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report BaselArea.swiss

Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area opens site in Jura

22.10.2019

Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area has opened its third location. The park is now represented in Jura alongside its locations in the Cantons of Basel-Landschaft and Basel-Stadt. This represents something of a milestone for the operators BaselArea.swiss.

Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is now represented in all three supporting cantons of the operators BaselArea.swiss. Following on from locations in Basel and Allschwil BL, a third location was opened in Courroux. Domenico Scala, President of BaselArea.swiss, described this milestone: “We have now successfully closed the circle”.

The new location will focus on the field of medical technology, health technology, digital health and industrial transformation. A usable area of 1,200 square meters will be available for these pursuits. SMEs and start-ups will be able to use the office space to further develop their visions and secure success. In addition, BaselArea.swiss is offering relevant support programs to this end in the form of DayOne and i4Challenge. The first companies are already moving in to the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, for example the software development company NextDay.Vision, which is based in Jura. In November, the start-up Ersys, which is active in the field of system ergonomics, will follow NextDay.Vision’s suit. The Research and Development Center for Micro and Nanotechnology CSEM will be offering consultancy from November onwards at the new location. At the same time, a total of 1.6 million Swiss francs is being invested in the expansion of the two floors of the building, which will be of benefit to the Jura economy.

The Canton of Jura has also been supporting the creation of this new location right from the very beginning of the projects. Jacques Gerber, President of the Jura Cantonal Government and Minister of Economic Affairs and Healthcare, has indicated that the Jura economy can flourish on the back of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area by tapping into the innovation ecosystem. Moreover, Claude-Henri Schaller, Head of the Cantonal Office for Economics and Labor, commented: “We have poured all our energy into offering the best-possible framework conditions for the Jura economy. I think that we have managed to meet these requirements”.

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GRID boosts innovative power of Basel region

26.09.2019

Work on the construction of the GRID complex for innovation and commerce has begun on the BaseLink site in Allschwil BL. By mid-2022, the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area will be operating from the new site as its anchor tenant.

With the GRID (Grand Réseau d’Innovation et de Développement) and the neighboring newbuild of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the ecosystem of the Basel region will be further expanded in the fields of life sciences, biotech, public health and medtech, it was reported in a press release from the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, its operator BaselArea.swiss and Senn Resources AG. The latter has been tasked with constructing the GRID building designed by Basel architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron.

In this building, the GRID Campus of Collaboration, space will be created on five floors and an area of around 50,000m2for “offices and laboratories for teaching, research, development and production of innovative products for the future”. To this end, 150 million Swiss francs is being invested. By mid-2020, the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area will have given up its existing location in Allschwil and leased 6,000m2 at the GRID complex. Tenants are expected to have been found for the remaining space as well by this point. The goal is for the GRID to offer workplaces for 2,220 people.

The GRID will further enrich the area around the Bachgraben, which is already home to companies such as Actelion and Idorsia as well as institutions in the fields of life sciences, biotech, public health and medtech. A new building for the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute will also be constructed in this area. The GRID will contribute to “the Basel region further gaining significance as a first-class ecosystem for innovation”.

Allschwil is the largest of the three planned sites making up the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, with the second in Basel and plans to create a third in Delémont. The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is one of five locations in the network of Switzerland Innovation Park. It is backed by the two Basel cantons, Jura, the Handelskammer beider Basel and the University of Basel. 

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“The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area and the Jura are a match made in heaven”

26.09.2019

The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area will be opening its Jura site on 25 October. Claude-Henri Schaller, Director of the Office for the Economy and Labour and Vice President of Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area AG, is convinced that the Innovation Park can make a major contribution to the diversification of industry in the Jura and will create stronger ties between industry and research.

BaselArea.swiss: Is it fair to say that the Jura is a watchmaking canton?

Claude-Henri Schaller: I would go as far as to say that there is no such thing as a Swiss watch that isn’t at least partly made in the Jura. The watchmaking industry was the first sector to become established in the Jura – and it still defines the canton today. Currently, around 44 percent of jobs in the Jura are in the secondary sector, more than in any other canton. The international groups Swatch, Richemont, LVMH and Festina all have production sites in the Jura canton. Rolex also works with a lot of local suppliers. But our businesses are also applying their watchmaking expertise to other fields. The medtech sector is growing in importance here.

Is its strong focus on the precision engineering industry a strength or a weakness for the Jura canton?

The canton’s heavy reliance on the industry has pros and cons. On the one hand, export problems have a direct and marked effect on us. On the other hand, when the economy is booming we quickly feel the effects. The economic cycles in the Jura are shorter than in other regions. The unemployment rate can rapidly go up, but can quickly fall again. And we put our extensive expertise in precision engineering to good use in the medtech, mechanical engineering and aviation technology sectors. But our aim is to encourage further diversification in the businesses here.

Why is diversification so crucial to the Jura?

If the watchmaking industry is going through a bad patch, businesses need to have other options for growth and winning new markets. Diversification also creates other societal and economic opportunities: we are currently investing heavily in advanced skills training – we have one of the highest graduate qualification rates in the country. But this investment is not currently paying the dividends we would have liked. By fostering innovation in the Jura canton we are creating opportunities in the fields in which we excel. That enables our businesses to grow – and has positive repercussions for society as a whole. We want to ensure that our highly qualified workforce stays in the Jura or comes back to us.

So there’s room for improvement. Where does the canton intend to start?

In an SME, the boss does more or less everything themselves – carrying out research, generating sales, searching out innovation and new markets. Currently, companies are doing their research and development in house, usually behind closed doors. They are very secretive about it. Although we have the Haute Ecole Arc Neuchatel Berne Jura, we don’t have a research centre specifically for industry. That means that at the moment we’re not getting involved in research early enough or closely enough. But innovation is not about universities or businesses working alone any more. To come up with innovative solutions, industry and academia must work together more closely. The Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is an important building block in this.

In what way?

The political authorities in the Jura canton are pursuing three goals. We want to encourage innovation, support the diversification of industry and foster collaboration between research centres and businesses. With the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area now in the Jura, we have the opportunity to improve the research infrastructure and create closer ties between business, research, science and technology universities and the canton.

What role will the Innovation Park in the Jura play?

The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area has sites in Basel, Allschwil and now in Courroux in the Jura canton. The site here has the potential to become an enabler, promoting and organising links and projects at supracantonal level. A Jura-based company is now perfectly able to start up a project with Basel University Hospital on the Allschwill site, while a Basel-Stadt project can also make use of the resources in the Jura. With its specialisation, the Jura is a valuable addition to the expertise available in the Basel region. That’s also promising when it comes to developing new products.

How will you convince businesses to collaborate more and to use the Innovation Park in the Jura?

To reach as many SMEs as possible, we are working closely with the Chamber of Commerce, and together with BaselArea.swiss we have formed an advisory board. It’s up to representatives from industry and research to engage with the process of mutual exchange. Of course, we also need to keep businesses informed, working hard to explain the options open to them. The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area is of course all well and good as a political initiative, but the proof of the pudding lies in tangible projects and results. That’s why our job now is to identify, organise and see through suitable projects.

What sort of projects does the Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area have in mind?

The innovation park concept is eminently suited to the Jura and our economy. Our businesses are keen to discuss concrete projects, and by working with research institutes they can get them up and running. On the Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, we are initially concentrating on the healthcare sector. We’re looking at how to improve the organisation of the healthcare sector in the surrounding regions. This may entail innovative processes or new solutions. One project is tackling the shortage of doctors. We are working with nursing staff to come up with innovative solutions for how nurses can take on a wider remit. I am convinced that the healthcare industry has enormous potential for the future. Other projects under the Industry 4.0 banner are set to follow.

What makes you think the Jura site of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area will be a success?

There’s been an awful lot of interest in creating an Innovation Park in the Jura, much of which has come from businesses. Our first tenant, the IT security firm NextDay.Vision, signed up even before we were open. And we have all the skills required to run an innovation park. In addition, BaselArea.swiss is firmly established in the canton. A network is already in place. I am confident that with the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area we can get something good going here. What’s more, the Innovation Park’s remit is not just to help Jura-based businesses work together – we are open to the entire Basel region. I am very optimistic. The Jura already has a far-reaching reputation for its industrial know-how, and that’s something the Innovation Park can build on.

Interview: Annett Altvater

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"I am amazed by the level of innovation in the Jura"

11.06.2019

The Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area already has two sites, in Allschwil and Basel, and will soon add a third in the Jura. It will be located on the Innodel campus in the municipality of Courroux, between Delémont and Courrendlin. Work is ongoing at the Jura site, which is set to officially open on 25 October.

This will be the culmination of a huge amount of work by various regional stakeholders as part of an ambitious federal project. The aim is to boost research and development in the region in particular and in Switzerland in general, as Frank Kumli, Head of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at BaselArea.swiss says in the interview with "Le Quotidien Jurassien".

Le Quotidien Jurassien: What's the significance of the new Jura site for Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area?

Frank Kumli: It's a step forward for regional innovation. Like the others, the park will be dedicated to accelerating innovation. The Jura will finally be able to participate in the innovation park. It's very important to us for the Jura to be able to join us and for us to be able to draw on the region's skills and knowhow, while at the same time supporting local economic development and innovation. For us at Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, it's a unique opportunity to lead and support this Jura site.

What are your expectations for the Switzerland Innovation Park in the Jura?

Naturally, we hope it will be a vibrant site, where lots of things happen, where people come together to develop new ideas, discuss ideas and launch innovative projects. It should be an interface between the three cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura in the field of innovation.

How many workstations will there be on this site?

In total, we will have a floor space of 1,200 m2, which could equate to sixty or so workstations, some split, so around 30 to 35 jobs.

Has there been any interest yet?

We are working closely with the Jura Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and its director, Pierre-Alain Berret, to promote the innovation park to heads of local SMEs. Several are interested in participating. Local and French start-ups have also expressed interest in setting up at the site.

And what about educational establishments?

On the academic side of things, we have also received interest from the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM), which will have a presence on the site. We have also had discussions with Haute Ecole Arc (HE-Arc) locally to see how we can represent them on the site. We're in the process of signing some contracts. The aim is to have a mix of start-ups, some academic projects and, above all, lots of business projects.

What areas will the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area in the Jura be active in?

We will have projects in two areas: healthcare and business agility. We're not going to reinvent watchmaking. Instead, we’ll see how local businesses can be transformed, how they can become more agile in responding to the challenges of a changing world. For healthcare, we're working closely with the Jura Hospital and its director Thierry Charmillot, as well as the head of the Jura's Public Health Service, Nicolas Pétremand.

What exactly are you going to do in the field of health?

A consultation exercise is underway with Professor Hans-Florian Zeilhofer of Basel University Hospital. We have several projects planned with him. Professor Zeilhofer specialises in robotics and automation in surgery. He is convinced that there is a great deal of know-how in the Jura that can be put to use in this field. He is already cooperating on projects in the Jura, specifically in the field of 3D printing. With home automation, the idea is to make the home environment safe so that patients can be discharged from hospital more quickly, while also delaying their move to care homes, therefore maximising their time in their own home.

How long do you think it will take to hit your stride?

We're relatively optimistic, given the help that we are receiving from the Chamber of Commerce, the Jura Hospital, the Public Health Service and universities. I think that we should hit our stride in about a year's time, not in terms of jobs total but in terms of having a vibrant site with lots of innovative ideas. We've had lots of help locally to help find the right projects quickly.

What will be developed as part of industry 4.0?

For us, industry 4.0 is, of course, about production technologies. We're going to focus on agility, with an emphasis on the human aspect, teams, business models and, in the background, the technologies necessary for transformation and production. It's about giving SMEs more agility so they can more easily respond to changing demand in terms of the number and type of parts ordered. To do so, you need teams that are much more responsive. We talked about this with the heads of the Chamber of Commerce CCIJ, including the new president Georges Humard. They confirmed that the areas they are interested in are design thinking, agility and lean processes. There will be many seminars, courses, awareness raising events and support.

When it comes to healthcare, what are we talking about exactly?

We have developed three areas through numerous meetings with Professor Zeilhofer, the Jura Hospital and the Chamber of Commerce. The first area will be pure medical technology, with implants and 3D printing, specialisms very close to the Jura's know-how. This will be the biggest focus. The second will be what they call health-tech, which involves connectivity and digital health. Jura Hospital and the Public Health Service believe that there's much to do in the canton. The third area is the health system. Both the Health and Economy Minister, Jacques Gerber, and Nicolas Pétremand are convinced that the Jura's relatively small health system means it can experiment and innovate much more quickly than in other cantons.

Your list also includes setting up projects, funding, leadership, working methods…

We are working to release funds at cantonal level as well as supporting businesses in securing funding at federal level. We have promised to provide them with people who can navigate the bureaucracy of innovation funds, so they can access this funding faster.

What's so special about Jura business culture?

Here, discretion is above anything else. The Jura entrepreneur does everything himself. As a result, there's little visibility of the skills that Jura businesses have. When we speak to businesses from the biomedical engineering group at Allschwil, they often ask us to help them find the right skills in the Jura for their projects. People know that there is a lot of know-how in the Jura, but they don't know how to access it. This suggests businesses must do more to make their skills known. With the Chamber of Commerce, we're going to link up with Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft. An informal group that includes businesspeople, the Jura Hospital and universities will support the innovation park.

Is there a lack of access to a community and network of innovators and experts for research and development in the canton of Jura?

Yes. There is a real appetite for working with the University of Basel, the FHNW School of Engineering and HE Arc at Neuchâtel on the technology side of things. I think that we will be able to create links between Jura entrepreneurs and universities. The clients of Jura entrepreneurs also want these entrepreneurs to collaborate with the universities, we've been told. There is a lot more innovation than people think. Every time I visit a Jura business, I am amazed by the level of innovation. I think it's great to see that, when you talk to Jura businesspeople, they have lots of pragmatism for moving forward.

Interview: Georges Maillard, Le Quotidien Jurassien

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“Here at Bell, we combine handcraft and automation”

06.05.2019

Over the space of 150 years, a butcher’s in Basel has grown into an international food company, with the Bell Food Group now employing more than 12,000 people in 15 countries. Markus Ettlin, Head of Industry 4.0/Automation at the Bell Food Group, provides an update on the company’s current Industry 4.0 projects, the limits of automation, and innovations in the food sector.

BaselArea.swiss: When will robots start making sausages?

Markus Ettlin: An extremely large amount of handcraft, experience and skill goes into making a sausage. At the moment, it would be virtually impossible to have the work done by a machine – that is not our goal either. For us, it’s a balancing act to find the sweet spot between tradition and innovation. When it comes to sausages, tradition and handcraft are extremely important. Robots will not be making sausages in the foreseeable future.

Is this because there is no demand for it?

I believe that our customers want a handmade product and not fully industrialised sausages. A sausage is a natural product with natural characteristics that must be satisfied. A great deal of experience is also required. Whether it’s sausages or ham, production requires a great deal of experience and all of our senses. We are, however, in the process of automating certain sub-processes. We want to combine handcraft and automation.

Which areas are suitable for automation?

We need to distinguish between the handcraft sector and convenience products. Great importance is attached to handcraft in the production of sausages and ham. In the Convenience sector, where products have to be more uniform, the progress made with automation is at a much more advanced stage. For example, the production of hamburger patties and chicken nuggets is highly automated, as they are shaped by machines. We have successfully introduced automation technologies in the Logistics division as well as for repetitive work and physically demanding jobs.

Where do you see the greatest potential?

The degree of automation used in handling and packing tasks is higher than in other areas, but even here human staff are needed. We see great potential in the data and information that is generated on a daily basis. We want to learn from this data and improve ourselves. Let’s look at the cooking process, for example, where data such as temperature is measured. Here, we have target parameters, we have actual parameters, and at the end we have a result. Although the employees check the temperature, they cannot keep track of all of the parameters, the different values and the complex relationships. By analysing this data, we can safeguard and even improve the quality of the cooking process – and thus also the quality of the product. This data analysis also helps us to increase energy efficiency and make optimal use of system capacities.

On which transformations and in which areas is Bell focussing?

On the one hand, we should be able to trace the journey of the product; on the other hand, we should be able to understand why certain steps have been taken in the manufacturing process and what effects these steps have on the finished product. The main areas of focus here are thus standards and standardisation. We want to use standardised technology, transform automated processes and ensure transparency.

Which sectors are particularly interesting as a source of ideas for standardised technologies?

The meat processing specialist area is a leader in this regard. In my area, I am interested more in which technologies can be used for unconventional purposes. For example, if there are procedures and methodologies used in the pharma industry that could also work in the food industry. The pharma industry is able to handle large volumes of data, which is an extremely exciting prospect for my division. The automotive industry, for its part, has made great progress with automated processes. Car manufacturers frequently have to roll our large production runs. Within an individual production run, however, sometimes the steering wheel has to be installed on the left of the chassis, and sometimes on the right. These are topics we have to deal with as well, since we also have products that come in different forms – sometimes lighter, sometimes heavier, some in small packaging and others in large packaging. We like to draw inspiration from other industries.

What is being implemented?

We are building a huge state-of-the-art cold store with an extremely high level of automation. The aim is for logistics to be as fully automated as possible, for employees to spend as little time as possible in the cold store area, and to provide highly automated support processes. All of the systems and processes will generate data and information that we want to analyse in order to implement improvements, carry out maintenance work and raise efficiency. In all areas, the collection of data is an opportunity for us to improve and safeguard our quality levels.

What challenges does the upcoming transformation pose for Bell?

For us, Industry 4.0 is strongly linked to the production environment. Digitisation is a huge step for our employees. We want everyone to be involved and show them that new technologies are there to support them in their work. I also perceive a challenge in the fact that everything is increasing in complexity, that everything is interlinked. This is not always easy to understand. As a result, we also need to build up knowledge and generally raise awareness of Industry 4.0 issues. We additionally need to develop an understanding of where we're going to start with the implementation and how we're going to establish a meaningful roadmap.

Bell is taking part in our Industry 4.0 Challenge. What have you been able to learn from this so far?

I’ve come to know BaselArea.swiss from various events, where we’ve always made interesting contacts. In terms of the Industry 4.0 Challenge, I can easily see which ideas are represented on the market and how others see the world. In the case of large corporations, it’s often not quite as transparent how they’ve come up with their great solutions. Start-ups can quickly present a proof of concept, so I can imagine what it involves and what it would mean for me. This is, in my opinion, extremely exciting. Our division is also in contact with the companies that attended the last Industry 4.0 Challenge. Although we are more on the lookout for standardised tools, start-ups often bridge the gap between a major standard and the real world.

What kind of innovations can we expect to see in the food sector in the near future?

Meat that can be produced without having to kill any animals – the hamburgers produced by Mosa Meat are cultured from cells. Bell holds a stake in the Dutch company, which is currently working on making its concept ready for market.

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“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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Connecting Innovators App Launch

11.04.2018

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

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

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

Networking made simple

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

The World of entrepreneurship

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

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

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

report Precision Medicine

Vaximm is using AI to develop cancer vaccines

12.11.2019

report Medtech

Basel startup Nutrix beats 900 startups

11.11.2019

report BaselArea.swiss

Die Wirtschaftsregion Basel-Jura entwickelt sich stabil

28.03.2018

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

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

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

Mehr Unternehmertum

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

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

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

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

report ICT

Genedata digitalizing processes for Boehringer Ingelheim

08.11.2019

report ICT

Basel-Stadt offers free open data

07.11.2019

report Life Sciences

“I enjoy thinking about seemingly unsolvable problems”

13.03.2018

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

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

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

Who pushed ahead with the spin-offs each time?

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

How are the companies doing today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which topics would you like to focus on next?

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

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

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

Interview: Annett Altvater and Stephan Emmerth, BaselArea.swiss

report Innovation

The University of Basel defines sustainability targets

04.11.2019

report Life Sciences

CARB-X supports BioVersys in the fight against resistance

31.10.2019

report

Meet the BaseLaunch Startups

11.03.2018

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

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

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

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

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«Basel is a fabulous city with an excellent infrastructure»

29.10.2019

report Invest in Basel region

How market leader Ricola innovates tradition in the Basel area

28.10.2019

report

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

06.02.2018

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

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

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

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seedstars launched its own trainings. Why was that necessary?

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

What did you learn from your experience in Lagos?

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

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

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


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

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

report ICT

Genedata completes platform for Merck

24.10.2019

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Wartung 4.0, eine wichtige Veränderung im Betrieb

24.10.2019

report Precision Medicine

“Precision medicine is the best opportunity to reconfigure healthcare”

04.12.2017

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

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

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

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

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

What will change with precision medicine?

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

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

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

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

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

How will this change medicine?

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean for the Basel Life Science Cluster?

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

Do we have enough data scientists?

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

Would an open data platform work like a catalyst?

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

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

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer, Annett Altvater

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Polyphor discovers new class of antibiotics

24.10.2019

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Investments in Basel start-ups on the rise

21.10.2019

report Innovation

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

06.11.2017

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

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

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

How do you go about this task?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03.10.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does that work out in Berkeley?

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

How do you motivate students to take that step anyway?

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

How can a culture like that be created?

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

Were you ever tempted to switch sides?

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

Why was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13 startup projects qualify for the first phase of BaseLaunch

18.09.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


Overview of the selected projects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

SunRegen develops novel drugs for neurodegenerative diseases.

T3 Pharma develops the next generation bacterial cancer therapy.

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

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

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

VERSAMEB is a regenerative medicine research and development company.

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

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

05.09.2017

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

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer

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

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

So you have aligned the company with a particular niche?

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

Is it easy to convince hospitals to collaborate with Clinerion?

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

What exactly motivates hospitals to disclose their data?

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

How many patients do you currently have access to?

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

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

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

Does your data acquisition prioritise emerging markets?

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

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

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

Do you find it difficult to compete with that?

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

Could a sale be on the cards?

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

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

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

What do you suggest?

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

How do you see innovation hub Basel?

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

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Annett Altvater

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

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"I want to turn innovative research into new drugs"

04.07.2017

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

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

Interview: Stephan Emmerth

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

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

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

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

Why did this not work out before Cellestia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why move the headquarters to Basel?

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

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

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

How will Cellestia develop further operationally?

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

What are the next milestones?

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

How are the clinical studies organised?

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

Have there been any surprises so far?

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

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

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

Who has invested in Cellestia so far?

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


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

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Roivant is creating a buzz in Basel

13.06.2017

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

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

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

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

Settling in Basel without red tape

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

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

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A molecular assembly line to cure the body

08.06.2017

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

Interview: Ralf Dümpelmann

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

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

What was the goal when starting the NCCR?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What benefits may come out of it?

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

What would be the high payoff?

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

When will that be feasible?

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

Will these ideas be used in start-ups?

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

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

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

Is the conference a step to the European level?

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

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

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

When will this dialogue start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.04.2017

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

How did T3 Pharma come about?

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

What precisely can this technology be used for?

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

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

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

How did you finance T3 Pharma?

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

With great success. What played a decisive role?

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

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

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

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

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

How high then was the success rate?

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

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

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

How do you go about finding private investors?

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

What are your next steps?

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

What is your long-term vision?

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

How do you see the local ecosystem for young entrepreneurs?

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

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

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

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

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

And was does your doctoral supervisor say about T3?

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

About:

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

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Swiss are among the happiest people in the world

20.03.2017

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

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

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

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

 

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

22.02.2017

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

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

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

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

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

 

Comments from BaseLaunch healthcare partners

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

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

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

 

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

09.02.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link list

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

 

Article written by Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss  

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Basel initiative supports life sciences start-ups

01.02.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interested start-ups can apply at Kickstart Accelerator.

 

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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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DayOne gains importance

08.08.2019

report Life Sciences

Basel-based pharma groups successfully combating cancer

05.08.2019

report ICT

Dr App – Digital transformation in the life sciences

30.11.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

report ICT

Clinerion supporting German university

30.07.2019

report Life Sciences

Synendos Therapeutics awarded EU funding

29.07.2019

report

Production Technologies – der neue Bereich von BaselArea.swiss

02.11.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

report Innovation

Basel researchers shed light on muscle regeneration

26.07.2019

report Life Sciences

Roche benefits from new medicines

25.07.2019

report Medtech

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

05.10.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

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

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

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

report Life Sciences

Novartis enjoys success

18.07.2019

report BaselArea.swiss

New partners join rock laboratory

09.07.2019

report Micro, Nano & Materials

The Chemical Industry is ALIVE in the Basel region!

07.09.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

report Invest in Basel region

Basel becomes innovation center for central banks

02.07.2019

report Invest in Basel region

Switzerland can withstand major shocks

01.07.2019

report Invest in Basel region

BaselArea.swiss welcomes Biopharmaceutical Company Ultragenyx

06.07.2016

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

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

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

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

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

The company's website for more information on Ultragenyx

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

report Life Sciences

Polyphor starts breast cancer trial

19.06.2019

report Life Sciences

Basel researchers facilitate new libraries for drug discovery

13.06.2019

report Medtech

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

04.11.2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

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

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

report Life Sciences

Santhera receiving up to 105 million Swiss francs

23.05.2019

report BaselArea.swiss

BaseLaunch is top European accelerator

21.05.2019

report ICT

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

07.10.2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

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

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

report Innovation

Impact Hub Switzerland etabliert grösste Community für Entrepreneure in der Schweiz

16.05.2019

report Innovation

University of Basel amongst the most innovative in Europe

14.05.2019

report Micro, Nano & Materials

«My experience with nanomaterials is welcomed in Bern»

10.09.2015

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

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

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

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

report Precision Medicine

Tackling the healthcare innovation chasm

13.05.2019

report Life Sciences

Pfizer acquires Basel-based Therachon

09.05.2019

report Medtech

«Only when it is shared in the team does an idea take shape»

03.09.2015

Hans-Florian Zeilhofer is a surgeon, innovator, scientist and entrepreneur. He has performed pioneering work in many fields of reconstructive facial surgery. Always driven by the goal of improving the situation for his patients, Zeilhofer is constantly initiating new projects that meet with international acclaim – as also with his latest project, Miracle, which his team will present at the Lift Basel Conference 2015.

In this interview he explains why work in an interdisciplinary team is so important for him and why he is convinced that new impulses are being generated worldwide from Northwest Switzerland.

You are a surgeon with an extraordinary background – how would you describe yourself?
Hans-Florian Zeilhofer*: Above all I’m an inquisitive person who likes to explore new paths. Even in areas where there is no path as yet, and even if I don’t know whether and how I will arrive. It‘s an enriching experience to keep meeting new people on the way and finding the solutions together that will hopefully fulfil their purpose. It’s really inspiring when you approach and arrive at a goal in this way.

You perform surgery, establish companies and are scientifically engaged in diverse areas. How do you manage with your work-life balance?
I dislike the term work-life balance. I don’t put my professional life and private life on the scales to make sure they are in balance. You should always do your work with joy and passion and find fulfilment in your work. Then you will also no longer speak of work-life balance. If work is done or has to be done without any consideration of the overall context behind it, then there will be no sense of purpose or meaning. It is therefore important to establish working conditions that help to invest the work with meaning – and that applies in all kinds of work.

You have already done a lot in your life: medicine and dentistry, philosophy, science and management – how do you reconcile all that?
I don’t see my different activities as contradictory, but rather as mutually complementary. Today I can do a lot of things that I could not do five or ten years ago and am constantly trying to appreciate what new perspectives there are and what I would like to keep working on. You never stop learning, and I learn a lot from younger colleagues. That’s very enriching for me in the late stage of my professional career.

Do we live in an age where more Leonardo Da Vincis are needed? Should doctors acquire a broader knowledge?
It’s not absolutely necessary to emulate the universal genius, but a certain knowledge base is extremely important. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon has to study both medicine and dentistry. But that is no longer enough by many means. A budding specialist should acquire a wide variety of knowledge, for example in engineering and the use of computers or media, but knowledge of economics and ethics is also become increasingly important. I also believe that the training has to change. I’m in the fortunate position that I am able to influence developments and guide the youngsters. That’s a really nice experience.

You are a pioneer in many areas of medical technology. How do those famous Eureka moments come about?
My innovations always start out from an everyday problem for which I am seeking a solution. If I find a conventional solution for our patients is no longer adequate or satisfactory, then I start looking for an alternative. Solutions often emerge quite suddenly or spring from a moment of meditative calm.
The idea then comes, for example, when I’m sitting in the train with my eyes closed or in the morning under the shower. It’s working there somewhere in the subconscious and then suddenly an approach to solving the problem presents itself. As a rule it will not yet have clearly defined contours, but will be sufficient to allow me to make some brief notes. Then it is important to have friends and partners with whom I can exchange ideas. For only through this exchange can the idea come into being and take concrete shape. If a partner then asks the right questions, this quickly takes it forwards and you can see what aspects of the idea are still incomplete, where there might be a hitch that has to be considered to ensure the solution will work.

You’re known as a doer – many of your ideas are implemented and you have been involved in many spin-offs. What does the risk of failure mean for you?
The risk of failure is a very serious matter, and it’s always there wherever you go – for surgeons in particular this is a huge challenge every day. When a patient entrusts himself to me, he wants the operation to go well. For me this means I have to plan a lot to make sure the procedure is as safe as possible. And I also have to be aware that Plan A might have to be abandoned in the course of an operation and that an unpredictable moment may spontaneously necessitate a new Plan B.
In the course of my professional experience I have learned to cope with this. We have often tried to learn from other professional groups such as musicians, who also have to improvise. It can only enrich us all to think outside the box and to learn from other disciplines; in my case, that is art and the humanities above all.

And what does entrepreneurial risk mean for you?
This also requires courage. It took me a long time to venture taking this step for the first time. I have often found that outstanding and especially innovative medical ideas have hardly been taken up by industry. There are a wide variety of reasons for this: sometimes it is down to production processes that don’t fit, or there are logistical problems, and the regulatory approval processes are also often too protracted. I came to realize that we doctors and scientists need to find the courage to start companies ourselves if we do not want good ideas to land in the drawer. However, we then take an entrepreneurial risk that brings far-reaching strategies for action with it. For example, I first have to protect my idea before I go public with it. After the patent and the start-up, you then have to develop the product to market readiness and resolve the problems associated with this. Not least, and here lies a more complex part of the venture, you have to find investors who are prepared to provide financial support for a new development. But such investors of course also want to keep the risk as low as possible if they are to come in with several hundred thousand to a million francs. But ultimately, it is precisely the riskier ideas that are the really exciting projects.

Where does your enthusiasm for entrepreneurial risk come from?
You know, as a young doctor in Germany I developed my first idea for a product innovation. And when I presented this to experts, I was told no one needed it. Soon after that I attended a congress on medical imaging in Silicon Valley. There everyone congratulated me and encouraged me to pursue the idea. Eventually I found my partners in related subjects, such as mathematics and engineering. Leading research and cutting-edge technology can no longer be developed today in a monoculture. You need small and flexible, interdisciplinary teams of physicists, computer scientists, biologists, engineers and physicians for creative and quick solutions. There is enormous energy and dynamics here. It’s a culture that we have developed in Basel and taken almost to perfection. This is precisely the secret and the key to our success in the region. Such a culture needs sufficient space and time to develop and does not work as a solo effort – you always need a team.
I see my role increasingly in encouraging others, offering security and trust and also simply being present. Trust always rests on people, and you have involve yourself as a whole person. The partners feel this. I like being described as a door opener, but actually I only support the teams – they open the doors themselves.

And was this also the case with your last two coups: the MIRACLE project and the MedTech Fund MTIP?
Put simply, the MIRACLE project is about minimally invasive, computer-assisted, robot-guided bone cutting. The project is almost like a miracle. We are already world leaders in the use of laser technology to process hard tissue. In the next generation we want to work with flexible instruments directly in the body in order to make the procedures less stressful. I’m quite sure the MIRACLE project will have major significance for our society around 2050. Then there will be almost two million people aged over 65 in Switzerland. Greater life expectancy will bring an increase in age-related diseases due to wear and tear. The treatment of these diseases will require very complex technology and should not compromise the quality of life of patients. We therefore have to develop technologies with specific solutions for elderly people that allow the minimum possible invasiveness and rapid healing. With MIRACLE we will broaden the spectrum for surgical procedures and also make therapeutic measures accessible for elderly patients in relatively poor general health. At the same time, it will be possible to shorten the length of hospital stays and the subsequent rehabilitation phase.
It is our task today to research the basic principles that can deliver satisfactory results for the population in 30 or 40 years.
The special feature of MTIP is that the University of Basel and Basel University Hospital are partners in the fund. Both are sharing the entrepreneurial venture with us. I see this as a commitment that gives us courage and trust in science to continue down this path with industry.

Last year you made a highly regarded impression at the Lift Basel Conference that aroused a desire for more. What can visitors expect on the subject of Surgeon Superpowers this year?
We will present the Miracle project at the Lift Basel Conference 2015 and show the robot in Action. I very much hope that physicians will also be at the event and that we can dispel any reservations they may have about this technology. I believe it’s very important that we develop technologies out of our field, design them ourselves, keep them under our control and don’t place them unconditionally in the hands of industry. We will also present the latest 3D printing at the Lift conference. We already worked with this technology many years ago, when it found use in the automobile industry. I was one of the first to use 3D printing for medicine. Today we can produce individual implants from titanium powder that are better accepted by the body and are adapted to the needs of the patient. A third important issue is Big Data in medicine. We need cross-sectional images through the body for diagnostic purposes. These images contain an awful lot of information and we use only a small percentage of this – if any of it at all. Using today’s computing power we could process this data and use it, for example, for prophylaxis. We therefore intend to pay greater attention to Big Data here in Basel.

What other visions do you have for the region?
My vision is for the structures we are building up now to endure. I call the environment here a Medtech Innovation Hive. Beekeeping has been a hobby of mine for more than 30 years and I‘m fascinated by the way 40,000 individuals live together in a superorganism with a highly complex organization. For me the beehive is a source of inspiration and problem solving. And precisely for this reason I call our environment a hive, because like a bee population we need to be sensitive and flexible in the way we react to our environment. The research structures are like an organism which is in a state of constant change, can divide and grow, but is also vulnerable. In view of the high degree of interdisciplinarity, we need to develop new structures of cooperation. These will have an impact on industry, on the way a company is organized. And I’m sure these structures will also have an impact on universities. There are structures - such as the division into faculties - that are difficult to overcome. In Basel we have had help in resolving this problem with the establishment of departments. But in my opinion that is only an interim solution. At university level we need to find new ways to give structure and support to this form of research and facilitate a sustainable development for the future. And I’m delighted to have the privilege of playing a part in helping to shape this.

You came to Basel from Munich in 2002. Certainly a stroke of good fortune for Northwest Switzerland. And for you too?
I find very open people in Basel with whom I can discuss my ideas. And I appreciate the fact that Basel has a full university. For I believe there is an advantage in this that cannot be overestimated. In the Basel region we have not only a strong university, but also universities of applied science that are doing very good applied research. At the same time, we have very short paths of communication with the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETH) and Lausanne (EPFL) and with EMPA and the CSEM. The triregional metropolitan region lends the Basel region a cultural diversity that we need to put our ideas into practice. I know many places in the world where people are engaged in innovation. And I’m convinced that something like a Silicon Valley for Europe can grow here – with impulses for the world and of similar consequence. And you talk of good fortune: yes, I do see it as a real stroke of good fortune that I can initiate and follow such a process together with i-net, the Swiss Innovation Park Northwest Switzerland, the university and university hospitals – I won’t get another chance like this.

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Professor Hans-Florian Zeilhofer heads the clinics for oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University Hospital Basel and the Cantonal Hospital Aarau, as well as the High-Tech Research Centre at the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Basel. After studying human medicine, dentistry and philosophy, he trained as a specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery and gained his postdoctoral qualification at the university hospital Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University Munich. In June 2002, he joined the University of Basel. In 2004 he established and headed the High-Tech Research Centre at the University Hospital Basel. In 2005 he became the founding president of the annual International Bernd Spiessl Symposium for Innovative and Visionary Technologies in Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery. Since 2013 he has been establishing the Med-Tech Innovation Hive in collaboration with i-net and the Swiss Innovation Park (SIP) Basel. Since 2007 he has been president of the Swiss Society of Maxillo-Facial Surgery. He has received numerous honours and awards for his innovative research work. He holds a number of international patents and has created several startup companies in recent years out of high-tech innovations from university research. Most recently he founded the new innovation platform Med-Tech Innovation Partners (MTIP) as a private public partnership together with the entrepreneur Felix Grisard and the manager Christoph Kausch with the involvement of the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel.

Project «MIRACLE»

Webpage of MTIP

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Video of Hans-Florian Zeilhofer at Lift Basel Conference 2014

report Life Sciences

Swiss biotech industry growing

08.05.2019

report Life Sciences

Switzerland excels with biotech start-ups

06.05.2019

report ICT

«If you’re after eight-figure investments, it’s always going to be very tight in Europe»

05.08.2015

With its award-winning Erlenapp, the company known as qipp made both a national and an international name for itself. But with its Allthings platform, success came to the Internet of Things startup in a different market from the one initially in mind. In this interview Stefan Zanetti, founder and CEO of qipp, explains what hurdles the Basel startup had to overcome and ventures a glimpse into the future for qipp.

In the past few months, qipp has reaped a host of startup awards. Does that also do something for the business or are the awards just good for the ego?
Stefan Zanetti*: Of course we wouldn’t have taken part in the competitions if we had not been convinced that they would get us somewhere. There are two considerations here. Firstly, our business idea is pretty abstract. To be successful, we have to package this in a good story. Competitions force us to get to the heart of our own story. Secondly, awards bring not only publicity, but above all also trust. It’s like a third opinion which certifies that we have a promising business idea. The awards have opened doors to investors in particular.

The idea of qipp matured over time. What has changed?
I would put it differently. The basic idea has always been the same: With our Allthings platform, we aim to equip the physical world with digital services. What has changed a lot is the market focus. At first we thought qipp could be interesting above all for producers of high-end goods. Our technology, for example, enables products such as watches, bicycles or kitchen devices to be equipped with digital services so that the producers can deliver their products directly with value-added services. This idea is still what guides us and was also well accepted by producers. Only this is unfortunately a slow-moving market and the sales cycles are much too long for a startup like us, who has to show concrete results very quickly.

So you had the right product, but were on the market too soon?
Yes, the producers we initially had in mind were simply not mature enough for our story. But fortunately another industry got wind of our product: the real estate sector. It was above all the initiative of a partner, namely the general contractor Losinger Marazzi, who wanted to explore new avenues for the Erlenmatt estate. And so we developed the Erlenapp on Allthings. Everyone who moves into an apartment in Erlenmatt is given access to this app, which covers all the services relating to the apartment and the estate: from the apartment documentation, a local social network where users can exchange their views or interfaces for reporting damage to the visualization of energy data. So far, 92 percent of the apartments have downloaded the app and use it on average every other day. These are fantastic values.

So is that now the breakthrough?
Since launching the Erlenapp, we have indeed been bombarded with queries. These come partly from the real estate sector and also from other sectors.

How are you coping with this rush?
At the moment we are working at two levels. Besides the further rollout of real estate apps, we are also working flat out on the publication of our API, which will then also open up the Allthings platform for third-party providers outside the real estate sector.

Can this balancing act work in the long run? Will you not have to decide at some stage: «World Leading Real Estate App» or horizontal platform for Internet of Things applications?
That’s a valid question. The real estate market is actually huge. And it’s not only about the market for apartments; a very attractive option of course is also the office segment, not least in view of new forms of work, such as shared desk and co-working, which are a growing feature of offices. There is huge potential in the real estate sector for micro-applications that can then be offered by third parties via our platform. This shows how crucial the local graph is - whether you want to get rid of the surplus food in your fridge before you go away on vacation or the local pub invites you to a BBQ evening.

So qipp positions itself as a sales and service outlet?
I could well imagine apps comparable with the Erlenapp in future being offered as basic infrastructure by cities, municipalities or districts. But at the same time you have to watch out that you don’t find yourself drifting out too wide, because a lot of things are possible, but not everything really makes sense. So it will be important to get the scalable core to crystallize out even more clearly in the coming months together with our partners.

You have been to Silicon Valley on various occasions. Will qipp have to move to the ICT mecca at some stage? Or to put it differently: can you also live out your ambitions in Basel?
If the success lasts, then the day will come when we have to touch ground in Silicon Valley. But we cannot and don’t want to take this step right now. We are also aware that there are hotspots like London and Berlin, where things are taking off at present and a European startup eco system has emerged. But you can also profit from this if you travel there now and then and actively network. You don’t necessarily have to locate your headquarters there. Conversely, a location like Basel also has advantages. For example, when you see how companies in London and Berlin poach developer talents off each other, then this is not something you necessarily want to get involved in. I can count on people here who above all are convinced of the qipp idea and find it exciting to develop this further. There are also top developers who don‘t desperately want to live in the most hip places in the world.

Is that not rather too defensively minded?
If you’re after big investments running to eight-figure sums, it’s always going to be very tight in Europe and you will also seek your fortune Silicon Valley. But no one there is waiting for a company from Europe and conversely no US venture capitalist invests to any substantial degree outside the US. Establishing a startup in Europe is fundamentally different from establishing a startup in the US. Take Nextdoor. This startup is doing something very similar to us in the US, but the approach is quite different. First it is all about conquering territory. The business model and sales don’t play any role. For as soon as you have the masses on the platform, these things then develop of their own accord. You can’t operate like that in Europe. You have to earn money from the outset. But this only works if you know your market, and the market you know best is where your home is.

So you can finance qipp yourself?
I have already built up two companies that were completely organically financed. To date qipp is also self-financed and could also continue to develop further organically. But the question is whether we would then risk missing out on great potential. For this reason we will hold our first external round of financing in the autumn.

How much capital is needed?
We will conduct an initial round among business angels, friends and employees and only then open up. And we need additional staff in order to meet the current strong growth in demand. But this will then enable us soon to generate new income, which we plan to use for the development of our platform in order to get third-party providers involved.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Stefan Zanetti is founder and CEO of qipp, the third company that he has founded after synesix (2005) and careware (2006). Within qipp, Zanetti is focusing on business development and key account management. All the companies he has founded are profitable and manage entirely without external financing. They achieve sales of 2 to 6 million francs a year and employ between 8 and 20 people.

Website of qipp

Video about qipp's Erlenapp

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«We benefit from many years of research in Basel»

08.07.2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Fabian Käser and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

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

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

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

 

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«It would be very good to try to widen everyone’s vision of what you can do with biology –...

11.06.2015

Neil Goldsmith and two colleagues started working on Evolva in 2001, moving its headquarters from Denmark to Reinach in Switzerland in 2004. The «Brewers of 21st Century» discover and provide ingredients produced with the help of biologically engineered yeast. CEO Neil Goldsmith explains in the i-net interview how this works and why, initially, they received their seed money for another business model.

You call yourselves the «Brewers of 21st Century». What does that mean?
Neil Goldsmith*: We make ingredients for food or cosmetics by genetically engineering baker’s yeast and brewing it. If we want to make Stevia for example, we take the genes the plant uses to make that molecule and put those genes into the yeast so the yeast can make the molecule. We then ferment the yeast by brewing, just like with beer. The yeast takes up the sugar, turns it into Stevia and pumps it out; we filter off the yeast and have Stevia in the «broth» which we can purify out.

Why should biosynthetically brewed Stevia be better than the grown one?
The Stevia plant makes a lot of sweet molecules. However most of these molecules start to taste bitter when you use a lot of them – that is why the current Stevia-based soft drinks only have about a one-third reduction in the level of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Now, the plant also makes some molecules that do not give a bitter taste, but it makes very small amounts of them. Therefore it’s not economic and sustainable to grow the plant to produce these molecules. But creating Stevia by brewing it is a very promising alternative.

So with yeast, you can make almost anything?
In principle, we can make anything that occurs in nature. The key is combinatorial genetics. For the yeast to turn sugar into Stevia it needs 32 genes that have to work together: Finding what those genes are and optimizing them so they all work well together is what we are founded around. It’s in principle more complex than making an antibody or an enzyme, because that’s just one gene or one protein. We were intrigued by the idea of taking the combinatorial thinking of chemistry and applying it to genetics. You can use our approach to make old molecules in better ways – which is what we do now – or you can use it to make new molecules, which was the original idea. You would get new structures that have never been seen before and they might cure diseases.

Evolva has pivoted from pharmaceuticals to the nutrition sector – how did this come about?
We pivoted because we weren’t finding interest from the pharma companies for our technology. Instead, food and cosmetic companies were approaching us. We initially agreed to work for some of these companies just to bring some money in. After a while, we started to understand that the business itself looked interesting. Then we had to persuade our investors, who invested in us because we were going to develop a new diabetes drug, that switching to food and other ingredients made sense.

A completely different market?
Yes and with lower margins. But also less risky, with lower development costs and much less competition compared to pharma. Today we’re actually a network business; our analogy is a railway company. Two molecules that might be very, very different – take vanillin and benzocaine, an anaesthetic – are actually on the same railway track from the yeast point of view. So we want to build and own this track and own that network. If we invest in making vanillin well, that also gets us towards benzocaine. It was interesting to realise that there are many different products by simply pursuing the same track. Maybe they’re not all so big in market terms, but they are built on the same research and can be produced with the same infrastructure: Everything is brewing. So you can produce one product this week and another one next week. Also it is possible to respond very quickly to market demand.

Pharma start-ups are mostly being exited through a trade sale. Will Evolva be a different story?
The food and personal care industries have seen very little transformative innovation. Companies typically spend only very little on R&D and that gives the opportunity to build something transformative. In pharmaceuticals you can’t do that because the big pharma companies will spot you and adapt pretty quickly. In a way it’s a problem for the biotech industry that it has stayed so reliant on pharmaceuticals and not innovated its business models for 30 years. In the ingredients business everyone collaborates with everyone, and by partnering and building a network you can get the resources you need. Using the railway analogy: If you want to build a track from Basel to Geneva and you want to fund this track, you fund it by selling off Yverdon-les-Bains to someone who wants this station, meaning this product. In pharma, this way of thinking is not possible. So I really believe we can grow our business organically and remain an independent company.

What is your business strategy with Evolva?
We want to make products where there is a clear benefit, not just that we can make it cheaper but also that we can make it better, like Stevia. We don’t want to compete with the big companies. Instead we are looking to develop products which have a new market or can open up a new market. In a nutshell, we focus on «high priced, small volume» in the health, wellness and nutrition industry. One of our latest products is Nootkatone, a grapefruit fragrance that turned out to be very good at killing and repelling the ticks that transmit Lyme disease. There is an unmet need for that and we have a product that is very safe, it smells nice and it’s very good at both repelling and killing the ticks.

Will you do the production yourself or enter into a partnership for the production?
At the moment, all we have is labs. In some cases we have a partner who does it, and in other cases we pay someone on a contract basis. But in the long term we want our own brewery, because it’s a business with constant improvement and ultimately, you need to have the bug and the brewery integrated. If you want to be flexible in manufacturing, it needs to be your facility. But this is a long-term plan that costs many tens of millions of dollars. We don’t want to do that too quickly and then find that we can’t sell enough products quickly enough to justify that.

Would you do that in Switzerland or somewhere else in the world?
I wouldn’t completely rule out Switzerland; it’s obviously a high-cost location for manufacture, but it’s possible to run these facilities pretty lean and there is a value in this market to being Swiss. If you’re selling a food ingredient and it’s a Swiss food ingredient you get a certain quality association. We don’t know the answer yet, but I think there will be something in the States and something in Europe.

Let’s talk more about the buzz around high-tech food, which is sustainable and healthier. There seems to be a lot of attention surrounding this issue that suggest you may be in the right place at the right time.
It’s clear that a lot of megatrends in society converge in the space we occupy at present. It started about four to five years ago, and it has taken a few years to build a momentum. But we don’t know how it will play out in reality. What’s going to be interesting is that food is fundamentally a very conservative culture, and innovation– by definition – is not. So how do you marry these cultures? If you look at the big food companies and if you take brewing beer, it’s a very conservative industry. But the rise of craft brewing is really challenging that. There are people experimenting with different flavours of beer made from different ingredients. The same could happen with synthetic biology: Innovation happens in small companies.

Is there a technological driver behind this trend?
I don’t see the development as technology driven; it’s rather about adapting technology to these needs because technology sort of arises for other purposes. Look at the smart farming movement: It’s just applying sensors; now you can image every single corn plant in the field and data mine. I think it’s more that various technologies have matured to the point where they can start to be used here, because they need to be robust and relatively affordable, and then you start to assemble them together. Now you can set up a biotech lab in your garage and start to do stuff – this is new for biotech. And it does raise important questions as to how we control it. There is no way you can track every single garage around the world.

What is the potential in this region; should there be more attention for this field?
I think it would be very good to try to widen everyone’s vision of what you can do with biology, because it’s not just cancer drugs. I think the limiting factor is investors, and that’s really why there are so few people in this space currently. Traditional biotech investors are investing in medical stuff – we only got our money because we started off doing that. We would never have got the money if we started off doing what we now do. I think you need new kinds of investors.

They are mostly likely to be found in Silicon Valley.
Yes, we need people that really think hard and deep about where trends will be and start playing there. Europe is not so good at doing that; it only follows. We need a different mindset. If you look at Silicon Valley, most of the people who are in the nutrition area come from the IT sector, whereas the biomedical guys find it very hard to get out of their way of thinking. The UK investment in food and agricultural research has declined, and you don’t have equivalents in Europe to the movement in the US of teaching farmer’s kids technology.

Next year will be a big year for you with Stevia hitting the market, will that be a booster? What do you expect?
We have a product we are very confident of in terms of taste and competiveness. Potentially, it’s very big. It’s clearly got the possibility of being a billion-dollar product in terms of revenue. But will it get there? We don’t know. It will take some years to get into the market. These products typically have 5 to 10 years to achieve peak sales, because we’re in a slow-moving industry. Unlike a pharmaceutical product that gets picked up immediately by the healthcare industry, market incumbents in the nutrition sector don’t change their flagship products and brands overnight. They normally extend their product lines gradually.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Neil Goldsmith is co-founder and CEO of Evolva SA in Reinach. He has a 25-year track record in building successful biotech companies, among them TopoTarget A/S and Personal Chemistry AB. Earlier in his career, he was Chief Executive Officer of Auda Pharmaceuticals, GX Biosystems and PNA Diagnostics.
He received a first-class BA Honours degree in Zoology from Balliol College, University of Oxford, and is a graduate of the New Enterprise Programme at the Scottish Enterprise Foundation, University of Stirling.

About Evolva
Evolva was founded by three people, Neil Goldsmith and two others as a spin-off of the US company Phytera, that was doing plant cell culture, had a lot of plant genes and was trying to find a way to put them in a host that was more robust than plant cells. Phytera IPO failed and the company needed to cut costs. It was clear that the project of putting the genes into yeast was going to be one of the things to be cut. Neil Goldsmith wanted to take this out and found a company around it. So in 2001 they set up Evolva – initially in Denmark – and raised some seed money just before 9/11. In 2003, they thought they had enough to raise a proper round as the market had improved. At this point the three partners already wanted to change our headquarters to another location than Denmark, as the country «wasn’t world class» in the field of small molecule pharmaceutics. In addition, they wanted to be where there was more money available. They looked at the States, Canada, UK but ended up choosing Switzerland.


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Pascal Bourquard: “We need more freedom: it's essential for creativity”

07.05.2015

At a recent «Out-of-the-Box» event, Pascal Bourquard agreed to give an in-depth interview to i-net innovation networks at his company Biwi in Glovelier, before showing us around his home in the  nearby village. As it happened, his mansion held the key to better understanding the man, who is the father, brother and son of an entrepreneur. Here, very close attention to detail and a clear preference for timeless objects were immediately evident.

In the interview, the businessman talked about his experience as an entrepreneur and his vision of innovation. At 58, Pascal Bourquard is about to embark on a maiden voyage marking the beginning of a new life, one that nobody, least of all him, is calling retirement. It is a trip that, in some ways, represents both a return to his roots and an exploration of the world with which he has engaged from a very early age. A sea journey that also satisfies an existential need for freedom, something vital for creativity.

Do you have to break the mould to think like an entrepreneur?
Pascal Bourquard*: Not necessarily, even though, since I was very little, I've always been the black sheep of the family. Even today, whenever I find myself trapped in a standard way of thinking, I try to break out. I'm a libertarian at heart. At the same time, I still have childlike curiosity and enthusiasm. I'm always raving about my latest discovery. My mother used to call me «Mr Gadget».

What other qualities go together with entrepreneurial spirit?
I think you need to be generous and not motivated by personal gain. You shouldn't be too calculating. Having a vision is essential. You need to know how to bring people together and how to share.

Is this something you've always known or something you've learnt during your career?
At the start, I was quite rebellious and anti-conformist. It took a while to learn that we never know, as Jean Gabin once sang.

Can you teach someone how to be an entrepreneur?
It can't be taught, unfortunately. You're either born with it or you’re not. That said, as you grow older you draw on certain knowledge, experience and contacts.

How do you view the current state of the Swiss economy?
With some defeatism, unfortunately. The diversity of paths leading to entrepreneurship — like mine — has been swept away by group think. Politicians are out of touch with economic reality.

What annoys you most in life?
There is too much emphases on making people do certain things rather than giving them greater freedom for thinking and creativity. Communist regimes have been forced to open up. Democracies continue to close in on themselves, to become trapped by restrictive dogmas.

Do you think that these constraints inhibit creativity?
I'm convinced of it. My twelve-year-old son, for example, is completely conditioned by video games and screens. When I take him to the circus, he's passive, because the images he sees on screen are far more impressive. When the extraordinary becomes permanent, we struggle when experiencing the ordinary.

How, then, can we revive some form of creative freedom?
We are lucky to have freedoms. We must exercise them and begin by voting for the right people. We need to create the conditions in which young people who perhaps have an apprenticeship rather than a university education can set up their own businesses; and without unnecessarily burdening them with high taxes. I think we should help young people who have completed an apprenticeship to become business people. I have little trust in politicians. I do, however, believe in young people when they are given freedom.

What is the right work-life balance?
That's a good question and one that is difficult to give a general answer to. What I can say, however, is that over the years I've learnt that having time to myself is very beneficial.

What else do you need to start a company?
Big international banks would do well to stop speculating and return to their roots, which is to say taking risks in supporting young entrepreneurs. Speculation is destructive and banks no longer know how to take the right risks. Most entrepreneurs want to create a buzz straight away to sell things. As far as I'm concerned, the success of a business lies in its longevity.  To last, you need to know how to be self-critical.

Is that your advice to young entrepreneurs?
When young entrepreneurs come to see me with a plan, I advise them to think long term. It's a vital message.

Do you foster a particular spirit of innovation in your companies?
Even if you have excellent champagne, it will not sparkle unless opened. The same goes for employees.

And how do you work?
Through listening, dialogue and training.

What form do you think future innovation will take?
It will undoubtedly be related to energy and the natural resources that we continue to use up. I believe in human ingenuity, despite the pessimism of some of my comments.

Will the third generation of Bourquards who will soon succeed you follow the same route?
I trust my children. I've conditioned them well... in freedom (laughs).

Interview: i-net

*Pascal Bourquard is a self-made entrepreneur who is active in many sectors like the watchmaking supplying sector, the electronic and microelectronic sector, the identification and security sector, the energy and car-sharing sector. Pascal Bourquard has a commercial and economical background, he is somehow the Richard Branson of Jura.

 

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«Ungenutzte Biomasse hat ökonomisches Potenzial - dieses Bewusstsein ist enorm gewachsen»

09.04.2015

«Biotechnological use of untapped biomass for the future bioeconomy of Switzerland» heisst der i-net Cleantech Technology Event, der am 21. April 2015 an der Hochschule für Life Sciences FHNW (HLS) in Muttenz stattfindet. Philippe Corvini, Professor für «Environmental Biotechnology» und Leiter des Institutes für Ecopreneurship an der HLS, erklärt im i-net-Interview, warum der Anlass einen Besuch wert ist und welche Chancen die Biotechnologie für die Nordwestschweiz birgt.

Sie leiten das Institut für Ecopreneurship an der Hochschule für Life Sciences an der Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz. Was heisst Ecopreneurship genau?
Philippe Corvini: Der Begriff «Ecopreneurship» verweist auf die Tatsache, dass Umwelttechnologie auch zur effizienteren Ressourcennutzung sowie zu weniger Energieverbrauch beitragen kann und damit auch ökonomisch sinnvoll ist. Das heisst, neben Forschung zu betreiben möchten wir auch zum unternehmerischen Handeln beim Einsatz von Umwelttechnologien anregen. Wir tun dies in drei Bereichen: Bei der Umweltbiotechnologie und Umwelttechnik geht es um den biologischen Abbau und den physikalisch-chemischen Rückhalt von Schadstoffen wie auch um die Rückgewinnung von wertvollen Stoffen. In der Ökotoxikologie untersuchen wir die Effekte von Chemikalien oder neuen Materialien auf Organismen und in der Gruppe für nachhaltiges Ressourcenmanagement geht es um Gesamtbetrachtungen die zu ressourceneffizienter und umweltfreundlicher Produktion führen.

Wie kann Biotechnologie unsere Umweltprobleme lösen?
In der Umweltbiotechnologie macht man sich lebendige Organismen zunutze, die Schadstoffe entweder zurückhalten beziehungsweise akkumulieren oder aber als Nahrung aufnehmen und in weniger toxische Stoffe umwandeln können. Dabei kommen nicht nur Bakterien zum Einsatz, sondern auch Pilze, Algen und andere Pflanzen. Ein gutes Beispiel ist die Abwasserreinigung: Bakterien werden dem Abwasser zugesetzt und ernähren sich, indem sie gewisse Stoffe aus dem Abwasser abbauen. An einem bestimmten Punkt gibt es dann zu viele Bakterien und es entsteht überschüssiger Schlamm. In einem Faulturm wird dieser Schlamm dann von anderen Mikroorganismen verdaut und dabei entsteht Biogas. Ein weiteres Beispiel dafür, wie Biotechnologie Umweltprobleme lösen kann, sind Biofilter: In diesen wirken Bakterien, die sich von Lösungsmitteln aus der Abluft ernähren und so Schadstoffe abbauen.

Durch Biotechnologie versucht man also biochemische Prozesse so zu steuern, dass sie für die Umwelt keine ungünstigen Auswirkungen mehr haben?
Tatsächlich dominieren die Themen «Minimierung der Auswirkungen» und «Sanierung» im Umwelttechnologie-Bereich. Es geht darum, den Schaden, der durch menschliche Aktivitäten entstanden ist, zu minimieren oder rückgängig zu machen. Die Forschung an der Hochschule für Life Sciences FHNW geht aber darüber hinaus. So untersuchen wir auch, wie neue Substanzen, die etwa über Medikamente in die Umwelt gelangen, abgebaut werden können. Von daher haben wir viele Schnittstellen zur pharmazeutischen Biotechnologie. Denn wenn man weiss, wie Bakterien einen Stoff abbauen können, ist das auch für die pharmazeutische Industrie interessant. Ein Beispiel ist das Antibiotikum Sulfamethoxazol. Wir haben ein neues Bakterium gefunden, das infolge einer Genmutation gegenüber Sulfamethoxazol resistent ist und sich sogar von diesem ernähren kann.

Wo sehen Sie derzeit das grösste Potenzial für Umweltbiotechnologie?
Neben den oben erwähnten Einsatzmöglichkeiten bietet die Nutzung von lebenden Mikroorganismen aber noch viel mehr. Sie sind auch wichtige Hilfsmittel, um ungenutzte Ressourcen weiter zu verwerten. Abwasser und Bioabfälle aus agro-industriellen und kommunalen Quellen werden gereinigt, beziehungsweise «hygienisiert», verbrannt oder noch in Biogas umgewandelt. Für die Schweiz am Relevantesten ist sicherlich Holz. Diese Biomassequelle sollte noch besser verwertet werden. Altholz oder Holzabfälle zu verbrennen bedeutet, die stofflichen Verwertungsmöglichkeiten nicht zu nutzen. Im Holz stecken wertvolle Moleküle und chemische Verbindungen, die man extrahieren kann. Neben Zellulose für die Produktion von Bioethanol ist besonders Lignin von grossem Interesse. Dabei handelt es sich um ringförmige Strukturen, die zur Herstellung von Chemikalien für die Industrie sehr wichtig sind. Bis heute werden diese ringförmigen Verbindungen ausschliesslich aus fossilen Quellen gewonnen. Holz wäre hierfür die sehr viel nachhaltigere Ressource.
Vielversprechend ist auch die Konvergenz von Umweltbiotechnologie und neuen Technologien wie die Nanotechnologie. Zum Beispiel kann der Einsatz von Nanomaterialien die biologische Sanierung von ausgelaufenem Öl effizienter machen. Zwar existieren im Meer natürlicherweise Mikroorganismen, die Öl abbauen können. Doch dafür brauchen sie viel Zeit, weil ihr Wachstum durch die Verfügbarkeit von Nährstoffen wie Stickstoff und Phosphor limitiert ist. Durch gezielte Zufuhr der limitierenden Nährstoffe kann die Abbaurate beschleunigen werden. Dies geschieht in der Regel durch Beigabe von herkömmlichem Dünger. Allerdings verdünnt sich dieser im Meer ziemlich schnell. Mit dem HLS-Kollegen Dr. Patrick Shahgaldian haben wir sehr poröse Silica-Partikel, deren Oberfläche wasserabweisend ist, mit Stickstoff und Phosphor gefüllt. Wegen der Eigenschaften dieser Partikel kleben diese dann förmlich am Öl und stellen dort gezielt Stickstoff und Phosphor für das bakterielle Wachstum bereit, was die Abbaurate des Rohöls signifikant erhöht.

Sind solche Anwendungen schon marktreif?
Einige Technologien werden bereits zur Dekontamination von Abwässern im Bergbaubereich, zur Rückgewinnung von Metallen oder für die Fermentierung von Bioabfällen eingesetzt. Zudem springen traditionelle Chemiefirmen hinsichtlich Bioabfallverwertungen auf den Zug auf, und es gibt auch interessante Chancen für Startup-Unternehmen. Generell ist festzustellen, dass derzeit unter dem Begriff Bioökonomie eine sehr diversifizierte Szene mit viel Wachstumspotenzial am Entstehen ist.

Und welche Rolle spielt dabei die Nordwestschweiz?
Es gibt schweizweit, aber auch global gesehen, noch kein etabliertes Bioökonomie-Zentrum. Europa scheint aktuell eine führende Rolle einzunehmen, wobei Asien stark aufholt. Für mich und mein Institut ist die Region Nordwestschweiz sehr interessant, weil wir hier neue Begeisterung für diesen Bereich entfachen können. Das Bewusstsein darüber, dass ungenutzte Biomasse ein ökonomisches Potenzial darstellt, ist in den vergangenen Jahren enorm gewachsen.

Am 21. April 2015 findet an der Hochschule für Life Sciences in Muttenz der i-net Cleantech Technology Event «Biotechnological use of untapped biomass for the future bioeconomy of Switzerland» statt. Was erwartet die Teilnehmer?
Die Veranstaltung, welche die HLS und i-net in Zusammenarbeit mit Swiss Biotech gemeinsam in unserem Haus durchführen, bietet eine tolle Übersicht über die Themen Biotechnologie und Bioökonomie. In den Englischen und Deutschen Referaten geht es um das Potential von Bioökonomie in Europa. Man erfährt von konkreten Beispielen und lernt Zulieferer, Anwendungen oder Forschungsprojekte kennen. Wir hoffen, dass wir interessierte und neugierige Teilnehmer mobilisieren können. Immerhin ist es der erste Anlass in der Region, der sich spezifisch diesem Thema widmet.

Interview: Sébastien Meunier und Nadine Nikulski, i-net

Philippe Corvini ist Professor für «Environmental Biotechnology» und Leiter des Institutes für Ecopreneurship an der Hochschule für Life Sciences FHNW. Er arbeitet an verschiedenen wissenschaftlichen internationalen und nationalen Projekten. Er ist Vize-Präsident der European Federation of Biotechnology und repräsentiert und leitet die Sektion «Environmental Biotechnology». Daneben ist er Scientific Advisor und Mitbegründer der Inofea AG und gehört einem Beratungsgremium des Bundesamtes für Umwelt an. Weiter ist er Co-Leiter der Plattform «Bioresource Technology» des KTI F&E Konsortiums Swiss Biotech und hält zwei Professuren am Yancheng Institute of Environmental Technology and Engineering der Nanjing University.

Philippe Corvini hat in Nancy Biotechnologie studiert und erforschte nach seinem PhD in einem interdisziplinären Projekt in Deutschland, wie Bakterien Schadstoffe abbauen. Er hat die Habilitation an der RWTH Aachen bekommen und hat sich nun an die Universität Basel umhabilitiert.

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Domenico Scala: «The Basel region is clearly undersold»

28.01.2015

In Domenico Scala, former CEO of Nobel Biocare, CFO at Syngenta and Group Treasurer of Roche, i-net appointed an experienced top manager from the life sciences industry as its president at the beginning of 2015. In an interview with «i-net Innovation report» Scala explains why Northwest Switzerland as an innovation hub for the life sciences should do more on its own account – and not only in terms of communication.

When it comes to innovation, US companies and startups leave the rest of the world standing. Why is this?
Domenico Scala: Is that really true? I’m not a fan of sweeping statements. I also don’t believe that we in Switzerland or in Europe are less innovative than the USA. But the fact is that the USA is very much more successful in the commercialization of innovation and, above all, also in self-presentation. The list of technical achievements developed in Europe but successfully launched on the market in the USA is long. Just think of the World Wide Web. And in medical technology it is largely American companies that are dominant today. This looked completely different ten years ago. Plant gene technology is also no longer a topic in Europe today, although we once led the world here.

The last example you mention has to do mainly with stricter regulations. An innovation killer?
Regulatory factors of course play a role. Plant gene technology was rejected in Europe. Today more than 80 percent of global soya and maize production is genetically modified. These products are also consumed by Europeans. When you look at it like this, people have quite clearly been cutting off their nose to spite their face. But the main difference between the USA and Europe is to be found elsewhere: historically, Europe’s economy has been built on debt ever since the Second World War. On the other hand, the USA has always set great store by entrepreneurship and venture capital.

Can you be more explicit?
The cantonal banks in Switzerland were founded in the 19th century to finance the development of infrastructure. What do the cantonal banks do today? They provide mortgages and that’s it. The venture capital function virtually no longer exists. In the pension funds, 60 percent of the money is invested in bonds and 40 percent in the stocks of listed companies. But in the USA, a much higher proportion of assets is invested in the establishment of new companies through venture funds.

The consequence of this system is that it supports the structure-preserving forces in Europe, from which mainly established companies benefit. And these companies less innovative. Is that also how you see it?
I’m constantly hearing that big companies are not innovative. But is that true? The perception in Basel should actually be quite different. We still have two mega-companies here today that have been among the most successful pharmaceutical companies in the world for decades thanks to their innovativeness. Most innovations in chemistry were driven by European companies, including also major companies from Northwest Switzerland. I don’t believe the size of a company alone is decisive – Apple and Google are also big companies. It is rather a question of mentality. Large companies are also more likely to take risks.

Does this mean we’ve lost our culture of innovation in Europe?
Yes, and this is drummed in at an early age. In the USA, it already begins with education: Americans largely have to pay for their education themselves. So for them even the university degree represents an investment that they somehow have to finance and that should eventually also pay off. And it does not stop there. The universities, too, are constantly seeking funds to finance their projects. Every president of a private US university gets up in the morning and tells himself: «Today I have to find ten million dollars.» There are no blank checks. This creates pressure, of course, and ultimately leads to innovators having to be very much more consistent in the commercial focus of their projects. This is lacking here. The Federal Institute of Technology and the Biozentrum of Basel University can match up to the best in the world academically. But when it comes to the number of spin-offs, then they are mediocre at most. Both systems have their pros and cons. The fact is simply that, in this way, more startups emerge from universities in the USA than here with us.

Universities are not the only resource of new companies. Basilea and Actelion are examples of very successful spin-offs of large companies. Should we not focus there instead?
That’s certainly an interesting idea. Innovations in established structures do indeed have a difficult time of it. There’s a lot of truth in the view that if you have a really innovative idea in a big corporation, you should push ahead with it unnoticed for as long as possible. In many large companies, more innovations are shot down than are driven forwards. For me, Kodak is the most striking example: They had all the patents for digital photography and still they let themselves get wrong-footed.

How can this be prevented? What can state-run innovation promotion organization like i-net do?
The question is whether a big corporation even allows the spin-off of an idea that it does not want to pursue further or not. Ultimately they never know whether the project might not perhaps be of benefit and at the same time they don’t want to create a potential competitor. So there are far fewer spin-offs from big companies than you might actually expect and would probably also be possible. When it comes down to it, such spin-offs also have to be decided and implemented top down. This is exactly how it happened with Actelion and Basilea. Bottom-up is much less feasible.

Unless there is sufficient venture capital and a suitable infrastructure, as well as other support services for entrepreneurs, such as coaching. This is precisely one of the objectives behind promoting start-ups. Do you see a conflict of interests with big industry?
An economist would say the state should keep its nose out of it and leave such developments to the market. But there is also a reservation: The market is focused on the short term; innovations on the other hand need the long-term view. New things don’t emerge from one day to the next. From the idea through proof of concept and funding to market launch quite often takes more than a decade. To this extent it is certainly not wrong if state institutions get involved here with the injection of appropriate resources in the right place.

And where will you apply the levers in future as president of i-net?
Basically, i-net is well positioned. I find it right, for example, that the emphasis is on the thematic promotion of innovation. And the choice of technology fields is right as well. The focus of i-net is on the networking of people and topics; this is an important service that cannot be provided in this form by the private sector. Many innovations today occur at the interface between the various technology fields. By offering a neutral platform here for the exchange of ideas and stimulating cooperation, i-net can make an important contribution to the future development of our economic region.
To some extent, Basel is something of a «one-trick Pony» and largely dependent on the life sciences.

How important do you think it is for a business center to strive for a certain diversification in this respect?
You can see the focus as a course or as a blessing. On the one hand the two big corporations absorb a lot of resources and talents. On the other they also create a lot of value and prestige from which our economic region can profit. I think we should look to this strength and use it as a springboard to new fields. For example, Roche employs more than a thousand ICT specialists in this region alone. That is already an outstanding basis for further development at the interface between life sciences and ICT. I believe there are dozens of such interesting fields that it would be worth advancing.

And how do you see Northwest Switzerland positioned in the global competition for inward investment?
The region is clearly undersold. Basel is not widely perceived as an innovation hotspot for the life sciences. The fact that we are should be much better communicated. In this, too, the Americans are unfortunately a step ahead. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

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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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«Geld allein bringt uns nicht weiter – man muss vor allem die richtigen Leute finden»

24.09.2014

Nach Obtree (heute Open Text) und Day Software (heute Adobe) führt Magnolia die Web Content Management-Tradition am ICT-Standort Basel fort. Mit 70 Mitarbeitenden und Kunden in aller Welt holen die Gründer Boris Kraft und Pascal Mangold inzwischen zu den nächsten Expansionschritten aus. In welche Richtung diese führen, verrät Chief Visionary Officer, Boris Kraft, im Interview mit i-net.

Versteht sich Magnolia eigentlich noch als Startup?
Boris Kraft*: Das ist eine interessante Frage und ich habe sie mir in letzter Zeit auch oft gestellt. Für mich persönlich hat ein Startup viel damit zu tun, rauszukriegen, was man selbst machen will und was der Kunde möchte, um dann den Bereich zu finden, in welchem das Unternehmen funktionieren kann. Hierfür braucht man ein paar Jahre und eine gewisse kritische Grösse. In der Schweiz liegt diese Grenze etwa bei zehn bis fünfzehn Mitarbeitenden. In den USA ist das natürlich anders. Dort kriegt man Millionen-Investments, die man erst mal verbrennen darf. Deshalb gelten in den USA Jungfirmen mit 100 Mitarbeitenden durchaus noch als Startups.

Magnolia ist also kein Startup mehr?
So gesehen nicht. Wir sind 70 Mitarbeitende in Basel, den USA, China, Spanien, Tschechien und Vietnam. Wir verbrennen auch kein Investorengeld, sondern finanzieren uns aus dem Cashflow. Trotzdem möchte wir möglichst viel von der Startup-Kultur beibehalten. Wir ziehen nächstes Jahr in den Dreispitz, wo rund um die Fachhochschule für Kunst und Gestaltung Basels Kreativ-Cluster am Entstehen ist. Hiervon und zusammen mit einer komplett neu nach unseren Bedürfnissen ausgebauten Location versprechen wir uns einige Impulse. Nichtsdestotrotz hat sich Magnolia natürlich auch verändert. Inzwischen haben wir eine zweite Führungsebene eingeführt. Pascal Mangold und ich sind als Gründer immer weniger im Tagesgeschäft involviert und können uns auf die strategische Entwicklung des Unternehmens fokussieren.

Und wo soll die Reise mit Magnolia hingehen?
Bildlich gesprochen haben wir in den letzten zehn Jahren die Geleise gelegt, die Loks und die Wagen gebaut, ein paar Bahnhöfe hingestellt und den Fahrplan bestimmt. Nun können wir mit der Eisenbahn richtig losfahren. Dabei entdeckt man viel Neues. Wir können den Betrieb optimieren, das Angebot erweitern oder auch völlig neue Wege gehen.

Was bedeutet dies in Umsatzfranken?
Wir haben uns keine quantitativen Ziele gesetzt. Bislang haben wir Umsatz und Mitarbeitende alle zwei bis zweieinhalb Jahre verdoppelt, und wir werden sicher weiter wachsen, wenn auch nicht mehr ganz in diesem Tempo. Unser Markt wächst um rund 10 Prozent pro Jahr. Heute haben wir 200 Kunden. Diese Basis würden wir gerne verzehnfachen. Ziel ist es, einen grösseren Footprint in den Markt zu bekommen. Hierfür müssen wir die Komplexität unseres Produktes reduzieren. Um kundenspezifische Anwendungen zu machen, muss man unsere Software sehr gut kennen. In Zukunft sollte auch ein Webentwickler mit geringen Java-Kenntnissen mit Magnolia komplexe Websites bauen können.

Könnte Magnolia mit Venture Capital nicht noch schneller wachsen?
Das könnten wir sicher, vor allem in den USA oder in für uns neuen Märkten wie Brasilien; oder auch im Mittleren Osten. Nur: Geld allein bringt nicht all zu viel. Man muss vor allem die richtigen Leute finden. Und das funktioniert bei uns derzeit auch ohne Investor sehr gut.

Das heisst bei Magnolia herrscht kein IT-Fachkräftemangel?
Wir haben einen guten Namen als Arbeitgeber. Unsere Mitarbeitenden sind sehr international. Das ist wichtig, weil wir global agieren. Die Leute kommen gerne nach Basel um zu arbeiten. Und es hilft, dass es hier aufgrund der Pharmaindustrie viele Expats gibt. Unser Marketingchef z.B. ist mitsamt Familie aus Austin, Texas nach Basel übersiedelt und fühlt sich wohl hier, weil er schnell Anschluss gefunden hat an die englischsprachige Community.

Ansonsten hinkt der ICT-Standort Basel sicher Zürich und der Westschweiz hinterher?
Ich sehe grosse Chancen für den ICT-Standort Basel. Doch um diese zu nutzen, braucht es auch den politischen Willen. Man müsste trinational denken und insbesondere in die Hochschulausbildung im Bereich ICT investieren. Der Nachwuchs ist heute entscheidend. Wenn jemand nach Zürich gehen muss für die Ausbildung, dann kommt er danach nicht wieder nach Basel. Er bleibt in Zürich. Daher ist die Chance eher gering, in Basel als Startup Fahrt aufzunehmen. Dass wir als Magnolia hier in Basel so weit gekommen sind, ist letztlich wohl eher Zufall.

Damit ist Basel nicht allein. Warum tut sich Europa eigentlich so schwer, ein eigenes ICT-Ökosystem aufzuziehen?
Es fehlt der Exit-Markt. Jeder US-Investor, der signifikant in ein Europäisches ICT-Startup investiert, wird dieses früher oder später dazu drängen, ins Silicon Valley umzuziehen. Denn dort sind seine Käufer.

Ist nicht auch Magnolia irgendwann ein Verkaufskandidat?
Man lebt nur einmal. Deshalb kann ich auch nicht behaupten, wir würden nie verkaufen. Vielleicht kommt einmal ein Angebot, das so gut ist, dass wir es nicht ausschlagen können. Von daher bleibt ein Verkauf immer eine Option. Aber es ist sicher nicht unser erklärtes Ziel.

Derzeit richten Sie Ihr Blick stark nach Asien, warum?
Stimmt, Magnolia gibt es inzwischen auch in Chinesisch und wir sind mit einem Büro in Peking präsent. Unser Fokus liegt zunächst auf westlichen Unternehmen, die in China tätig sind. Das Web wird in China noch anders genutzt als hier. Vertrauen in Marken und Produkte wird über Social Media und nicht über Webseiten gebildet. Aber das wird sich ändern und wir möchten von Anfang an dabei sein, auch weil Magnolia im Bereich E-Commerce sehr stark ist, und dies auch in China ein massiver Wachstumsmarkt ist.

Und was tun Sie in Vietnam?
Wir sind dabei in Saigon ein Dienstleistungszentrum aufzubauen. Wir haben gemerkt, dass es bei vielen unserer Kunden an Fachkräften fehlt, um die Projekte voranzutreiben. Deshalb bilden wir in Vietnam Spezialisten aus; diese werden unseren Kunden sowie Magnolia-Partnern zur Verfügung gestellt, um Engpässe

Offshoring ist also auch bei Magnolia ein Thema?
Als Entwicklungsstandort und -zentrale ist und bleibt Basel unbestritten. Aber als Softwareunternehmen muss man global agieren und die Ressourcen dort rekrutieren, wo sie vorhanden sind. Es geht dabei weniger darum, günstige Arbeitskräfte zu vermitteln, sondern den Projektstau zu lösen, der sich bei unseren Kunden aufgrund fehlender Fachkräfte immer wieder bildet. Davon versprechen wir uns einen grossen Wachstumsimpuls in unserem primären Geschäft, dem Verkauf von Software-Lizenzen.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer und Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Boris Kraft ist Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) und Mitbegründer von Magnolia. Seit 2003 befasst er sich mit der Entwicklung von Content Management Systems Magnolia CMS und betrachtet diese von einem strategischen und marketingtechnischen Standpunkt aus. Zu den Stationen seiner IT-Karriere zählen die objektorientierte Softwareentwicklung für NeXTSTEP, eine mehrjährige aktive Beteiligung an einem führenden Unternehmen für Internetsicherheit sowie die Programmierung der ersten Intranet-Lösung für die Roche Vitamins AG. Kraft ist verheiratet und Vater von drei Kindern. Er verbringt seine Freizeit im Sommer am liebsten beim Segeln auf dem Vierwaldstättersee und im Winter auf den Ski in den Alpen.

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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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Michael Bornhäusser: «Schweizer Start-ups werkeln zu lange in der Comfort-Zone vor sich he...

03.04.2014

Als Gründungspräsident war Michael Bornhäusser der Spiritus Rector von i-net. Nach seinem Rücktritt im Februar 2014 wird sich der Serial Entrepreneur als ehrenamtliche Leiter auf den i-net Bereich Finance & Partner Netzwerk konzentrieren.

Im Interview erklärt Michael Bornhäusser, warum die Schweiz in vielen Bereichen vom internationalen Venture Capital gemieden wird und was in der Startup-Förderung zu tun ist, damit sich dies ändert. Michael Bornhäusser ist Mitinhaber der Basler Sallfort Privatbank und leitet dort den Bereich Private Equity, Products & Service.

Herr Bornhäusser, als zurücktretender Gründungs-Präsident von i-net überlassen Sie ihr Kind nun seinem Lauf. Wie sind Sie mit der Entwicklung zufrieden?
Michael Bornhäusser: Im grossen und ganzen können wir sehr zufrieden sein mit dem erreichten. Operativ sind wir gut aufgestellt, das Team funktioniert. Wir haben innerhalb von knapp zwei Jahren unser Netzwerk auf über 5500 Personen verdoppelt und mit rund 50 Veranstaltungen im vergangen Jahr 2500 Teilnehmende erreicht. i-net wird heute in der gesamten Region Nordwestschweiz wahrgenommen. Wo wir uns sicher noch verstärken müssen, ist in der Startup-und Investorenszene.

Wo sehen sie künftig die Schwerpunkte von i-net?
Es muss uns nun gelingen, noch mehr Multiplikatoren an Board zu holen, indem wir den Kreis von Ehrenamtlichen, die in unserem Netzwerk tatkräftig mitwirken wollen, vergrössern. Auch bei der Gründung neuer Unternehmen muss i-net eine noch wichtigere Rolle spielen als bislang.

Als Vielreisender haben Sie den Vergleich: Wo sehen Sie die Stärken in der Region Nordwestschweiz?
Biotech und Life Sciences sind ganz klar unser USP. Allerdings gewinnt die Interdisziplinarität zu unseren anderen Technologiefeldern, ICT, Cleantech, Medtech oder Nanotechnologien an Bedeutung.

Und wo sehen Sie die Schwächen der Region?
Die grosse Schwäche in der Nordwestschweiz sind die Universitäten und Forschungseinrichtungen. Es werden einfach zu wenige Spin-offs generiert, weil man im Bereich Company Building kaum Kompetenzen hat. i-net müsste hier unbedingt in die Bresche springen und aktiver auf diese Institutionen zugehen. Umgekehrt müssen sich die Universitäten und Fachhochschulen gegenüber diesem Thema öffnen. Im Zweifelsfall geht dies halt nicht ohne politischen Druck.

Was meinen Sie damit genau?
In Extremis müsste man halt den Geldhahn abstellen. Neben der Bildung und Forschung gehört es doch ganz klar mit zum Leistungsauftrag einer Universität, im Innovationsbereich Wertschöpfung zu schaffen. Nun sind Universitätsprofessoren in der Regel keine Unternehmer und das ist bis zu einem bestimmten Grad ja auch richtig so. Aber es braucht eben auch die Einsicht seitens dieser Institutionen, dass dem so ist, und dass es Partnerorganisationen braucht, die diesen Teil ihres Leistungsauftrages - nämlich das Unternehmertum zu fördern - besser machen.

An den Universitäten in den USA ist das aber anders, dort spielt Entrepreneurship eine gewichtige Rolle und man ist auch erfolgreich darin?
Das liegt daran, dass diese Universitäten sehr stark auf Fremdfinanzierung und damit von Spenden ehemaliger Studenten angewiesen sind. Deshalb hat eine amerikanische Hochschule auch ein grosses Selbstinteresse daran, dass aus Absolventen erfolgreiche Unternehmer werden. Denn diese werden später aus Dankbarkeit für die Ausbildung und aus gesellschaftlicher Verpflichtung, einen Teil ihres Erfolges an die Uni zurückgeben. Bei uns hingegen bekommt es schnell einmal ein «Geschmäckle», wenn etwa eine Bank einer Hochschule Geld zur Verfügung stellen.

Sie finden also das US-Modell besser. Immerhin gilt die Schweiz in allen Rankings punkto Ausbildungsstand ihrer Arbeitskräfte als Spitzenreiter?
Schon, aber laut diversester Ranking befinden sich die besten Universitäten der Welt in den USA sowie in England. Das angelsächsische Prinzip funktioniert also. Und es ist auch so, dass die angelsächsischen Länder die erfolgreichsten Neugründungen hervorbringen. Es ist schwierig hierzulande einen qualitativ hochwertigen Deal Flow für Investoren aufzubauen. Ganz anderes in den USA und England. Dort gibt es professionelle Setups, vielversprechende Cases mit grossem Gewinnpotenzial.

Aber Start-ups werden doch nicht ausschliesslich an Universitäten generiert?
Deshalb ist es in meinen Augen auch ein grosser Fehler, dass man hierzulande in der Startup-Förderung so eindeutig auf Universitäten fokussiert. Wir haben bereits festgestellt, dass - den Biotech-Bereich mal ausgenommen - die Erfolgsaussichten von Schweizer Start-ups, die direkt an Universitäten inkubiert wurden, relativ gering sind. Die Universitäten spielen in Relation zu dem, was sie an Förderungsmitteln von der Regierung bekommen, nur eine ganz kleine Rolle. Die erfolgreichsten Startups gemessen am Unternehmenswert beim Exit sind universitätsunabhängig als Spin-offs von Grossunternehmen entstehen. Typische Beispiel aus der Region Basel sind etwa Actelion oder Polyphor.

Fehlt es nicht einfach an Entrepreneurial Spirit?
Eindeutig. Die Ambitionen sind meist zu tief und die Unternehmen werden zu früh verkauft. Man gibt sich zufrieden, wenn man mit einem Startup ein paar Millionen Franken Umsatz erzielt und beim Verkauf einen tiefen zweistelligen Millionenbetrag löst. Deshalb ist die Schweizer Startup-Szene für global agierende Venture Capitalists nicht interessant. Diese steigen erst ein, wenn ein Exil dreistelliger Millionenhöhe in Aussicht steht. Schweizer Startups sollten ihre Ziele höher stecken. Doch dazu braucht es die entsprechenden Vorgaben der Investoren. Leider muss ich immer wieder beobachten, dass viele Startups hierzulande zu lange in der Comfort-Zone vor sich her werkeln können, weil die Business Angels zu viel Geld geben und zu wenig Druck machen.

Ist es nicht gar kontraproduktiv, wenn in der Schweiz einfach nur Unternehmen produziert werden, um sie später ins Ausland zu verkaufen. Dadurch wird doch keine nachhaltige Wertschöpfung generiert?
Das kann man auch anders sehen. Wenn wir in der Schweiz 10 Exits für 100 Millionen schaffen, dann sind das 1 Milliarde Wertschöpfung, die generiert werden und von dem ein grosser Teil in unserem Land bleibt. Als CH-Hightech KMU muss man sich sowie so von Anfang an global aufstellen. Hier hat die Schweiz aufgrund der existierenden Strukturen einen riesigen Vorteil.

Es gibt aber viele Unternehmer, die gar nicht mit VC-Geld aufgepumpt werden wollen um dann verkauft zu werden, sondern auf organisches Wachstum setzen. Ist das nicht auch legitim?
Natürlich. Als Gründer muss man sich einfach überlegen, was man will. i-net versteht sich ja keineswegs nur als Start-up-Plattform, wir bieten unsere Services ja auch dem klassischen KMU. Hierbei gilt es, Unternehmern ihre Wachstums- und Innovationspotentiale aufzuzeigen und sie mit unserem Netzwerk darin zu unterstützen, diese zu realisieren.

Dennoch, braucht es auch da Fremdfinanzierung. Gibt es denn keine Alternative zu Private Equity?
Die aktuelle Regulierungsvorgabe, Basel III, macht es tatsächlich sehr schwierig für eine Bank, Wachstumsvorhaben zu finanzieren, da sie in der Pflicht stehen, sehr viel mehr Eigenkapital hinterlegen zu müssen. Im Prinzip erhält ein Unternehmen nur noch dann Kredit, wenn es das Geld sowieso schon hat. Die Politik hat da im Prinzip einen Investitionsstopp veranlasst, mit dem Effekt, dass Expansionsvorhaben nur noch über Private Equity finanziert werden können. Gerade dies stellt die Schweiz vor grosse Herausforderungen. Deshalb müssen wir auch dringend attraktiver werden für das global agierenden Venture Capital. Und nochmals: dies gelingt nur, wenn unsere Unternehmen und ihre Business Angels aggressiver werden.
Ich habe kürzlich gelesen, dass 80 bis 90 Prozent aller Angel Investments hierzulande verloren gehen. Bei professionellen Investoren ist es gerade umgekehrt.

Hat das nicht auch damit zu tun, dass VCs später einsteigen, wenn das Risiko geringer ist?
Das sehe ich anders. Es wird meist falsch investiert und die Unternehmer werden nicht richtig unterstützt. Wir müssen dringen professionelle Strukturen schaffen, wie Accelerators und Innovationsparks. Besonders in den Life Sciences könnte man sehr viel mehr tun. In deinem Bereich gibt es zwei Städte die einem einfallen: Boston und Basel. Und ich bin sicher, dass Novartis, Roche oder Actelion sich beteiligen würden an einem entsprechenden Programm. Denn ein solches bringt auch für sie noch mehr Know-How in die Region, von dem sie wiederum profitieren können.

Und die anderen Technologiefelder?
Auch in den Nanotechnologien sehe grosses unmittelbares Potenzial. Bei den anderen Bereichen wird der Aufbau sehr viel länger dauern. Aber nichtsdestotrotz sollte man das machen. Zudem gibt es zwischen den Bereichen interessante Berührungspunkte, die man ausschöpfen sollte. Und hierzu können wir mit i-net die ideale Plattform bieten.

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

06.03.2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Christian Walter and Thomas Brenzikofer

A short CV of Helmut Kessmann can be found here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer, Nadine Aregger

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

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

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"Patient centricity means communicating on eye level"

The university hospital of Basel not only wants to use innovation, but also drive innovation. For this reason, the hospital established an Innovation Lab recently and launched an internal support program to help put innovation projects into practice. Driving forces behind this initiative are Jens Eckstein and Marc Strasser. DayOne asked Jens Eckstein about this push for innovation.

BaselArea.swiss: There are basically two reasons for driving innovation. Either it’s necessity or an inner drive. What drives you?

Jens Eckstein: Without an inner drive, I would certainly not have taken on this task, but a part of it can also be seen as necessity. Much of what we are doing now is simply homework that we had not completed until now. A patient coming to the clinic today usually experiences a step back in terms of information technology compared with what he is used to in his private life. Some of the systems we work with as a treatment team are 20 years old. At some point I said our IT can do better than that. A colleague replied, I should not moan but get on and do something. I am one of those people who takes pleasure in technology and innovation. That’s why these pain points were so difficult for me to bear.

Evidently, your concerns were heard?

Yes, IT and hospital management have given their full backing and we have reorganized ourselves. 50 percent I work as a clinician, the other 50 percent I am a Chief Medical Information Officer. Thus, I can act as a translator and build bridges between IT and the diverse departments.

What part of your homework did you tackle first?

Already before my change of function we fitted a large monitor on each floor, showing the responsible ward team with a photo.

That doesn’t exactly sound very disruptive?

It may sound trivial, but for many of our patients and their families it makes a big difference. Many of our patients are used to being constantly online and having access to all information. This makes it all the more stressful when this normal state is suddenly lost in hospital. Of course, all patients have Wi-Fi and internet access, but a lot of information that interests them is not yet available digitally. Hence patients often assume a passive role. If we want patients to take an active part in their treatment process, then this is exactly where we need to start. We need to provide them promptly with all the medical and organizational information of relevance to them. Only then will they be able to participate actively in the treatment process.

Do you want that as a doctor?

It is much more enjoyable working with informed patients! Today, everyone talks about “patient centricity”. If you take this concept seriously, it has far-reaching consequences for our profession. As a doctor, you are challenged to involve patients in the decision-making process. Our task is to advise and coach them. To avoid death at any price with a therapy may no longer be the sole aim of an intervention. Quality of life issues are just as relevant. Therefore, you need to communicate at eye level. The monitor on each floor was a first, very small step in this direction, so that everyone knows who is taking care of the patients.

Do patients actually want to have a say?

Yes, definitely. New technologies at present are positively mushrooming out of the ground which also increases the pressure on our hospital. No one expects a university hospital to become a boutique hotel. The focus is on first-class medical care. Digitization offers new opportunities, though, and a hospital needs to make the most of these opportunities for the benefit of both staff and patients. This is why we set up the Innovation Lab.

What exactly is that?

The Innovation Lab functions primarily as an entry lane for new technologies. To this end, we established an IT infrastructure separate from the clinic, which allows new applications to be quickly implemented in a protected area and tested, involving decision makers and patients. It’s a kind of sandpit or playground for initial pilot projects with new technologies, without these already having to meet all safety standards and the requirements of a medical device.

I could imagine you being quickly overrun with queries?

In fact, the situation is already difficult to cope with. I’m currently in the process of expanding the team. The interest among colleagues is fortunately huge. We started in cardiology, continued in surgery and will soon become active with projects in completely different areas as well, such as psychiatry and rheumatology.

What kind of projects are you dealing with?

It varies a lot. An external partner, such as a start-up, might want to get his application clinically validated with us. If we see a benefit for the patient, we will pursue the project further. However, the partner must agree to us publishing the results – even if they are not positive. Another possibility is that a member of the hospital staff has a brilliant idea and wants to pursue it further. Therefore, we launched Future Friday events this year, the aim being to hold them several times a year. We invite our 8000 members of staff to submit their innovation ideas and invite the three best submissions to pitch their ideas at the event. One of these ideas gets the go-ahead. The winning project is endowed with sufficient resources to drive the idea and to come up with an initial prototype within six months.

So far, it has not been part of the mission of a hospital to implement innovation. Why this change all of a sudden?

Research has always been a key part of the university hospital and repeatedly led to innovative spin-offs. By taking a more proactive approach to this process, we are now providing a catalyst for this potential and further burnishing our reputation. This puts our hospital on the global radar in a number of fields. We want to be among the best in terms of not only medicine, but also when it comes to innovation. The ecosystem in Basel offers outstanding conditions with its strong life sciences environment and a very dynamic start-up scene. The USB is already a partner of many interesting projects, which in turn gives us access to the most advanced technologies. For what is a medium-sized hospital by international standards, this is by no means a given. When it comes to agility, our constellation of university environment and strategic focus on innovation and digitization gives us a clear advantage.

How does this work when doctors become entrepreneurs or so-called docpreneurs? Who gets what share on the newly established company?

We still need to test the suitable model for this. The core business of the hospital is and remains the treatment of patients. It is true that the hospital receives a fair share in the development of an innovation. There are two extremes: either the IP belongs entirely to us and we license the product, for example to the partner who then markets it; or the product belongs to the partner and we participate in its development with the aim of obtaining exactly the right application for us. The realistic scenario often lies somewhere in between.

So do you want doctors to become entrepreneurs?

In case of doubt, I would say no. And that’s a good thing. The aim is not for all our doctors to found start-ups. To us it is important that they increasingly participate in the innovation process by sharing their ideas and their specialist knowledge. In return, they should receive their fair share, for example shareholdings. The same should apply to non-medical staff.

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