Innovation Report

 
report Precision Medicine

“Momentum for blockchain in healthcare is growing in Basel”

03.12.2018

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

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

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

What did you find?

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

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

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

Why did you not just develop something on your own?

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

How so?

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

What is in it for the life sciences industry?

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

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

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

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

Where do you see other advantages of Blockchain based healthcare?

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

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

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

What is blockchain enabled healthcare about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

About

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

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

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“I enjoy thinking about seemingly unsolvable problems”

13.03.2018

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

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

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

Who pushed ahead with the spin-offs each time?

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

How are the companies doing today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which topics would you like to focus on next?

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

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

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

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth, BaselArea.swiss

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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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In Basel an Innovation Hub for Precision Medicine is Born

24.01.2017

A stakeholder group of healthcare experts from the life sciences industry and research initiated by BaselArea.swiss launches DayOne in close collaboration with Canton Basel-Stadt.

On Monday, 16 January 2017, decision makers from industry, university and the healthcare sector gathered in the Volkshaus, Basel, at the invitation of Christoph Brutschin to attend the launch of DayOne - the Innovation Hub for Precision Medicine. The initiative was dreamed up by BaselArea.swiss, the promoters of innovation and inward investment in the region, together with a core team of industry experts, and in his opening speech the Director of Economic Affairs for Canton Basel-Stadt made it clear what the initiative is all about: namely, the next development stage in the life sciences, where the Basel region should remain a prominent player. That increasing digitalization in the healthcare industry will not only provide for disruption, but also offers huge potential, as long as the right course is set, was also the main theme of the evening.

An introduction to the topic was provided by Peter Grönen, who - together with other industry experts – is one of the initiators of DayOne. The Head of Translational Science at Actelion explained why the linear innovation paradigm - in which tests for clinical relevance are only conducted late on in the process - inevitably ends in the notorious Valley of Death when it comes to the issue of precision medicine. The patient, says Grönen, has to take centre stage in research and development today - and remain included in all interactions. Groenen concluded his presentation with the observation that all the components are actually present in the Basel region to build a novel innovation ecosystem in which the various skills and disciplines operate not downstream of one another but work in constant collaboration.

And it is precisely this that is also the main driver of the DayOne initiative. The projects were then presented that are currently being pursued in the Basel region and are likely to enjoy an added boost as a result of the Innovation Hub in Precision Medicine. Torsten Schwede from the University of Basel reported on the Data Coordination Centre of the Swiss Personalized Health Network (SPHN), which is aimed at making all patent data of Switzerland’s university hospitals interoperable and accessible for research purposes. Christof Kloepper, Managing Director of BaselArea.swiss, presented BaseLaunch, the accelerator for healthcare ventures that will be officially launched at the end of February. And Laurenz Baltzer from Karger presented an ambitious scientific publication project on the subject of digital biomarkers.

Following these presentations, it was left to Frank Kumli, a co-initiator of DayOne from Ernst & Young, to show what the hub involves and how it fits into the innovation landscape of the region and offers added support.

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Roivant Sciences establishes global HQ in Basel

19.12.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dr App – Digital transformation in the life sciences

30.11.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Keime und Antibiotikaresistenzen – ein Eventthema, das uns alle betrifft

05.10.2016

Bereits zum siebten Mal findet am 25. Oktober 2016 der eintägige Event aus der Reihe der Wassertechnologie statt, den BaselArea.swiss gemeinsam mit der Hochschule für Life Sciences der Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (HLS FHNW) organisiert. Am diesjährigen Event dreht sich im „Gare du Nord“ in Basel alles um „Keime, Antibiotikaresistenz und Desinfektion in Wassersystemen“.

Die Teilnehmer erleben Vorträge und Diskussionen, Institutionen können sich in der Fachausstellung mit Postern zeigen und so zu vertieften Diskussionen anregen. Ein Schlüssel für den langjährigen Erfolg der Veranstaltungsreihe ist die Kooperation der beiden Partner. Thomas Wintgens vom Institut für Ecopreneurship der HLS FHNW betont: „Uns ist die Zusammenarbeit mit BaselArea.swiss sehr wichtig, weil die Organisation ein regional stark vernetzter Akteur im Bereich von Innovationsthemen ist.“

Man habe eine gute Symbiose zwischen spezifischen, fachlichen Kompetenzen und dem Wissen über Themen und Akteure gefunden. „Auch in diesem Jahr ist es uns wieder gelungen, ein komplett neues Thema aufzunehmen“, sagt er. Die Forschungsaktivitäten der Gruppe um Philippe Corvini von der Hochschule für Life Sciences FHNW gaben den ersten Impuls zur diesjährigen Themenwahl.

Philippe Corvini, warum ist das Thema „Keime, Antibiotikaresistenz und Desinfektion in Wassersystemen“ spannend für eine grosse Veranstaltung?
Philippe Corvini: Das Thema ist in den letzten Jahren stärker in den Bereich der Umweltforschung vorgedrungen, immer mehr Arbeitsgruppen beschäftigen sich mit dem Verhalten und Vorkommen von Antibiotikaresistenzen in der Umwelt. Zudem haben auch auf nationaler Ebene die Aktivitäten zugenommen, es gibt ein nationales Forschungsprogramm und eine nationale Strategie zum Umgang mit Antibiotikaresistenzen. In den nächsten Jahren wollen wir intensiver untersuchen, wie sich diese Resistenzen zum Beispiel in biologischen Kläranlagen verhalten und welche Faktoren die Weitergabe von genetischen Informationen, die zu Antibiotikaresistenzen führen, beeinflussen.

Welche neuen Erkenntnisse erwarten die Besucher?
Philippe Corvini:
Wir werden am Event die neuesten Ergebnisse unserer Forschung vorstellen. Bisher wurde eine Resistenz relativ simpel erklärt: In der Umwelt existiert ein Antibiotikum, wodurch sich Resistenz-Gene bilden. Diese werden übertragen, die Resistenz verbreitet sich. Wir haben nun entdeckt, dass resistente Bakterien ein Genom besitzen, das sich weiterentwickelt, so dass sie sich am Ende sogar von Antibiotika ernähren können. Diese resistenten Bakterien bauen also die Antibiotika-Konzentration ab, so dass Bakterien, die sonst empfindlich auf den Wirkstoff reagiert haben, nun im Medium überleben und sogar ihrerseits eine Resistenz entwickeln können. Wir hoffen, künftig die Ausbreitung der Resistenzen bremsen zu können.

Wie könnte man dies schaffen?
Thomas Wintgens:
Wir werden demnächst im Pilotmasstab verschiedene Betriebsweisen von biologischen Kläranlagen untersuchen, um herauszufinden, wie diese Verbreitungswege durch Betriebseinstellungen in den Anlagen beeinflusst werden können. Ausserdem forschen wir an Filtern, welche die antibiotikaresistenten Keime zurückhalten und so die Keimzahl stark reduzieren können.

Warum ist die diesjährige Veranstaltung auch für Laien interessant?
Philippe Corvini:
Ich glaube, fast jeder hat eine Meinung zum Thema Antibiotikaresistenz und viele Leute haben eine Ahnung, wie dringend das Thema ist. Schliesslich betrifft das Thema Gesundheit uns alle.

Ein Fachevent – auch für Laien
Laut Thomas Wintgens dürfen die Teilnehmer viele kompetente Redner erwarten: „Wir freuen uns zudem sehr, dass Helmut Brügmann von der Eawag die nationale Strategie und deren Bedeutung für den Umweltbereich vorstellen wird.“

Generell berührt das Thema Wasser uns alle, weil es unser wichtigstes Lebensmittel ist. Wir konsumieren es als Trinkwasser, über Nahrungsmittel oder nutzen es für unsere persönliche Pflege. Gerade deswegen die Wassertechnologie laut Wintgens ein spannendes Thema für eine öffentliche Veranstaltung: „Wasserqualität ist jedem von uns wichtig und es besteht in der Öffentlichkeit ein grosses Interesse an diesem Thema.“ Gleichzeitig würden die Wassertechnologien aber auch Firmen die Möglichkeit bieten, innovative Produkte zu entwickeln und Stellen zu schaffen.

Seit 2009 Plattform für das regionale Netzwerk
Die HLS FHNW veranstaltet seit 2009 gemeinsam mit i-net/BaselArea.swiss die Veranstaltungsreihe im Bereich Wassertechnologie, welche jährlich rund 120 Teilnehmer anzieht. Die Idee, eine Eventreihe zu starten, entstand aus der Überzeugung heraus, dass Wasser in der Region ein wichtiges Thema ist und hier die Wertschöpfungskette vorhanden ist», so Thomas Wintgens. Jedes Jahr setzten die Verantwortlichen neue Themenschwerpunkte, zum Beispiel Mikroverunreinigungen im Wasserkreislauf, Membranverfahren oder Phosphor-Rückgewinnung. Wintgens erklärt: „Jedes Jahr machen Akteure aus der Forschung, der Technologie oder dem Bereich der Anwendungen mit und präsentieren sich vor Ort“.

Der Plattform-Gedanke war den Initianten von Anfang an wichtig, der Event sollte das regionale Netzwerk stärken und Innovationsvorhaben ermöglichen. Diese Strategie hat sich laut Thomas Wintgens bewährt: „Der Anlass ist ein wichtiger Baustein in unserer Öffentlichkeitsarbeit und wurde zu einem festen Treffpunkt der Interessenten und Kooperationspartnern aus der Region“. Viele Teilnehmer würden den Event schon seit Jahren verfolgen und seien jeweils neugierig auf das Thema im nächsten Jahr.

BaselArea.swiss und die Hochschule für Life Sciences FHNW  (HLS) führen am 25. Oktober im „Gare du Nord“ in Basel ein Symposium unter dem Titel „Keime, Antibiotikaresistenz und Desinfektion in Wassersystemen“ mit Referenten aus den Bereichen Forschung, Verwaltung, Wasserversorgung und Technologieanbieter durch. Eine Anmeldung bis 19.10.2016 ist erforderlich.

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Industry 4.0 – what’s the impact on other sectors?

28.01.2015

On January 22, 2015, NZZ published a very interesting set of articles about the silent revolution in industry and production: industry 4.0 is the digital interlinking of production and value chains (see links below).

The revolutionary phases in industrial production were the introduction of the steam engine and water power, which allowed mechanized fabrication (industry 1.0), the invention of the conveyor-belt, which allowed mass production (industry 2.0), and computers and robots, which enabled automated production (industry 3.0). And today, the next industrial revolution is enabling the physical and virtual systems to be merged through the internet of everything (industry 4.0). The results of digital production are the vertical interlinking of intelligent production systems (smart factories) and the horizontal integration of global value chains, including suppliers and customers.

The sensing of everything becomes reality – not only in production, but also in mobility (self-driving car), in health (quantified self), in logistics (real-time tracking) or in finance (high-frequency trading). But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Sensing and listening (in terms of data exchange) will inform every aspect of what we do. But how do we get the essentials from the vast, unstructured data and how can we benefit from this becoming more effective, more sustainable, more innovative, improving safety, reducing risks and finally improving our habits?

Apart of sensors and data storage, we also require smart brains and emulation power, such as lateral thinking, lean management (bad processes remain bad, even if they become smart through the latest technology) and expert systems (smart and self-learning algorithms based on large data sets, which make decisions without human interaction). The future is bright; some potential advantages include the prediction of failure and conflicts (and thus hopefully their prevention), the personalization of products, services and therapies, automatic maintenance, self-organized logistics, the share economy, energy efficiency in all aspects of our life and so on.

The threats and challenges are also enormous: Data privacy, protection against industrial espionage, data security measures, data banking and so on. Sound solutions are required. We have a lot of opportunities in Switzerland from the internet of everything and expert systems, not only in industry, but in all manner of applications for our daily life. Swiss data banking and Swiss secure cloud are two such potential opportunities. Learn about more the opportunities from the i-net Technology Trend Forum and the i-net technology and business related events.

Related NZZ articles:
«Das Internet kommt in die Fabrik»
«Evolution statt Revolution»
«Auf dem Weg in die Arbeitswelt 2.0»

i-net related information:
Article about the i-net Tech Trend Forum
List of i-net Events

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Therapeutic gene editing is taking off – and Basel is right in the middle

28.01.2015

Very rarely can a scientist claim to have had a fundamental and game-changing impact in his field and beyond. But Jennifer Doudna from University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, who was working at the University of Umeå in Sweden at the time, can claim just that. In mid-2012, when they published their discovery of an RNA-programmable tool (termed CRISPR for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) which allowed DNA to be cleaved in a very targeted and extremely efficient manner, they created a stir, because this tool could potentially also be used for RNA-programmable genome editing. And only months later, this is exactly what George Church from Harvard and Feng Zhang from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard showed in two independent publications: CRISPR could be used to edit the genome of potentially any organism, from yeast to man, whether to introduce new mutations, to correct disease-causing mutations or to insert or remove whole sections of DNA in the genome, and all of this in no time at all. After this the biomedical community was jumping with excitement, and scientists were describing CRISPR as the “holy grail” of genetic engineering and a «jaw-dropping» breakthrough in the fight against genetic disease.

A new era in gene editing
It was not that genomes had not been editable until then. But for higher eukaryotes, such as mice, monkeys, dogs or also human cells, it was a slow, painstaking and expensive process that could potentially take months if not years. But with CRISPR it was possible for the first time to edit the genome very precisely and at unprecedented speed and very little cost. The research community quickly embraced CRISPR as a research tool to engineer custom transgenic lab animals in a matter of weeks—saving about a year's worth of work. This not only enables new model organisms to be established in a very short time for many hitherto hard to treat diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, autism, certain forms of cancer, but also allows cell lines to be edited for drug screening or new approaches to be explored for treating HIV. It might also be possible to for example correct the chromosomal abnormality associated with Down syndrome early in a pregnancy, to reintroduce susceptibility to herbicides in resistant weeds, to bring back extinct animal species and very much more.

On the road to commercialization
From the outset, of course, it was clear that CRISPR would also attract a lot of interest from the biotech world, which is also where Basel enters into the story. So far, three therapeutic biotech companies have been formed around CRISPR, two of them having links to Basel. The first of these was Editas Medicine from Boston, which was launched in late 2013 with $43 million in venture capital from Flagship Ventures, Thirdrock Ventures, Polaris Partners and the Partners Innovation Fund. A few months later, the Basel office of Versant Ventures announced a Series A investment of $25 million to start up CRISPR Therapeutics with headquarters in Basel. And in late 2014, Atlas Ventures and Novartis announced the formation of Intellia Therapeutics (although it had already existed in stealth mode for almost two years) with a Series A investment round of $15 million.

And just recently Novartis also concluded the first biotech-pharma licensing deal in this area with Intelllia, for exclusive rights for ex vivo engineering of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells (another hot topic in biotech/pharma research these days) and the right to develop a number of targets for ex vivo editing of hematopoietic stem cells. Ex vivo applications, in which cells are extracted from patients and manipulated outside the patient’s body and then re-infused, will very likely be among the first treatments to be developed for Editas Medicine and CRISPR Therapeutics, as this can be addressed with the technology as it stands today. The companies expect clinical trials to begin in as little as three years.

Challenges ahead
One of the big challenges, however, will be to make CRISPR a technology to treat genetic diseases of any kind with a one-time fix that can «edit» out genetic abnormalities and cure disease at the genetic level, potentially in a single treatment, in vivo. But for this to happen, ways have to be figured out for safely and effectively delivering a gene-editing drug into the body, which is still a very big hill to climb.

And there is another issue: The patent situation is in a state of some confusion. The first patent issued went to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and was licensed by Editas Medicine. However, after that patent was granted, Jenifer Doudna, originally one of the co-founders of Editas Medicine, broke off her relationship with the company, and licensed her intellectual property - in the form of her own pending patent - to Intellia Therapeutics. And to confuse the issue further, Emmanuelle Charpentier, who claims that «the fundamental discovery comes from my laboratory», licensed her own rights in the same patent application to CRISPR Therapeutics.

So there appears to be a lot of work for patent lawyers to sort out in the next few months. But despite all the legal wrangling, CRISPR will without doubt continue to transform biomedical research in a way very seldom seen before and be transformative in the way we treat genetic diseases.

More information
General
Youtube Video «Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9»
New York Times article «A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA»
The Independent article «The more we looked into the mystery of Crispr, the more interesting it seemed»

Companies
Editas Medecine
CRISPR Theraeputics
i-net article «$25 million in series A financing for Basel-based CRISPR Therapeutics»
Intellia Therapeutics
collaboration with Novartis:
FierceBiotech article «Novartis adopts a CRISPR-Cas9 partner and jumps into the hot new R&D field»
FierceBiotech article «Novartis joins Atlas in launching a CRISPR Cas biotech with a $15M bankroll»
Xconomy article «CART + CRISPR = 1st-Of-Its-Kind Biotech Deal From Novartis, Intellia»

Patents
MIT Technology Review article «Who Owns the Biggest Biotech Discovery of the Century?»
Independent article «Scientific split - the human genome breakthrough dividing former colleagues»
Fiercebiotech article «A biotech war is brewing over control of the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 tech»

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Torsten Schwede: «Seit 2007 läuft das Datenwachstum in der Wissenschaft der Rechenleistung...

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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«Europe is very much about stakeholders, Silicon Valley about shareholders»

21.08.2014

Michael Dillhyon is a US entrepreneur and investor living in Zug. Originally, he moved to Switzerland and only wanted to accompany the exit of a US spin-off company. But a growing family and new plans made him stay – he even discovered he has roots in this small country.

In our interview, Michael Dillhyon talks about his past and latest projects and explains what Swiss entrepreneurs do differently from US entrepreneurs.

What brought you to Switzerland and how did you end up staying in Zug?
Michael Dillhyon*: In 2003, I founded a company in the United States called «Netelligent». And we had an opportunity at Netelligent to spin-off a software company called «ActiveObjects» in Europe. The original plan was to be in Switzerland only for a short time until the exit took place and also to enjoy Europe. But in 2004, about two weeks before we were to leave Switzerland, I came home from the office and my wife said: «I’m pregnant.» We already thought that moving to Switzerland was a big change but on top of that, we were even going to have a child in this country.

Originally, you planned to return to the US afterwards. What was your reason to stay?
We liked our life in Switzerland a lot and saw that it was a good place for our children to grow up, but there is also another side to the story. As you may have noticed, I have quite a unique last name. My father discovered that his grandfather’s original name was «Jaeger-Blützinger» – and he was from Glarus. So you see, we moved to Zug firstly for economic reasons, then we stayed for the family and in the end it turned out that I have my roots in this country!

And the European expansion worked out for Netelligent?
Yes, it just evolved! In the end, ActiveObjects was acquired.

What made you become an investor in Swiss companies?
When I sold my stake in Netelligent and we sold ActiveObjects around 2010, I held some board roles and small jobs. Until then, I was not really involved with Switzerland business wise. I thought this was an interesting country and therefore decided to use my entrepreneurial skills. I travelled around Switzerland and realised that the Swiss do not think of themselves as entrepreneurs. But I can see that the idea of entrepreneurship is very strong in Switzerland; however, most of the people are more «lifestyle entrepreneurs». There is a big difference between this and «growth entrepreneurship». Risk capital doesn’t usually get invested in lifestyle entrepreneurship.

What projects are you following now?
When I travelled around Switzerland to make investments, I found that there weren’t enough companies that were ready that I could invest in. So I wanted to change the whole environment to create more investable alternatives. The idea was to change people’s mind-set. The difference between Europe and America is: The European community is all about stakeholders; but in America, in particular, Silicon Valley, it is about shareholders. The workforce here in Europe is not as flexible as it is in the United States.

There are many who think that Switzerland should be imitating Silicon Valley – what is your opinion?
The conservative market economy and the liberal market economy are very different and Switzerland should not try to be Silicon Valley. What’s missing in Silicon Valley is building sustainable long-term businesses. Everybody expects things to happen in three to five year increments. But a Raiffeisen or a Nestlé in Switzerland has a different approach. That’s why healthcare represents an unbelievable opportunity for Switzerland. These companies need long-term planning. The top 100 health software companies with 50 million or more revenue, aren’t fast-burners. Most of them take some time to reach 50 million in revenue and by that time, they are strong and solid.

So what should Swiss entrepreneurs do better?
I talked to many people here and invested in several small companies in Europe and the US between 2008 and 2012. If I approached a company in Switzerland and wanted to know plausible value-enhancing steps about how they were going to return my invested money, I usually got nice product descriptions but no business idea. It seems that for the engineering type of entrepreneurs in Switzerland, talking about figures and future steps are very difficult. They can tell you everything about their product, but they don’t know how to sell, how much money they need as an investment or when they will be able to return my investment.

But they have a business plan, don’t they?
The problem is that you get a cost-curve that goes up and an investment curve that goes down. But nobody can tell you at which steps you are getting to the break-even. I need to hear whom they will be calling to sell their product to.

So what you are saying is that we need more sales people in Switzerland?
Yes! Switzerland has a great history of micro engineering and bioinformatics; it’s the life sciences Mecca! It has the highest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita. But if you ignore Novartis and Roche, there are not many innovative companies left. The Swiss Government is very brave. It puts a lot of money on the table for early stage life sciences research. The problem is, the companies receiving the money need to sell their ideas to investors, to clients and to the media, etc.

But how can innovation be fuelled then?
Clusters of innovation are driving the innovation and building ecosystems. Rather than taking Swiss entrepreneurs to boot camps in Silicon Valley, we need more people who want to be part of this environment like lawyers, designers or marketing people. Because that’s the great thing about Silicon Valley, you can be in any room and create a team overnight because you have all the experts there.

So there aren’t enough talented people in the startup environment?
In the US, everybody is eager to work for equity and wants to be part of the next Facebook. But in Switzerland, nobody wants to be paid in shares and the most talented people take high-level jobs in large pharma companies and in the financial industry.

The big Swiss companies that make up for the innovation index were not built with venture money but with bootstrap money i.e. private people financing them. Is that still a good approach?
I totally believe in this. It shouldn’t be your goal to sell the company; you should rather see if you can sell your stuff. In Switzerland, we have far too many accelerators and incubators where companies easily get seed money! That is not enough; we need to build an ecosystem!

Doesn’t an ecosystem build itself? There is no agency of Silicon Valley.
No it doesn’t build itself; you need to seed the ecosystem. I believe that Silicon Valley got started because of the success of one company called «Fairchild Semiconductors» that triggered the development of the area. Here in Switzerland, we have the pharma business, but none of the big players has a real pipeline. Facebook for example has a serious, game-changing plan underneath the hood but I don’t see this in pharma. Switzerland is a great country to start something in - it is small and has a great setup to build a company. I think we would have a Fairchild in Switzerland if the key players were not so closed and so large. A very innovative company in the healthcare space is needed.

So your big bet on the future is «Healthbank». What is this?
«Healthbank» started in June 2012 and we have a long-term plan. The idea behind it is a platform to hopefully create the next Fairchild. In healthcare, it is still very difficult to trade data back and forth. There are many platforms to have data on, but you can’t trade it. Without a central platform, there is no open healthcare data and therefore, there is no collaboration. A company like Google can’t trade your data, because another big player like Microsoft will never plug into that. A middle ground is needed and our system, Healthbank, is completely unbiased. It’s self-sustainable and we have deep trust and complete interoperability. We started it as a Genossenschaft because this legal form has a long-standing tradition in Switzerland. The idea is that if you give us your personal health data, you become a member of the Genossenschaft.

What is Healthbank doing with my data?
Healthbank is not storing the data, but instead the transactions happening with your data – like credit cards. As a Genossenschaft, we have the trust of people. We are interoperable because the data can be shared through our platform and it acts as an intermediary. It is scalable because health data means a lot of money, as there is a very long supply chain and there are a lot of cross-sectional data. If a pharma company needs data for a study, we can tell you that and you can make the decision. You tell us if you would like to provide your data and then pharma receives it. Plus you receive a bit of money for your participation – it’s very simple.

How has this idea been developed so far?
Healthbank is still going through funding, as it was a bit difficult to find risk capital for a Genossenschaft. Personally, I’m leaving Healthbank as CEO for my next venture, which is to kick off a disruptive biosensor company in Europe. But I believe so strongly in the idea of healthbank, that upon my decision to step down as CEO, I made sure the reigns would be passed to a strong Swiss leader in eHealth. Mr. Reto Schegg is the new CEO of healthbank.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Michael Dillhyon was until mid-2014 the Founder/CEO of Geneva-based Healthbank, a citizen-owned, global open health data cooperative. In 2013, he was the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) for SystemsX, Switzerland’s largest (800M CHF) early stage life sciences fund, and served as a mentor for the ETH Entrepreneurship Lab. Prior to 2013, Mr. Dillhyon served as Chairman of Genebio, a bioinformatics software firm, and sat on the Strategic Advisory Committee for HealthTIES, an EU-backed consortium of four of Europe’s top regions in biosciences, medical technology and health entrepreneurship.

Previous to his move to Switzerland in 2004, Michael Dillhyon co-founded two US-based firms: Netelligent Corporation and ActiveObjects, where he held the roles of President, Chairman and CEO respectively. Mr. Dillhyon holds degrees in Biochemistry and Anthropology, as well as a MBA from the Olin School of Business.

 

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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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«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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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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Genedata increases research efficiency

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Roche accelerates development of cancer treatments

16.02.2018

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