Innovation Report

 
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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BC Platforms assists UK’s biobanking platform

27.11.2018

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Basel and Toyama to cooperate on biotech

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report BaselArea.swiss

Investing in strengths – Swiss leadership in life sciences

15.05.2017

How can Switzerland and the Basel region maintain their international leadership role in life sciences? As part of the Biotech and Digitization Day, Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann visited the Basel region to discuss current trends and challenges with a high-ranking delegation from politics, business, research and start-ups.

The importance of life sciences for the Swiss economy is enormous. Last year, the sector was responsible for 45% of total Swiss exports. Similarly, the majority of new relocations are active in the healthcare sector. Switzerland is said to a leading life sciences location in the world with the Basel region as its engine.

It is against this backdrop that Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, was invited by BaselArea.swiss and digitalswitzerland to visit the Basel region as part of the Biotech and Digitization Day to discuss current trends and challenges in life sciences with a high-ranking delegation from politics, business and research.

The event was held at Actelion Pharmaceuticals and the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area in Allschwil in the canton of Basel-Landschaft. Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann emphasised the significance of the region and life sciences industry: “The two Basels have a high density of innovation and successful companies, research institutes and universities. This fills me with pride and confidence. Pharmaceuticals and chemistry are rightly regarded as the drivers of innovation.” But Switzerland cannot rest on its laurels if it is to remain successful in the future; business and politics, science and society must all use the digital transformation as an opportunity, he insisted.

The event was organised by BaselArea.swiss, which promotes innovation and business development in the northwest Switzerland cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura, and digitalswitzerland, the joint initiative of business, the public sector and science, whose aim is to establish Switzerland as a leading digital innovation location in the world.

Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann is currently visiting Switzerland’s leading regions to get an impression of the effects of digitalisation on different business sectors and to talk about promising future concepts.

Supporting biotech start-ups

Life sciences are regarded as a cutting-edge sector with considerable growth potential. But competition among the different locations is becoming more aggressive as other regions in the world are investing heavily to promote their location and attract large companies. A central question of today’s event was: How can Switzerland and the Basel region maintain its leadership role in the face of international competition?

Given its major economic importance in life sciences and when measured against other leading locations worldwide, Switzerland has comparatively few start-ups in this industrial sector. With the launch of BaseLaunch, the new accelerator for healthcare start-ups, BaselArea.swiss and the Kickstart Accelerator from digitalswitzerland have taken a first step to changing this. However, in addition to the lack of seed capital in the early phase of a company’s development, there is also a lack of access to the large capital that an established start-up requires in order to expand. Said Domenico Scala, president of BaselArea.swiss and a member of the steering committee of digitalswitzerland: “We have to invest in our strengths. This is why we need initiatives like Swiss Future Fund, which aims to enable institutional investors to finance innovative start-ups.”

The importance of an innovative start-up scene for Switzerland as a centre of life sciences was also a topic for the roundtable discussion that Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann held with Severin Schwan, CEO of the Roche Group, Jean-Paul Clozel, CEO of Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Andrea Schenker-Wicki, rector of the University of Basel, and others.

Digitalisation as a driver of innovation

The second topic at the Biotech and Digitization Day was digitalisation in life sciences. According to Thomas Weber, a member of the government of the canton of Basel-Landschaft, this is an important driver of innovation for the entire industry and is crucial to strengthening Switzerland as a centre of research.

In his speech, Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann focused on three aspects: first, the creation of a new and courageous pioneer culture in which entrepreneurship is encouraged and rewarded for those who dare to try something different. Second, more momentum for start-ups by realising an initiative for a privately financed start-up fund. And third, shaping the role of the state as a facilitator that opens up spaces rather than putting up hurdles or bans.

In the public discussion round, in which representatives from research and industry as well as entrepreneurs participated, it became clear that digitalisation is changing life sciences. Everyone agreed that Switzerland has the best conditions to play a leading role in this transformation process. The basis for this are its powerful and globally actively pharmaceutical companies, its world-renowned universities and an innovation-friendly ecosystem with digitally driven start-ups from the healthcare and life sciences fields. 

digitalswitzerland wants to promote this, too. According to Nicolas Bürer, CEO of digitalswitzerland, healthcare and life sciences are key industries to making Switzerland the leading digital innovation location.

A further contribution can be made by the DayOne, the innovation hub for precision medicine. Launched by BaselArea.swiss in close cooperation with the canton of Basel-Stadt, it brings together on a regular basis a growing community of more than 500 experts and innovators in an effort to share ideas and advance projects.

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Aptevo deploys Genedata platform

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report BaselArea.swiss

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.”

 

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Endress+Hauser drives IoT solutions with SAP

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Axovant propels gene therapy

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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.

 

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Baloise experiments with artificial intelligence

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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).

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Straumann invests in artificial intelligence

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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.

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«We benefit from many years of research in Basel»

08.07.2015

While Switzerland is innovation world champion in many rankings, promising innovations in the field of medical technology often lack the funding needed in Switzerland to get them to the market. The start-up investor MedTech Innovation Partners AG (MTIP) closes this gap.

CEO Christoph Kausch explains in the i-net interview what MTIP does differently from other investors and outlines the start-up projects that are especially interesting for his company.

MedTech Innovation Partners has recently established its presence in the market. How did this come about and why did you not take this step earlier?
Christoph Kausch*: About two-and-a-half years ago, the idea was conceived of bringing the work and research of Prof. Hans-Florian Zeilhofer together in a business model under the MTIP brand. This means that MTIP benefits from many years of research in Basel. Since then, the organization has developed and the concept refined. In short, we are strongly rooted in Basel thanks to our history and promote innovation here. Our work can help to prevent start-ups taking their good ideas abroad because they are unable to find the necessary funding and resources here.

And who are the people behind MTIP?
Apart from me, the core team includes Professor Zeilhofer, Head of the High-Tech Research Centre at the University Hospital Basel, who has been engaged in the field of medical technology throughout his career, and also the entrepreneur and investor Dr. Felix Grisard, who has been investing in medical technology for more than ten years. We have a strong team of board members and an equally top-class advisory board. Our skills range from medical technology and research expertise, through investor and entrepreneurial know-how to knowledge of how to manage innovation projects.

The MTIP board of directors is made up of highly renowned individuals. How were you able you motivate these people?
Until now there has not been a business concept anywhere in Switzerland with such strong links to research institutions. We are closing this gap in the market in order to promote innovations in Switzerland. The opportunity to play a part in this is very attractive.

MTIP promises to put the emphasis on sustainable development. What do you plan to differently from other funds?
Our integrated business model takes the long-term view; we are not in it to make a fast buck. We also make a contribution to society by reinforcing the power of innovation strength in Basel. What no other venture capital fund in this area possesses is our unique Swiss network and our excellent access to research institutions. At international level we are developing an “innovation ring”. For example, when we carry out a clinical trial for a start-up, we can do this much faster but to the same quality standard in collaboration with top-flight international partners. This shortens the time to market enormously.

What does MTIP expect in return from the companies you support?
A trusting collaboration and thus the people involved are very important to us. Intellectual property rights, such as patents or brands, must be clearly regulated before the technology can be developed further. We ourselves are a minority investor and strive for at least a 10 percent stake in a start-up. Our objective is to support the entrepreneur behind the company and to help him avoid the pitfalls that occur during the establishment of a company.

You write on the website that MTIP wants to get involved as early as possible and provide long-term support. For how long do you plan to support start-ups?
It’s somewhat easier here in Switzerland than elsewhere to get seed capital ranging from 100,000 to a million francs for the first round of financing. But what is incredibly difficult is the follow-up funding. This leads to many start-ups having to move away. So we also support the follow-up funding after the seed funding. To facilitate this, we join forces with other investors.

Medical technology is a very broad term. It encompasses everything from gauze bandages through implants and robot-assisted surgery to treatment and nursing. Where does MTIP focus its attention in this enormous range of options?
We have five focus areas: imaging, robotics/navigation, IT/big data management, medtech meets pharma and smart materials. This is where our core competencies lie, but this does not mean that we would exclude other areas. Interdisciplinarity is also very important. A model organization is the High-Tech Research Centre of Professor Zeilhofer, where different disciplines, such as IT, biology, engineering, the humanities, art and medicine, work together on finding the best solution for a medical problem. For it is not possible today to develop anything innovative in isolation.

You have experience yourself as a young entrepreneur. What are the biggest challenges for start-ups and how can MTIP help to overcome them?
In the case of start-ups in medical technology I see two big challenges. First of all, it is important to address the question of certification or regulatory approval early on. Secondly, young entrepreneurs have to take care from the outset that they already define a patent strategy when they are setting up the company. We can offer assistance here with established experts in the field.

MTIP has recently set up home in Allschwil at the Swiss Innovation Park of Northwest Switzerland. Is it your aim to collaborate with the technology and innovation ecosystem and to pool resources?
The whole Department of Biomedical Engineering and the High-Tech Research Centre of the University of Basel have just moved into the temporary premises in Allschwil. To ensure that the collaboration is efficiently organized in a spirit of partnership, we have also moved in there for the time being and are managing innovations and start-ups in this setting. Where we will be based in future has not yet been decided, but we are open to cooperation with the Swiss Innovation Park of Northwest Switzerland.

The search for venture capital in Switzerland is challenging and time-consuming, MTIP promises to make this easier. Are you overrun today by requests for funding?
The number of queries has doubled since we went public. Now we have to evaluate the best projects.

And what does a project have to offer in order to get support from MTIP?
An important point is innovation: we want to know what sets it apart from the state of the art so far. Another important question is whether it is a technology that can be protected by a patent or a trade secret and what market potential the project offers. We place great value in particular on a good management team: if competencies are lacking, we are happy to help in the search for suitable employees. Traditional venture capital companies invest their money and wait for the exit of the company.

Where do you see MTIP in five years?
The aim is to have a presence in Switzerland with a very good portfolio of start-ups. An organization like i-net can play an important role for MTIP and it would be great if the shared network idea could lead to new projects.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Christoph Kausch has a sound knowledge of strategic management and experience in bringing innovations to market. Before founding MTIP, he led the global strategy department of Syngenta for several years. Prior to this, he was Managing Director at Hafiba AG, a boutique investment company, where he is still a member of the board of directors. He started his career at McKinsey & Company where he had specialized in private equity and life sciences.

Christoph Kausch studied mechanical engineering at the TU Munich and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Management (MIT) in Boston. He completed his PhD in innovation & technology management at the University of St. Gallen and at Harvard Business School.

About MedTech Innovation Partners AG
MedTech Innovation Partners (MTIP) headquartered in Basel, is an early-stage investor focusing on health technologies. MTIP offers more than traditional venture capital, delivering access to business building expertise, a systematic approach to intellectual property management, recruitment and a unique interdisciplinary culture for the entrepreneurs and start-ups that MTIP works with.
A local network which consists of well-known Swiss universities and research centres specializing in medtech, gives MTIP an early access to research outcomes. Furthermore, an international innovation ring offers scientists and entrepreneurs ideal conditions for bringing innovations to market.
Website of MTIP

 

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05.11.2014

Genomics, Peronalised Medicine, Molecular Modelling: Informatik und Life Sciences kommen sich immer näher. Dabei gehört die Schweiz, anders als in der Enterprise- und Consumer-IT, zu den führenden Wissensstandorten der Computational Life Sciences.
Dennoch rechnet Torsten Schwede nicht mit einer überbordenden Bioinformatik-Startup-Welle. Warum, erklärt der Professor für Struktur- Bioinformatik am Biozentrum der Universität Basel und Mitglied des Vorstands des SIB Schweizerischen Institut für Bioinformatik im Interview mit i-net.

Zunächst ganz konkret, was alles subsumiert sich unter dem Begriff Bioinformatik?
Torsten Schwede*: Ich verwende den Begriff Bioinformatik nur noch selten. Wir sprechen meistens von «Computational Life Sciences» oder «Computational Biology». Bioinformatik hat zwar einmal mit der Organisation von Sequenzdaten und Sequenzanalyse begonnen, aber eine enge Definition macht eigentlichen keinen Sinn mehr - dafür ist der Bereich zu interdisziplinär geworden. Heute haben fast alle Bereiche der Life Sciences einen «computational» Ableger, und die Themen reichen von Molecular Modelling, über Big Data und Systembiologie, Clinical Bioinformatics bis hin zu Anwendungen im Bereich der personalisierten Medizin. Am SIB Schweizer Institut für Bioinformatik ist eigentlich jede Arbeitsgruppe willkommen, die computergestützte Methoden zur Anwendung in den Life Sciences entwickelt.

Was unterscheidet einen Bioinformatiker von einem Informatiker?
Etwas überspitzt formuliert, bei uns treibt die wissenschaftliche Fragestellung im Gebiet der Lebenswissenschaft die Methodik. Wenn ich eine Frage mit dem einfachsten Algorithmus beantworten kann, dann bin ich glücklich und kümmere mich nicht mehr weiter um die Informatik, sondern um die Fragestellung. In den Computerwissenschaften sind Innovationen in Algorithmen und Technik Ziel der Forschung, und oft finden sich im Nachhinein Anwendungen in verschiedensten Arbeitsbereichen.

Ein Bioinformatiker ist also eher ein Biologe?
Ja, das kann man so sehen, und an der Universität Basel ist die Bioinformatik auch ein Teil des Biozentrums. Früher hatten die meisten Bioinformatiker einen naturwissenschaftlichen Hintergrund wie Physik, Biologie oder Chemie. Vor ein paar Jahren haben wir an der Universität Basel einen Bacherlorstudiengang in Computational Sciences eingeführt. Diese Ausbildung wurde durch eine Zusammenarbeit von Mathematik, Informatik, Physik, Chemie und Biologie entwickelt und bietet ein breites Grundlagenstudium, wobei im zweiten Jahr eine Spezialisierung auf eine der Hauptrichtungen erfolgt. Ziel ist, dass Bachelor-Absolventen dann immer noch die Wahl haben zwischen einem Master in Informatik oder in der gewählten naturwissenschaftlichen Vertiefung Biologie, Chemie, Numerik oder Physik. Wichtig aber ist, dass der Bioinformatiker etwas von beiden Welten kennt.

Das klingt sehr anspruchsvoll – sind das nicht sozusagen zwei Studiengänge in einem?
Der Brückenschlag ist in der Tat äusserst anspruchsvoll und die Absolventen dieses Studiengangs sind absolute Spitze.

Das heisst wohl auch, Sie werden nicht gerade von den Studenten überrannt?
Es gibt ganz klar einen «War for Talents». Gute Studenten können sich heute aussuchen, wo auf der Welt sie studieren wollen. Auf PhD-Ebene rekrutieren wir denn auch international. Die Schweiz und Basel haben dabei weltweit eine sehr gute Ausstrahlung, und in der Bioinformatik gehört die Schweiz zu den drei top Destinationen weltweit. Global gesehen hat die Schweiz die höchste Dichte von Bioinformatikern.

Dennoch haben wir das Problem, dass es in den sogenannten Mintfächern an Nachwuchs fehlt?
Man müsste in der Schule ansetzen: Die wenigsten Maturanden haben eine klare Vorstellung, was ein Wissenschaftler im Alltag so macht und was genau hinter der Informatik steckt. Das Bild vom Biologen, der auf der Wiese sitzt und den Kaninchen beim hoppeln zusieht, trifft einfach nicht zu und muss sich ändern. Zudem sollte man auch vermitteln, dass Naturwissenschaftler gesuchte Leute sind. Soweit ich weiss, haben wir bisher noch keine arbeitslosen Bioinformatiker produziert.

Viele Bioinformatiker arbeiten in der Westschweiz – warum?
Das SIB Schweizerische Institut für Bioinformatik wurde ursprünglich in Genf gegründet, und Swiss-Prot, die weltweit grösste Wissens-Datenbank im Life Sciences-Bereich, hat ihren Sitz in Genf und Lausanne. Diese Datenbank wird vom Bund und von den US National Institutes of Health (NIH) unterstützt und ist für Wissenschaftler der ganzen Welt die Referenzdatenbank für Proteine. Swiss-Prot ist auch der Grund, dass 1998 das SIB gegründet wurde als der Schweizerische Nationalfonds beschloss, die Pflege von Datenbanken nicht mehr zu unterstützen. Daraufhin erhielten wir tausende von Zuschriften aus der ganzen Welt, die sich dafür einsetzten, dass Swiss-Prot bestehen bleibt - auch grosse Pharmafirmen boten Geld an. Durch die Gründung des SIB wurde dafür gesorgt, dass die Datenbank öffentlich blieb. Heute sind mehr als 50 wissenschaftliche Arbeitsgruppen aus der gesamten Schweiz Mitglied im SIB, und über 600 Wissenschaftler arbeiten an Schweizer Universitäten und ETHs im Bereich der Bioinformatik.

Die Datenberge in den Life Sciences steigen exponentiell an, was ist der Auslöser?
Die Anforderungen an die IT Infrastruktur sind praktisch in sämtlichen Gebieten der Life Sciences massiv angestiegen. So haben zum Beispiel unsere Kollegen am Biozentrum jüngst ein neues Mikroskop gekauft – dieses kann pro Tag zwei Terabyte Daten erzeugen. Wir sehen ähnliche Entwicklungen im Bereich der Genomics und anderer Hochdurchsatzverfahren. Moore’s Law besagt, dass sich die Rechenleistung der Prozessoren alle 18 Monate verdoppelt. Seit ungefähr 2007 reicht dies nicht mehr aus, um mit der Datenproduktion in der Wissenschaft Schritt halten - das Datenwachstum in der Lebenswissenschaft läuft der Rechenleistung davon. Deshalb brauchen wir neben einem Ausbau der IT Infrastrukturen auch schlauere Konzepte und Algorithmen. Und genau da kommen die Bioinformatiker ins Spiel, von der Planung der Experimente über die Analyse der Daten bis zur Modellierung der Systeme basierend auf den Ergebnissen.

Das heisst auch, hier gibt es ein grosses Feld für Innovationen. Warum gibt es dann nicht mehr Bioinformatik-Startups?
Unsere Studenten beschäftigen sich hauptsächlich mit wissenschaftlichen Problemen und möchten auf dieser Ebene ihren Beitrag leisten. Und wenn unsere Studenten Startup-Ideen haben, dann liegen diese häufiger im wissenschaftlichen Bereich und weniger in der Informatik, also etwa in der Molekularbiologie oder in medizinischen Anwendungen.

Wird es irgendwann einen Hersteller einer Bioinformatik-Standardsoftware geben?
Ich sehe momentan keine Anzeichen für eine kommerzielle «Standardsoftware» für Bioinformatik - in vielen Fällen sind wir noch weit von «Standard Workflows» in der Interpretation der Daten entfernt. Die experimentellen Technologien entwickeln sich sehr schnell, und die Entwicklung neuer Methoden und Algorithmen ist ein spannendes Forschungsgebiet. Ich glaube, wir werden auch in Zukunft ein Biotop verschiedener Lösungen und Tools einsetzten. Die wichtigsten Programme in der Bioinformatik sind heute Open Source. In meinem eigenen Arbeitsgebiet sind die akademisch entwickelten Software Tools innovativer und leistungsfähiger als kommerzielle Lösungen. Wichtig sind dabei Standards, die einen reibungslosen Datenaustausch ermöglichen.

Bioinformatik lässt sich also gar nicht kommerzialisieren?
Doch, aber in den meisten Fällen kommt der «added value» in unserem Bereich eher aus Knowhow und Services als dem Verkauf von Software. Es gibt eine ganze Reihe erfolgreicher kommerzieller Anwendungen, wie zum Beispiel der erste nicht-invasive pränatale Test für verschiedene Trisomien in der Schweiz, für den die Bioinformatik von unseren Kollegen am SIB Lausanne entwickelt wurde. Und mit Genedata haben ja eines der erfolgreichsten Bioinformatik Unternehmen direkt vor Ort hier in Basel.

Könnte das Potenzial nicht grösser sein?
Ich denke es gibt ein sehr grosses Potential in diesem Bereich und der Markt entwickelt sich schnell. Aber gerade bei den daten-getriebenen Projekten - etwa im Umfeld von personalised health - spielt die Regulierung keine unwesentliche Rolle. In Ländern wie der Schweiz mit etablierten rechtlichen Strukturen ist der Einstieg für neue innovative Lösungen oft nicht ganz so einfach. In sogenannten «Emerging Markets» dagegen sind die Eintrittshürden sehr viel geringer, und wir sehen in diesen Ländern eine regelrechte Goldgräberstimmung. Es bleibt abzuwarten, welche dieser Ideen sich am Ende als echte Innovationen im Gesundheitsmarkt durchsetzen werden.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer und Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Torsten Schwede ist Professor für «Structural Bioinformatics» am Biozentrum der Universität Basel und Mitglied des Vorstands am SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Als Leiter von «sciCORE» ist er für die Organisation der wissenschaftlichen IT Infrastruktur an der Universität Basel verantwortlich.

 

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«With the innovation park, the life sciences hub of Northwest Switzerland will secure its ...

09.07.2014

Professor Joachim Seelig has been Professor of Biophysics at the University of Basel since the inception of the Biozentrum and is still actively engaged in research. He is also on the board of the SIP NWCH association (Swiss Innovation Park of Northwest Switzerland) and is Head of the i-net Technology Field of Life Sciences. In an interview with i-net he speaks about the future of the life sciences and explains why the SIP NWCH is important for Basel as a research center.

The pharmaceutical hub of Basel - and Northwest Switzerland - is undisputed today. Will this still be the case in 30 years?
Joachim Seelig*: It’s natural to wonder what will be in 30 years’ time. When I came to Basel 40 years ago, there were only chemical companies here. In the big four of Ciba, Geigy, Sandoz and Roche, the research heads were qualified chemists. Today these positions are occupied by molecular biologists or medical specialists. The chemical industry has been transformed in the last few decades into a pharmaceutical industry. Clariant is still a chemical company, and the agrochemical company Syngenta has its headquarters here, although they are far less deeply anchored in the region than Roche and Novartis. So when we look back, we see that Basel has changed a lot as a research center, and this change will also continue in the next 30 years.

What part did the Biozentrum of the University of Basel play in this development?
The Biozentrum brought together various sciences, such as chemistry, physics, biochemistry, structural biology, microbiology and pharmacology. The founding fathers of the Biozentrum had an inkling of the revolutionary changes to come from biophysics and molecular biology, it was hoped that the collaboration of these various disciplines could lead to something completely new. I believe it was a very shrewd move to bring these different fields together, and it has indeed also had some important results.

And where does the Biozentrum stand today?
Today, the focus is very much on fields such as neurobiology and microbiology, while biophysics and pharmacology take more of a back seat. This may well make sense and bring majors successes. But my personal interest goes in other directions.

So where should the focus be instead?
For the input on the Swiss Innovation Park of Northwest Switzerland, interviews were held with around 30 people from the life sciences with the aim of establishing what subjects will play an important role in the future. Three subject areas were identified in the process. Firstly, there is Biosensing, which links biology and electronics - so-called electroceuticals, for example, are pills that do not deliver their active substance until they arrive at a predetermined site in the body. The second subject area is Biomaterials – an example here could be a seed in which every grain is packed in an energy package, which even provides nutrition and develops when it is sown in dry conditions. The third subject area is Large Number Crunching - the ever more personalized medicine is leading to huge volume of data; so methods need to be developed that support the doctor in efficiently analyzing and evaluating the data.

How well positioned is Northwest Switzerland in terms of these three megatrends?
It has to be realistically acknowledged that we are not very strong in almost all three areas. It is precisely this that the Swiss Innovation Park Northwest Switzerland, which will start up at the beginning of 2015 in Allschwil, is designed to change.

Are there already concrete projects?
Yes, the research project Miracle of Hans-Florian Zeilhofer and Philippe Cattin from the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Medical Faculty of the University of Basel will be the first sub-tenant. The Werner Siemens Foundation, based in Zug, will support this project for five years to the tune of 15.2 million francs in total. The aim of the project is to miniaturize laser technology for endoscopic surgery. Many areas, such as robotics, imaging and diagnostics, sensor technology and micromechanics, play a role in this project. Roughly speaking, it is a medical technology project in which electronics, robotics, imaging and medicine come together.

How big will the innovation park be in the future?
It is assumed that 1000 people and later perhaps 2000 people will be employed there. This critical mass is essential. A role model here could be the technology park in Eindhoven. Ten years ago, Philips opened its research center there with about 2000 employees for collaboration with external groups and companies. Today around 8000 people work there, and sales of around a billion francs are generated. Many new companies have settled there. The engagement of companies such as Roche, Novartis, Actelion and Syngenta will be crucial for the SIP NWCH. But of course outside companies and start-ups have to be attracted.

The University of Basel is not regarded as very innovative; does something not have to happen there?
I cannot let this statement stand unchallenged. Only recently a study was conducted on how efficiently a university works – and the University of Basel came out of this very well. The University of Basel is a full university. The natural sciences represent only a small part, i.e. at most around 2000 of the 12,000 students in total. So the figures of Basel University cannot be compared directly with the ETH or EPFL, which can concentrate entirely on technologies. At the Biozentrum we are engaged mainly in basic research, while applied research is left to others. Nevertheless we have generated a number of spin-offs. For example, Santhera and 4-Antibodies had their first laboratories in the Biozentrum.

What could be done to get more spin-offs in the region?
Attractive conditions must be created in the innovation park, and scouting ought to be institutionalized at the university, so that more projects are developed. I think we are ideally situated here in Northwest Switzerland. The innovation potential in Basel at least is huge, and there are already many start-ups that are doing outstanding work.

Are there issues that Northwest Switzerland could miss out on?
One point that is rather underestimated in Basel is the influence of computer science and the internet on biology and the life sciences. When it comes to information technology we certainly have some catching-up to do. Personally I believe in a stronger link between biology and electronics. I already endeavored some years ago to establish a department for bioelectronics at the university, but I was unable to push it through. But in the innovation park it is essential that we establish this link. It is important to attract the right talents. It is not only Google that should be attractive for really good IT specialists in the future, but also companies such as Roche and Novartis.

You have been involved in i-net as Head of the Technology Field Life Sciences for some years – what role should, can, ought i-net increasingly play in this field?
Basically people are grateful for and in many cases also excited by what i-net is doing for them. As a neutral link between the various actors, i-net can and will also play a major role in the Swiss Innovation Park in future. The life sciences companies are experiencing frequent personnel changes due in many cases to the global operations of these companies. It is becoming ever more difficult to find contact partners who have the authority to make decisions and at the same time have a profound knowledge of our region. The decision makers in the private sector are too tied up in the requirements of their jobs to find time for honorary activities in important bodies in our region. Life in the private sector has become faster and more global, and the local and regional networks suffer as a result. It is therefore important that a professional organization in the shape of i-net takes on this role and institutionalizes it.

Interview: Stephan Emmerth and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Professor Joachim Seelig was one of the first researchers of the Biozentrum at the University of Basel and was Head of this Department between 1997 and 1999 and also from 2000 to 2009. He is a member of the board of the SIP NWCH association (Swiss Innovation Park Northwest Switzerland) and serves in an honorary capacity as Head of the i-net Technology Field Life Sciences.

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Helmut Kessmann: «Biotech can be a real roller coaster ride»

06.03.2014

Helmut Kessmann has been involved in the life science startup scene on the Rhine from the beginning. Today, the native from North Germany is Head of Business Development at Polyphor. Previously, he was co-founder of Discovery Technologies and a member of the executive management of Santhera, both IPO companies.

In the interview with i-net he talks about the development of the Life-Sciences-Standorts Basel and the success factors for biotech startups.

Mr. Kessmann, how do you rank Basel as a location for biotech companies?
North Western Switzerland is one of the best locations for biotech startups globally and in Europe amongst the top three. However, we must not rest on our laurels; otherwise we risk ending up back where we were in the early 90s.

Wasn’t Basel already a pharmaceutical and chemical city at that time?
Yes, but no one wanted or could establish a biotech startup company here. The normal career path of people was that they joined one of the large corporations like Ciba, Sandoz, Roche, after studying and remained there until they retired. Then, in 1996, the merger of Ciba and Sandoz to form Novartis happened and suddenly there was a very active and successful biotech scene. This transpired within a few years - an experience that still fascinates me today.

Did you immediately jump on the bandwagon?
I was employed by Ciba-Geigy, but I have already played with the idea for a few years to start my own business. At that stage no one was willing to finance projects in Basel. This changed immediately after the merger of Ciba and Sandoz in 1996 when the Novartis Venture Fund was founded. Suddenly we were in the game. Discovery Technologies was among the first startups in which they invested. Our advantage was that we had a complete business plan in our pocket.

The Novartis merger was therefore the trigger for the startup scene in Basel?
Yes, but that alone was of course not enough. A fund needs to be managed by the right people. Jürg Meier and Ruedi Gygax were exactly the right people. In addition, there were many more important initiatives in the regions. If you summarize you’ll see that, in just two years, more than 20 companies were in the starting blocks, ready to move. Since then, a lot has happened and now there are extremely successful companies such as Actelion, Basilea, Evolva and Polyphor. More have since been acquired such as Speedel or Glycart. Today, there are not only many ways to gain access to funding, but also support networks such as that of i-net innovation networks. Without the positive environment for Biotech startups the establishment of a new company is very difficult. Also, one should not forget that globally there is active competition for new companies.

But Discovery Technologies, co-founded by you, then relocated to the USA?
Not quite, we opted for the IPO to go to the US, but the operational activities remained and continued unchanged in Allschwil. For this purpose we merged in 2000 with a US chemical company and created Discovery Partners Ltd. headquartered in San Diego. I think our company was one of the last with a successful IPO before the crash in the fall of 2000. Then the market lost 75 percent of its value in just a few months. Fortunately, Discovery Partners was profitable before the IPO and did not have to rely on further funding. Later, Discovery Partners became Infinity Pharmaceuticals through another merger, which is still successful today, especially in drugs for oncology.

Your next venture, Graffinity, did not proceed exactly as planned?
I had learned that investing in the life sciences sector is done in waves and the preferred areas for investors can quickly change. With Discovery Technologies, we were able to ride on the height of the investment wave in the late `90s. However, Graffinity in Heidelberg, found itself at the end of this cycle, even though the technology was very innovative and actually fitted the needs of the "genomic era" perfectly. Thereby, we could record 30 million euros in April 2001, which was at least the second biggest round of funding in Germany that year. But only months later, and as a result of the biotech market crash, the interest of the investors in "platform companies" decreased to zero and people wanted to see clinical products.

How did you continue with Graffinity?
We had to be creative. After some searching we found an ideal partner namely MyoContract located in Basel. MyoContract was the first spin-off of the Biozuntrum in Basel and was established due to the great vision and initiative of the founder and CEO, Thomas Meier. The company had a product candidate but no money, and we had money but no product candidates. The result was Santhera. Graffinity was leached out of the new company through a management buyout and now supplies the old technology to the service business. Thereby Graffinity could survive without further venture capital.

But after the great start Santhera is still waiting for the breakthrough?
Biotech is rarely straightforward, but I am convinced that Santhera will also be commercially successful. Their focus on rare diseases, for which there is virtually no treatment, was correct in any case. In 2006 the company made a successful IPO and we received outstanding support from investors, researchers and patient organizations. Unfortunately, the most important product demonstrated later in the clinical Phase III that it did not have the effectiveness we hoped it would have. At one stage over 80 percent of the goodwill was gone. But that is how it is in biotech - a real roller coaster ride.

Was there a Plan B?
Yes, the company is currently trying to obtain the European market approval for the treatment of sudden blindness, a rare hereditary disease. The decision will probably be made in 2015. For me, personally, there was not much to do at Santhera in 2011 and I accepted an offer from my present employer, Polyphor. I have been the Head of Business Development since 2011.

How do you see the local biotech startup scene today?
We have already achieved a lot, but I would like to see many more young companies. Basically, Biotech is one of the most profitable investments, but there are big ups and downs. Many investors show interest - but there is also uncertainty. This is manifested in the new financing models. Private capital plays an increasingly important role. In Polyphor, investments were made almost exclusively by individuals. These are usually wealthy individuals from the surrounding area with a great affinity for pharma.

What is the most difficult phase for a startup?
Once the effect of a drug in humans is demonstrated, the financing is often easier, although you then really need large amounts of money. At this time good deals with interested pharmaceutical companies are also usually possible. It is very difficult earlier, as well as between the early pre-clinical development and proof of concept phases. Here more money needs to flow and this is where the private investor plays a key role - not only in Switzerland. In Germany, for example, a large part of all biotech investments were made by three individuals: SAP founder Dietmar Hopp, and the brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann who sold Hexal to Novartis. Nevertheless, another early-phase innovative fund with an investment strategy similar to the Novartis Venture Fund of the `90s would be very helpful.

What alternative funding models are currently becoming important?
Non-dilutive financing, which means you acquire financing without relinquishing shares in the company, is making its mark. These include, for example, the US Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health, which are no longer bound to their investments in the United States. Local companies such as Evolva, Santhera and Basilea have already benefited. Patient organizations also play an increasingly important role as they have lots of money. The French Association for muscle diseases, the Association Française Contre Les Myopathies, has an annual budget of nearly 100 million Euros as a result of their famous Telethon. Also joining are organizations such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in the US or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has already invested billions, especially in the research of drugs for tropical diseases. The extent of these investments did not exist 10 years ago.

So, is the philanthropic sector strengthening?
Yes, the trend towards alternative financing models, including the Venture Philanthropy (VP) model, is clear. However, little is known about the latter in the biotech scene. Although it is profit-oriented work, in this financing model the profits are reinvested in non-profit organizations for research. In other words, the donors of these funds aim to keep their assets, but not to increase it such as has been customary, but to support a charitable cause. The European VP Association recently had a meeting in Geneva with 700 participants and I was impressed by the professionalism and presence of many bankers and venture capitalists who wanted to learn about this concept or are already active with VP models.

Would Venture Philanthropy also be an approach for North Western Switzerland?
Why not, after all there are already many biotechs that have received funding from such alternative models. It will however not be sufficient for the next wave of startups here in Basel. It also requires an intelligent infrastructure, better early-stage financing, and support organizations and networks such as i-net. It would be a shame if we now just await the next crisis; if it happens we must be one step ahead. Today we can operate from a position of strength and we must exploit it.

Interview by Christian Walter and Thomas Brenzikofer

A short CV of Helmut Kessmann can be found here

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«Nicht der Standort sondern die regionale Stärke steht im Zentrum»

Die Schweiz sucht nach möglichen Standorten für den Swiss Innovation Park. Und die Region Nordwestschweiz ist gleich mit zwei Projekten («Schweizer Innovationspark Region Nordwestschweiz» und «PARK innovAARE») im Wettbewerb. Ob sich die beiden Parks konkurrieren und was das Label Swiss Innovation Park für sie bedeutet, erklären André Moeri sowie Giorgio Travaglini im folgenden Interview:

Wozu braucht es Innovationsparks, und warum gleich in der Nordwestschweiz?
André Moeri*: Ob es Innovationsparks wirklich braucht, ist eine Frage der Definition. Innovationsparks sind vor allem dann sinnvoll, wenn sie so konzipiert werden, dass sie in der Wertkette der Unternehmensgründung den Techno- und Businessparks vorgelagert sind. Der Fokus liegt auf forschungsnahen Projekten und Produkten, die im Innovationspark schnell zur Marktreife gebracht werden. Insofern ist der Innovationspark eine Art Katalysator, wo Projekte reinkommen und beschleunigt als Unternehmen wieder rauskommen, um dann in der entsprechenden Infrastruktur in der Umgebung angesiedelt zu werden, eben etwa in den Business- oder Technologieparks.

Der Innovationspark als Inkubator, ist auch der PARK innovAARE so konzipiert?
Giorgio Travaglini*:
Mit dem PARK innovAARE entsteht ein Ort, wo die Spitzenforschung des Paul Scherrer Instituts und die Innovationstätigkeit der anzusiedelnden Unternehmen effizient kombiniert werden. Das PSI möchte seine Aktivitäten im Bereich des Technologietransfers weiter ausbauen und seine Forschungs- und Technologiekompetenzen verstärkt Unternehmen zugänglich machen. Durch den PARK innovAARE kann die Zusammenarbeit des PSI mit der Wirtschaft weiter vertieft werden. Die Realisierung kompletter Wertschöpfungsketten unter einem Dach – von der anwendungsorientierten Grundlagenforschung bis hin zur Technologieverwertung durch die Unternehmen – ermöglicht einen überaus effizienten Kompetenz- und Technologietransfer. Der PARK innovAARE ist somit eine unternehmerische Erweiterung für das PSI und vice versa und ermöglicht die Realisierung gross-skaliger Projekte mit und durch die Industrie.

Könnte man also sagen, während der PARK innovAARE sehr eng ans PSI gebunden ist, lehnt sich der Innovationspark Nordwestschweiz eher an die Pharmaindustrie an?
Moeri:
Hierzulande werden laut Bundesamt für Statistik nur rund ein Viertel der Forschungs- und Entwicklungsgelder von Hochschulen getragen, der Rest wird von der Privatwirtschaft geleistet. Damit ist die Schweiz im internationalen Vergleich ein Spezialfall. Von den R&D-Investitionen der Privatwirtschaft konzentrieren sich wiederum 40 Prozent in der Nordwestschweiz. Dieses weltweit einmalige Ökosystem rund um die Life Sciences-Industrie möchten wir zusätzlich stützen und den Innovationspark als wichtiger Teil der Wertschöpfungskette positionieren.
Travaglini: Der PARK innovAARE ist vorrangig ein Projekt der Wirtschaft und wird unter anderem durch global tätige Unternehmungen wie ABB oder Alstom sowie durch KMU getragen. Mit der räumlichen Nähe zum PSI - zur Verfügung stehen insgesamt 5,5 Hektar - mit seinen hoch spezialisierten Forschungs- und Technologiekompetenzen bildet der PARK innovAARE für Unternehmen sämtlicher Branchen ein optimales Umfeld, um Innovationen voranzutreiben und diese schneller zur Marktreife zu bringen.

Warum sollte sich eine Novartis, Roche oder Syngenta am Innovationspark anschliessen, diese haben doch eigene Labors und wollen doch nicht mithelfen, künftige Mitbewerber zu inkubieren?
Moeri:
Es geht natürlich nicht um die bessere Forschungs- und Entwicklungs-Infrastruktur. Es wäre vermessen, hier mit den besten der Welt konkurrieren zu wollen. Unser Vorteil ist, dass wir eine neutrale Plattform bieten, auf der unterschiedliche Exponenten aus ganz unterschiedlichen Bereichen kooperieren können. Im Zentrum stehen nicht nur die klassische Medikamentenentwicklung, sondern auch Innovationen in Life Sciences an deren Schnittstellen Vermischungen mit Medtech, Nano und ICT möglich sind.

Und hierfür haben sie auch das Commitments aus der Industrie?
Moeri:
Ja, auf der Stufe Absichtserklärung haben wir die Zusagen aller wichtigen Player. Wir hatten ja insgeheim gehofft, dass die grossen Firmen wohlwollend auf unser Projekt reagieren würden. Das Echo war dann aber überwältigend: «Endlich jemand, der nicht nur Geld will, sondern auch etwas anbietet», so der Tenor.

Wo steht diesbezüglich der PARK innovAARE?
Travaglini:
Das PSI hat innerhalb der Schweiz eine einmalige Position. Die Grossforschungsanlagen, die wir entwickeln, bauen und betreiben, gibt es in dieser Kombination nur am PSI. Diese ermöglichen Untersuchungen und Entwicklungen, die nirgendwo anders in der Schweiz möglich sind – daher sind wir, vor allem im Bereich der anwendungsorientierten Grundlagenforschung, für innovative Unternehmen per se interessant. Bereits haben etwa 20 international und national tätige Gross- und Kleinunternehmen ihre langfristige, finanzielle Unterstützung sowie die aktive Mitwirkung an der strategischen Entwicklung des PARK innovAARE zugesichert. Diese Trägerschaft soll in den nächsten Monaten noch erweitert werden. Stark vertreten sind Grossunternehmen aus der Energiebranche, die mit unserem Knowhow gemeinsame Projekte lancieren möchten.

Ist PARK innovAARE mehr auf etablierte Unternehmen aus und weniger auf Start-ups?
Travaglini:
Im PARK innovAARE sind sowohl etablierte Unternehmen als auch Neugründungen, wie beispielsweise Spin-Offs des PSI, willkommen. Hinsichtlich Entrepreneurship werden wir hier eng mit der Hochschule für Wirtschaft der FHNW zusammenarbeiten, welche den Neugründungen mit ihren Kompetenzen beratend zur Seite stehen wird. Somit wollen wir mit dem PARK innovAARE das Thema Entrepreneurship noch weiter ausbauen.

Dagegen fokussiert der Innovationspark in Basel auf Entrepreneurship?
Moeri:
Ja und nein. Wir möchten vor allem Projekte, die aus der Industrie kommen, zu Spinn-offs machen. Eine wichtige Komponente ist, Projekte in unserer Region zu behalten, die sonst abwandern, weil sie nicht - oder nicht mehr - in die Unternehmensstrategie der Grossunternehmen passen würden. Wenn etwa eine Produktentwicklung gestoppt wird, weil sich die Strategien der Grosskonzerne geändert haben, können wir mit der Vernetzungsfunktion des SIP NWCH das Projekt in einem neuen Set-up weiter treiben. Wir haben in der Region einige Firmen, die bewiesen haben, dass dies funktioniert. Paradebeispiele sind Actelion oder Rolic, die beide aus der Roche heraus entstanden sind. Der SIP NWCH soll diese Beispiele multiplizieren können.

Inwiefern ist auch eine Zusammenarbeit vorgesehen?
Moeri:
Im internationalen Vergleich ist die Grünfläche zwischen Basel und Zürich ein grösserer Park. Die Distanzen in der Schweiz sind nach globalem Massstab vernachlässigbar. Der Innovationspark Basel und der PARK innovAARE haben schriftlich festgehalten, dass wir zusammenarbeiten werden. Denn der PARK innovAARE hat klare Spezialgebiete und sollten wir Anfragen erhalten, die in den PARK innovAARE gehören, werden wir diese dahin weiterleiten. Auch umgekehrt wird es so sein, dass Projekte aus dem Life Sciences-Bereich zu uns kommen sollen.
Travaglini: Beide Standorte haben eine klare thematisch-inhaltliche Ausrichtung und sind hinsichtlich der Innovationsschwerpunkte wertvolle Ergänzungen füreinander, daher sind regelmässige Austausch-Gespräche vorgesehen. Wichtig ist jedoch auch, wie der Nationale Innovationspark im internationalen Wettbewerb von aussen als Ganzes wahrgenommen wird und bestehen kann. Es geht darum, eine möglichst komplette Palette von Forschungs- und Dienstleistungen, R&D Infrastruktur, Labors, Knowhow, IP und Fachkräften anzubieten. Daher ist es verwirrend für unsere Zielgruppe, von Basel, Aargau oder Zürich zu reden, denn im internationalen Kontext ist es das Gebiet zwischen «Zürich West» und «Basel Ost». Global agierende Unternehmen holen sich die Leistungen ohnehin dort ab, wo sie ihnen am besten angeboten werden. Insofern bin ich ein Anhänger davon, dass sich die einzelnen Standorte gezielt und komplementär auf ihre Stärken fokussieren.

Geht es auch darum, neue Unternehmen aus dem Ausland anzusiedeln oder soll die Schweiz eher von innen heraus wachsen?
Moeri:
Man sollte nicht nur versuchen, Firmen aus dem Ausland in die Schweiz zu bringen, sondern auch berücksichtigen, dass es innerhalb des bestehenden Ökosystems viele Firmen gibt, die ausgebaut werden können und dass in der Region viel Potential vorhanden ist. Firmen aus dem Ausland im Life-Sciences Cluster anzusiedeln unterstützen wir in Zusammenarbeit mit den bestehenden Organisationen natürlich.

Zwei Innovationsparks sind gesetzt: Einer in Lausanne und einer in Zürich. Nun ist der Run auf weitere Parks lanciert. Wo stehen da Aargau und Basel?
Moeri:
Wir haben ein fundiertes Dossier für die Bewerbung der Kantone BL, BS und JU eingegeben und sind zuversichtlich, dass wir ein Teil des Schweizer Innovationsparkes werden. Travaglini: Expertenmeinungen zufolge hat der PARK innovAARE mit seiner inhaltlichen und konzeptionellen Ausrichtung gute Chancen auf einen Netzwerkstandort. Wir freuen uns, dass die Medien diese Einschätzung teilen, zum Beispiel die NZZ in ihrer Ausgabe vom 28. März diesen Jahres.
Moeri: Nicht der Standort sollte für ausländische Interessenten im Mittelpunkt stehen, sondern das jeweilige Fachgebiet, das sich aus der regionalen Stärke ergibt. Unter dem Label Swiss Innovation Park bekommen die bereits existierenden Schwerpunkte in Forschung und Entwicklung ein Gesicht gegen aussen. Das finde ich hervorragend.

Es geht also darum, einen Brand zu schaffen, der eine ähnliche Wirkung entfaltet wie das Silicon Valley?
Travaglini:
Ja, mit dem Swiss Innovation Park kann sich die Schweiz ganz klar im europäischen und globalen Wettbewerb positionieren. Damit ergreift unser Land eine einmalige Chance. Aber man muss auch den Mut haben zur Fokussierung auf die eigenen Stärken. So gesehen ist das Silicon Valley als Label sicher ein Vorbild.

Wie geht es nun konkret weiter? Was sind die nächsten Meilensteine?
Travaglini:
Am 26. Juni wird die Volkswirtschafts-Direktoren-Konferenz über die Vergabe der Netzwerkstandorte entscheiden. In den nächsten Monaten liegt unser Fokus auf der Erarbeitung von Business Cases und Technologieplattformen für die Akquisition von international tätigen Unternehmen.
Moeri: Wir gehen in zwei Phasen vor. In der ersten Phase werden wir einen Initialstandort beziehen. Wir übernehmen dafür bestehende Labors der Actelion. Im nächsten Jahr wollen wir diese rund 3000 Quadratmeter beziehen und dann sehr schnell starten, ohne, dass wir etwas neu bauen müssen. Die Wahrscheinlichkeit ist sehr gross, dass wir dies auch umsetzen, sollten wir das Label nicht erhalten. Dafür haben wir in der Region jetzt schon zu viel bewegt, als dass der Zug jetzt noch aufzuhalten wäre.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer, Nadine Aregger

*André Moeri ist Projektleiter des «Schweizer Innovationspark Region Nordwestschweiz» (SIP NWCH). Er baute unter anderem die Firma Medgate mit auf, die mit 250 Mitarbeitenden im Bereich der Telemedizin und der medizinischen Grundversorgung tätig ist.

*Giorgio Travaglini arbeitet seit 2012 als Leiter Technologietransfer am Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) in Villigen und ist mitverantwortlich für den PARK innovAARE im Kanton Aargau. Davor war er unter anderem als nationaler Ansprechpartner für europäische Forschungsprogramme am Head Office von Euresearch in Bern tätig.

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