of using my knowledge from university in a practical way. Towards the end of my thesis in 1995, I had the good fortune that Hans-Joachim Güntherodt was the rector, and together with the department of economic sciences he created a seminar for PhD students. The seminar was called «Start-up into your own company». My friend Dominik Braendlin and I registered for this innovative format. We had already worked together on research projects and we felt the need for a concrete application. Another good friend, Lukas Howald, approached us with the idea of Professor Güntherodt to design a simple and easy-to-use Scanning Tunnelling Microscope for schools. We liked the project and started to work on it. Luckily, the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) launched its startup initiative shortly after this. Thanks to the coaching, we were able to write our first real business plan and CTI decided it was worthy of support. Nanosurf is the only company from the first CTI support round which survived. I stayed with the company until 2014, but in 2009, I stepped back from operational management.

The next project followed immediately: Nuomedis.
Robert Sum: After Nanosurf, I started to work intensively with universities on scientific projects. This is how I met Marko Loparic. We worked together on two projects for a specific application in tissue diagnostics, which again was supported by CTI. In the end, we decided to found a «spin-out/start-off» company from Nanosurf plus the University of Basel, which became Nuomedis.

Marko Loparic, did you have any entrepreneurial background?
Marko Loparic*: I’m a medical doctor by profession. During my PhD at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, I worked with atomic force microscopy, AFM, and immediately realised that this nanotechnological device had very high potential for resolving crucial clinical questions. We saw not only great scientific potential - for example for understanding not only the mechanisms of tissue engineering, cancer development and metastasis, as well as drug activity, but also the diagnostic applications, such as early detection of osteoarthritis or cancer diagnosis. AFM helped us to explain biological functions because at the very first phase of a disease, the alterations in tissue are occurring at the nanometre scale. However, it was time consuming and very complicated using the microscope. So we developed little innovative algorithms which automated, simplified and enabled AFM applications in life sciences and clinics. At the end of my PhD studies, I spoke with my supervisors about how to commercialise all the simplifications when the collaboration with Nanosurf was initiated and the creation of the easy-to-use, AFM «Automated and Reliable Tissue Diagnostic», «Artidis», began.

What steps are planned next for Nuomedis?
Marko Loparic: We plan to take «Artidis» to the next level. From its use in physics, biology, chemistry and science, our next step is rather a big jump: to be the first company to introduce AFM technology into clinics.

This almost sounds like you had no choice but to found a company.
Robert Sum: We found an ideal situation: I had the experience to build up a company, combined with experience in technology development and knowledge of the startup environment; and Marko brought vast scientific and clinical experience at a high level. We started by thinking about the possible need and how to do business with it. Out of these ideas, we created a deck of PowerPoint slides – a lean business plan so to speak. It was clear to us that there was huge business potential which we wanted to realize.

Marko Loparic: From the start in 2005, working on the project was great, as the whole team was fully motivated. Everything developed very smoothly and nicely. Supporters even became investors, and we still enjoy a strong scientific collaboration with the Biozentrum. It’s great that the main patents are now granted worldwide – this is very important and will help us to attract further investors. Currently we are focusing on the transformation of the «Artidis» device into a clinical in-vitro medical device.

In fact, you have to create a demand among doctors and oncologists, don’t you?
Marko Loparic: At the moment, our main focus is on introducing to clinicians the breakthrough technology of nanomechanical profiling and the benefits which it brings to clinicians, hospital and patients. Our prototype is currently being evaluated and used in ongoing clinical studies at the Pathology Department of the University Hospital Basel. In the near future, we aim to confirm its effectiveness for breast cancer prognostics in order to reduce the problem of chemotherapy overtreatment. Nowadays, markers are not specific enough to distinguish with a high degree of probability which patients will benefit from chemotherapy and which will not. If we could reduce chemotherapy treatment just a fraction, we could make a big difference. Our main hurdles to entering the market are now regulatory obstacles, which we plan to overcome in the next two to three years.

How does your experience in founding Nuomedis compare with founding Nanosurf 18 years ago?
Robert Sum: Many things have changed regarding the environment. When we founded Nanosurf, the university was not focused on commercialising an idea. Business was perceived as something strange, and science was sacrosanct. This has changed dramatically. The word startup is almost a must nowadays for PhDs. Additionally, through TV shows and articles in the media, people are more aware that startups are a culture which needs to be fostered. However, starting a business is a lot of work, which has to be done with care. It is easier for me today, as I have some experience and won’t make the same mistakes again.

You support a lean startup approach – are business plans not needed anymore?
Robert Sum: I think there is a big misapprehension regarding the idea of the lean startup. A business plan is still needed - it’s essential that you know what your plans are. You need a concept, but it doesn’t have to be a book. You still need to know the basics at the very least, for example what the product is, who the customers are, where you see risks, how you produce or how you finance – to mention only a few. What lean startup means to me is that you should focus on the market and keep the customer in the centre.

Is it at all possible to use the lean startup method in the complex healthcare environment of Nuomedis?
Robert Sum: The problem in healthcare is that you don’t simply have a customer and sell a product. We are facing a complex health insurance environment based on a solidarity principle, and we have many stakeholders influencing the system, such as the hospital, the clinicians, other healthcare institutions, society or the company itself. It is indeed much more difficult to use the lean startup approach here.

Marko Loparic: Our major focus is on clinicians, and we use the experience we have in science and clinics to create awareness. Nevertheless, we are actively cooperating with other key stakeholders, such as hospitals, patient organisations, health insurers, clinical societies or government bodies, to facilitate accelerated development and keep the time to market as short as possible. Finally, at our demo site in the Pathology Department of the University Hospital Basel, we learn how the clinicians and hospital system operate, which is important to help us shape the device to match their needs. Hence, proximity to measurement site is key for the successful development and acceptance of technology, and our plan is to relocate in order to be as close as possible to the hospital.

Robert Sum: This is the typical process of understanding the market – and I think this is where Nuomedis has benefited from the lean startup approach.

How important was it for you to be in the Basel region? How does it foster your business?
Marko Loparic: Basel is a centre of nanotechnology and especially AFM, since Professor Christoph Gerber, who built the first AFM, is still active here together with many distinguished professors who are making great use of the technology to boost their scientific output. For us, Basel has all the ingredients for success: We have a city where technology is well supported and hospitals which are open-minded and ready for new technologies. Not to mention the Biozentrum and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, which offer great expertise and facilities for innovative projects.

Robert Sum: Another aspect is the economic environment of Basel with many pharma and medical technology companies. There is an entrepreneurial environment here with investments available. Not to mention the role of government: Basel-Stadt and Baselland collaborate very closely and, if we need some support for administrative issues, they are extremely open-minded and helpful.

What makes Basel a startup-friendly environment?
Marko Loparic: Positive factors in the region are its good infrastructure, both a national and international network, and its spirit of entrepreneurship. If you work in Basel, there are many options for learning how to commercialise your idea. This is true for the whole of Switzerland by the way. There are dedicated organisations and funds for each step you have to take in developing a business, ranging from CTI to investors and incubators. The i-net Business Plan Seminar was very important for me. In only one day, I learned a lot about how to construct a business. In my opinion, there is still a big gap between basic research and translational science.

Robert Sum: Either you are a good scientist or an experienced business person – it’s difficult to be both. This is an art that is nicely managed in Silicon Valley, and successful entrepreneurs become investors. And I guess something could be done here. Organisations like i-net are very important for networking ideas, and you can also find support at EVA or business parks. Not to mention Unitectra, which provides workshops for students on how to exploit intellectual property created at university. Indeed there are many supportive organisations, which can make you feel a little lost. CTI Start-up helped us to get an overview of the whole support landscape.

Marko Loparic: In my opinion, it’s all about education: If a scientist doesn’t know how to recognise commercial potential, he won’t make it. There are seminars to help, but you need an incentive to go to such seminars. What about scientists being approached from the business side? When you apply for a grant, you always need to stress the long-term outcome of your project and sometimes its commercial purpose. It would be great to have an organisation with the skills to read those grant applications and search for business potential. A person or organisation that could offer this could help create a great start-up environment.

Interview: Ralf Dümpelmann and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Robert Sum is one of the co-founders of Nanosurf AG and has served in different management positions as CEO, Head of Sales & Marketing and Business Development. During his time working in business development he managed the research collaboration with the Biozentrum for the project «Artidis», which is now the prime project of Nuomedis AG. After 17 years of management experience at Nanosurf Dr. Sum left to found Nuomedis AG with members of the Biozentrum team. Now Dr. Sum serves as CEO and member of the board.

*Marko Loparic, MD, is the key inventor of «Artidis» technology from the Biozentrum University of Basel. He managed the collaboration with Nanosurf for the «Artidis» project, which is now the prime project of Nuomedis AG. Now Dr. Loparic serves as the Chief Medical Officer and member of the board at Nuomedis AG. He is responsible for medical related concerns of the project and its implementation in the clinical setting.

report Micro, Nano & Materials

Sensors – a fantastic event about hardware, machine learning and humans

04.12.2017

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Clariant develops new growth strategy

24.11.2017

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«My experience with nanomaterials is welcomed in Bern»

10.09.2015

The company Polycompound from Sissach specializes in the incorporation of nanoparticles in plastics. Each year it processes amongst other things more than 1000 kilograms of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which are long cylindrical structures with a diameter of less than 10 nanometers. Safety in the processing of these tiny particles is extremely important, especially since the effects of CNTs in the human body have not yet been conclusively studied.

Peter Imhof, Sales Manager at Polycompound, has been working with nanomaterials himself for around 10 years. He is not only a regular guest in the i-net Technology Circle NanoSafety, but also serves as adviser to the Federal Offices for the Environment (FOEN) and Public Health (FOPH). In this interview, he explains what measures are needed when working with nanoparticles and what regulations still need to be defined more precisely.

How did Polycompound come to work with nanomaterials?
Peter Imhof: To some extent that has something to do with me. In 2004 I was working as Product-Manager with a well-known company trading in polymers, raw materials and fine chemicals in Basel, where I came into contact with nano products for the first time in the field of phyllosilicates. In 2008 I had the privilege of presenting the first version of the safety matrix for nanomaterials in Bern, where I was one of the first people from industry to offer practical experience. In 2009 I moved to Polycompound and remained true to nanotechnology. Besides phyllosilicates and CNTs, nanosilver was also a topic of interest. Other additives in the nano field, such as flame retardants, came along later.

What are carbon nanotubes actually used for?
CNTs can reinforce a material or increase its electrical conductivity. Soot is usually added to cables to make then conductive. But the soot also reduces their flexibility and makes the cables more brittle. When CNTs are added, the same conductivity can be achieved with a much lower concentration and without essentially altering the mechanical properties, making the cables more durable. CNTs are used in a variety of applications, especially when the product has to meet more stringent requirements without the positive properties of the basic material being lost. The problem is that additives with nanotubes are still very expensive. This is a psychological barrier – as are the safety issues that remain to be clarified and the uncertainty surrounding nanomaterials.

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L’apport des matériaux hautes performances dans le développement de composants et d’outils...

06.11.2017

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Solvatec installs prize-winning solar energy system

31.10.2017

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«Nanomedizin ist ein zentrales Standbein der Medizin der Zukunft»

05.06.2014

Notfälle, Pikettdienst, lange Arbeitszeiten: Trotz einem herausfordernden klinischen Umfeld ist es für Professor Patrick Hunziker (im Bild links) sehr wichtig, seine ärztliche Aufgabe am Patienten mit dem akademischen Auftrag einer Uniklinik, der Weiterentwicklung der Medizin, zu kombinieren. Deshalb widmet er sich in ruhigeren Momenten mit seiner Forschungsgruppe der Erforschung neuer Diagnostik- und Therapiemethoden der Nanomedizin. Der Kardiologe arbeitet als stellvertretender Chefarzt der Klinik für Intensivmedizin des Universitätsspitals Basel und gilt als ein Pionier der Nanomedizin. Neben seinem anspruchsvollen Pensum als Arzt und Forscher ist Hunziker ausserdem Mitbegründer der CLINAM-Stiftung und des Start-ups «Speroidals GmbH».

Beat Löffler (Bild rechts) arbeitet seit Jahren eng mit ihm zusammen. Er leitet die CLINAM-Stiftung und betreibt intensiv Öffentlichkeitsarbeit für die Nanomedizin. Gemeinsam haben die beiden den jährlich in Basel stattfindenden CLINAM-Summit zu einem international beachteten Kongress für Nanomedizin gemacht. Im Interview erklärt Patrick Hunziker, warum der Begriff Nanomedizin wohl bald verschwindet und Beat Löffler zeigt auf, warum zehn Minuten Redezeit an einem Kongress ausreichen.

Herr Professor Hunziker, wie sind Sie zur Nanomedizin gekommen, gab es da ein besonderes Schlüsselerlebnis?
Patrick Hunziker*:
Ich arbeitete in den späten 90er-Jahren in der Kardiologie und da wurde mir einmal die Frage gestellt, ob ich wisse, was Nanotechnologie sei. Ich hatte ehrlich gesagt wenig Ahnung von diesem jungen Feld und nahm deshalb die Einladung zu einer Tagung von Nanowissenschaftlern in Bern an. Ich habe dort viel über die wissenschaftlichen Grundlagen gehört, aber mich interessierte vor allem, wie die Nanomedizin einen Beitrag zur Entwicklung der Medizin und letztlich zum Wohlergehen der Patienten leisten kann. Nanomedizin war zu diesem Zeitpunkt noch ein völlig unerforschtes Feld. Wenn man 1998 nach Nanomedizin gesucht hat, fand man vielleicht 200 Referenzen in der Fachliteratur, die praktisch ausschliesslich als «Science Fiction» einzustufen waren.

Und das hat Sie nicht stutzig gemacht?
Hunziker: Ich fragte mich, was davon Realität werden könnte. Nach einigen Jahren der Forschung auf diesem Gebiet traf ich Beat Löffler, der in Basel eine Konferenz über Nanomedizin machen wollte. So gründeten wir 2007 die CLINAM-Stiftung. Beats primäres Interesse war, die Nanomedizin interdisziplinär vorwärts zu bringen, ihm schwebte ein internationales Expertennetzwerk vor. Wir initiierten die Gründung der Europäischen Gesellschaft für Nanomedizin, bauten das European Journal of Nanomedicine auf und fingen unsere Kongressreihe an. Dank der CLINAM-Stiftung konnten wir von Industrie bis Akademie alle Aspekte der Nanomedizin Stück für Stück abdecken und den Dialog fördern.

Wie hat sich das Thema Nanomedizin in Tagungen entwickelt?
Beat Löffler*: Als wir im Jahr 2007 in Griechenland an einer Tagung der European Technology Platform on Nanomedicine teilnahmen, kamen etwa 100 Teilnehmer, aber der einzige anwesende Mediziner war Patrick Hunziker – er war ein Pionier. Alle anderen waren Biologen, Pharmakologen, Ingenieure und Chemiker. Wir fragten uns, wo die Mediziner geblieben waren und entwarfen daraufhin eine eigene Konferenz, die 2008 erstmals in Basel stattfand. Bis heute beginnt sie mit Klinikern, welche über ungelöste Probleme in der Medizin sprechen. Danach kommen Experten der Nanotechnologie zum Zug, die berichten, wie man diese Krankheiten mit nanotechnologischen Lösungsansätzen angehen kann. Mit den Jahren kamen Fragen der Gesetzgebung, Diskussionsrunden über die Risiken und Chancen sowie erste Ergebnisse für Medikamente und Geräte in präklinischen und klinischen Studien hinzu. Von Beginn an waren auch die Themen Ethik, Toxizität und Armutserkrankungen wichtig – das hatte in diesem Gebiet Pioniercharakter.

Was ist denn Nanomedizin genau?
Hunziker: Nanowissenschaften beschäftigen sich mit einer Lücke. Von der Makroebene führte die Miniaturisierung zu Objekten der Mikrotechnologie; auf der anderen Seite beschäftigen sich Chemiker mit molekularen Strukturen. Dazwischen, also zwischen der Mikroebene und der Welt der Atome und Moleküle, liegt der Nanometer-Bereich. Allerdings war das Verständnis hierfür mangels guter Untersuchungsmethoden bis gegen Ende des letzten Jahrhunderts sehr beschränkt. Dies gilt auch für die Medizin: Körperzellen bestehen aus Nanostrukturen, die das Leben überhaupt ermöglichen. Dank der Nanomedizin hat man heute ein grösseres Verständnis für die Lebensprozesse und wir haben gute Fortschritte bei der Diagnose und der Therapie von Krankheiten erzielt. Es wird immer offensichtlicher, dass die Nanomedizin eines der ganz zentralen Standbeine der Medizin der Zukunft ist.

Wie reagieren Sie auf die Ängste, die es in der Bevölkerung zum Beispiel vor Nano-Robotern im Gehirn gibt?
Hunziker: Die Frage von Nutzen und Risiken war von Anfang an ein Thema. Es ist wichtig, dass man auch in der Nanomedizin wie für alle Technologien die Möglichkeiten und Gefahren genau untersucht und abwägt. Ich verwende Nanotechnologien nur dort, wo ich nach Prüfung aller Risiken einen echten Mehrwert für den Patienten sehe. Da bin ich sehr kritisch. Aber wenn ich das nicht wäre, würde ich ja mein Berufsziel verfehlen. Es ist sehr wichtig, dass die Forschung von allen Verantwortlichen, also den Forschern, den Gutachtern und den Regulierungsbehörden so geprüft wird, dass Risiken für die Patienten praktisch ausgeschlossen werden können.

Was ist die Rolle der CLINAM-Stiftung und welche Aufgaben hat diese?
Hunziker: Das Ziel der Stiftung ist es, die Anwendung der Nanowissenschaften in der Medizin zu fördern, ihre Chancen und Risiken zu erkennen und sie zum Vorteil für den Patienten einzusetzen.
Löffler: Die Stiftung möchte ein Netzwerk von Fachleuten der Nanowissenschaften aufbauen. Dies ist uns weitgehend gelungen, die Stiftung hat heute internationale Kontaktpunkte und es herrscht ein reger Austausch. Fast ein Drittel der 500 Teilnehmer des Kongresses sind Mediziner und Kliniker. Aber auch der Anteil von Teilnehmern aus der Industrie wächst stetig. Der jährlich in Basel stattfindende CLINAM-Summit für Nanomedizin und «Targeted Medicine» ist eine weltweite Plattform für Experten. Nun steht der 7. Kongress bevor und wir freuen uns, dass die internationalen Regulierungsbehörden den CLINAM-Summit als neutrale wissenschaftliche Plattform ausgewählt haben um das «International Regulators Meeting on Nanotechnology» durchzuführen. Neben diesem Meeting an welchem ausschließlich Regulierungsverantwortliche zugelassen sind, werden die Regulierungsverantwortlichen aus allen fünf Kontinenten unter der Leitung der Generaldirektion der EU auch eine öffentliche Debatte über die weltweite Harmonisierung der Gesetzgebung sowie die einheitliche Definition von Nanomedizin führen.

Neben Ihrer Aufgabe als Chefarzt leiten Sie eine Forschungsgruppe aus der sogar das Start-up «Speroidals GmbH» hervorging. Wie funktioniert das?
Hunziker: Ich erhoffe mir, dass durch die Nanowissenschaften Einsichten gewonnen und zum Wohle der Patienten umgesetzt werden können. Aber der Sprung von der akademischen in die industrielle und dann in die klinische Phase ist schwierig, die regulatorischen Hürden sind sehr hoch. Die Nanomedizin dringt deshalb nur sehr langsam bis zu den Patienten vor. Das heisst, dass es in dieser Phase sehr wichtig ist, dass sich Forscher frühzeitig Gedanken machen, wie aus ihrer Idee ein umsetzbares Produkt wird, und sich die Kliniker überlegen, wie sie die neuen Möglichkeiten in die Behandlungsstrategien integrieren. Ich möchte eigentlich nicht sehen, dass eine Schweizer Innovation wegen fehlender Entwicklungsmöglichkeiten in die USA verkauft werden muss. Diese Arbeitsplätze würde ich lieber in der Schweiz behalten.

Existiert eine Zusammenarbeit mit «Big Pharma»?
Löffler: Pharmafirmen sind natürlich mit Begriffen wie «Nanotechnologie» vorsichtig und beobachten das Technologieumfeld genau, um nicht aufgrund eines Technologie-Labels eine falsche Botschaft zu vermitteln. In den USA und in England ist der Terminus Nanomedizin als «Anwendung der Nanotechnologie in der Medizin» heute bereits gut akzeptiert. Der Begriff «Nanomedizin» braucht noch etwas Zeit, bis alle Stakeholder ihn unbeschwert nutzen. Dass der Begriff immer klarer definiert wird und die Regulierungs-Behörden eine internationale Definition anstreben, hilft stark.
Hunziker: Die Entwicklung neuer Medikamente wird immer teurer. Deshalb müssen auch Pharmafirmen verstehen, welche neuen Geschäftsmodelle realistisch sind. Bereits heute ist die personalisierte Medizin ein starkes Schlagwort. Die Nanomedizin ermöglicht es, verschiedene Aspekte wie zum Beispiel Medikamententransport im Körper, Rezeptorbindung und die zelluläre Wirkung in einem Objekt zu kombinieren. Es ist also möglich, durch unterschiedliche Kombination dieser Aspekte ein riesiges Spektrum an massgeschneiderten Therapien anzubieten, welche für bestimmte Patienten optimiert werden. Gleichzeitig bedeutet dies aber für die Industrie und für die regulatorischen Behörden auch in vieler Hinsicht ein Umdenken.

Vielen ist noch nicht bewusst, dass die CLINAM, ein weltweit beachteter Summit über Nanomedizin mit mehr als 500 Teilnehmern, in Basel stattfindet. Wie bekannt ist CLINAM und was macht das Besondere aus?
Hunziker: Tatsächlich ist unsere Konferenz in der Region noch immer relativ unbekannt, was im Gegensatz steht zur Bedeutung, die der Anlass weltweit gewonnen hat. Mit der Konferenz wollen wir etwas tun, was gut für die Menschen und für den Standort Basel ist. Heute können wir immerhin sagen, dass unsere Konferenz in der Region Basel bei der siebten Durchführung vielen Fachleuten bekannt ist und die internationalen Opinion Leaders in diesem Gebiet zusammenbringt. Wir möchten sie auch ganz gern in der Region behalten. Vor allem, weil uns am Anfang viele alt eingesessene Basler geholfen haben, unser Projekt in die Realität umzusetzen.
Löffler: Wir haben dieses Jahr internationale Referenten aus 29 Ländern am CLINAM-Summit. Das CLINAM-Konzept ist als «Debate Conference» strukturiert – eine Methode, die ich 2005 entwickelt habe. Jeder Redner hat zehn oder fünfzehn Minuten Zeit, um sein Thema vorzustellen. Das ist wenig, die Speaker müssen den Vortrag sehr gut erarbeiten, um anzukommen. Die Diskussion der Themen in die Tiefe findet im Anschluss an mehrere Kurzvorträge statt und wird später in den Lounges im Foyer vertieft. Das macht CLINAM zu einem sehr lebendigen Anlass.

Wie wichtig ist Öffentlichkeitsarbeit für Sie und CLINAM?
Löffler: Es wäre sehr gut, wenn wir nicht nur Fachkräfte, sondern auch die Öffentlichkeit für unser Thema interessieren könnten. Wir hatten dazu bisher einfach zu wenig Zeit und Kapazität. Patrick Hunziker hat schon öfter Vorträge auch für Laien durchgeführt, um zu erklären, was die Nanowissenschaften sind und was die Nanomedizin genau beinhaltet. Er war auch an Schulen und konnte dieses komplexe Thema den Schülern einfach und verständlich näherbringen. Natürlich würde es uns freuen, wenn unser international ausgerichteter Kongress auch regional bekannter würde. Wir könnten uns zum Beispiel vorstellen, einen Anschlusstag für die breite Öffentlichkeit zu organisieren.
Wie könnte man die Stiftung und den Kongress besser unterstützen?
Hunziker: Wir hoffen natürlich, von der Universität noch mehr Rückenwind zu spüren. Es wäre auch schön, wenn die Finanzierung eines Tages einfacher werden könnte, indem sich der Standort Basel längerfristig für das Projekt CLINAM engagiert und anerkennt, dass es als Unikat förderungswürdig ist. Basel ist ein guter Standort und ich bin sicher, dass die Region von unserem Kongress und der Stiftung profitiert.

Wo sehen Sie die Nanomedizin in 10 Jahren?
Hunziker: Die Nanomedizin wird zu einer Grundlagentechnologie der Medizin der Zukunft. Dies wird so normal sein, dass der Begriff «Nanomedizin» vielleicht sogar verschwindet. Bei den heutigen Smartphones spricht auch keiner mehr von Mikrotechnologie, obwohl dies faktisch der Fall ist – und genau das wünsche ich mir für die Nanowissenschaften. In der medizinischen Diagnostik wird meines Erachtens die Technologie bald angewendet und die personalisierte Medizin wird in 15 bis 20 Jahren Standard sein.

Interview: Ralf Dümpelmann und Nadine Aregger, i-net

*Patrick Hunziker hat in Zürich Medizin studiert und liess sich zum Facharzt für innere Medizin, Kardiologie und Intensivmedizin ausbilden. Ende der 1990er Jahre begann Patrick Hunziker sich als erster Arzt in der Schweiz für die Einführung der Nanotechnologie in die Medizin zu interessieren. Neben seiner Tätigkeit als stellvertretender Chefarzt der Klinik für Intensivmedizin am Universitätsspital Basel ist Hunziker Gründungspräsident der Europäischen Gesellschaft für Nanomedizin (CLINAM).

*Beat Löffler hat in Basel und Berlin Kommunikationswissenschaften, Recht, Philosophie und Politikwissenschaften studiert und war Generalsekretär bei BioValley Upper Rhine. Heute ist Beat Löffler CEO bei der Europäischen Gesellschaft für Nanomedizin (CLINAM) und Inhaber der Loeffler & Associates GmbH.

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