Innovation Report

 
report BaselArea.swiss

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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Investing in strengths – Swiss leadership in life sciences

15.05.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting biotech start-ups

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

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

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

Digitalisation as a driver of innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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Basel-Landschaft welcomes new companies

21.04.2017

The canton of Basel-Landschaft welcomed a host of new companies over the past few weeks. BaselArea.swiss played in a big role in attracting the companies to establish themselves in Basel.

The companies now represented in Basel-Landschaft are from a variety of different sectors – some work in the sales of medical technology products, others in the manufacture of diagnostic tests. Also newly established in the canton are a music company, a creative agency and a provider of presentation items. BaselArea.swiss consulted these companies and supported them with their establishment.

Medi-CENT Innovation AG, which has offices in Liestal, distributes medical technology products. The company focuses on repairing probes and provides its customers with rental probes in the meantime. Other key areas for Medi-Cent Innovation AG include pain therapy and bone density measurement. Another company now represented in the canton is Predemtec AG. From its location in Binningen, it develops diagnostic tests that can determine the risk factors for dementia.

Musik Hug has opened a new musical world in Allschwil, where it offers a wide range of musical instruments. Its new location also comprises a piano and wind instrument workshop. Newly established in the Dreispitz area is the creative agency MJM.CC AG, which specialises in the production of awards ceremonies, such as the Swiss Film Award and Best of Swiss Web.

Meanwhile, Achilles Präsentationsobjekte GmbH is heading the business of KMC Karl Meyer AG. Thanks to this transition, existing customers can continue to access the consultancy and service portfolio they were accustomed to from KMC Karl Meyer AG. However, they can also access one of the biggest selections of folder and presentation systems in Europe.

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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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Companies continue to find Switzerland appealing

05.04.2017

Bern – More foreign companies relocated to Switzerland last year than in any previous year. Economic development agencies attracted innovative companies with high value creation.

According to the Conference of Cantonal Economic Affairs Directors (VDK), 265 new foreign companies relocated to Switzerland last year, creating 1,005 new jobs. In 2015, there were 264 relocations and 1,082 additional jobs.

The VDK spoke of “solid results” in the face of a difficult economic environment. Despite the strong franc and uncertainties concerning the general tax and political situation, “Switzerland could obviously hold its ground in the international arena”.

As a summary shows, life sciences was the relocations leader with 60 companies, followed by 52 companies from the ICT sector. 23 relocations each came from the trade and raw materials sector, and the engineering, electrical and metal industries. 18 of the new companies to Switzerland are active in the financial sector, and 12 work in the cleantech and greentech sectors.

This year and in the years to come, Switzerland Global Enterprise – the Economic Development Agency of the federal government and municipalities, and which is led by the national marketing steering committee (SG LM) – will focus increasingly on promoting companies in key industries. In important markets such as Germany, France, Italy, Russia, the US, Japan, India, China, the UK and Brazil, Switzerland can rely on cooperation with the Swiss Business Hubs (SBH) and the Swiss embassies.

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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
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Precision Medicine Group Basel Area

 

Article written by Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss  

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In Basel an Innovation Hub for Precision Medicine is Born

24.01.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Roivant Sciences establishes global HQ in Basel

19.12.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07.12.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“I find it motivating to succeed together with others”

02.11.2016

Patrick Vergult is managing director of Actemium Switzerland Ltd, a provider of networked industrial and building automation with headquarters in Basel and five other sites in Switzerland.

In our interview, the native of Belgium explains what brought him to Switzerland, what objectives Actemium is pursuing and why he believes that, while Industry 4.0 will result in a revolution, we will only see an evolution in terms of the technology.

Your story sounds fascinating: you are Belgian, came to Switzerland in 1991 to work for Cern and are now the CEO of Actemium Switzerland – how did that come about?
Patrick Vergult*: In 1991 I arrived at Cern in Geneva as a freelance software engineer commissioned by ABB. At Cern I programmed cryogenic systems that could be cooled to minus 269 degrees Celsius. These systems are used to cool the magnets in the long ring of the particle accelerator until they reach the superconducting state. These magnets, which are as big as 10-storey building, detect the particles that arise when accelerated positrons and electrons collide. Actually my plan was to return to Belgium after six months, but then I stayed in Switzerland and have steadily extended my network. At that time, I was also co-founder of a company in Belgium called Iproco. The business was going very well here in Switzerland and so in 1998 we decided to establish a branch of Iproco in Switzerland. In 2001 this gave rise to Else Automation. Actemium came into being in 2013 as a result of the merger of Etavis Engineering, Controlmatic and our company, Else Automation.

What exactly does Actemium Switzerland do?
Actemium is basically a product-neutral automation company. We do not develop any products of our own, but integrate various automation and IT systems for our customers. In short, with our six business units we offer electrical, automation and IT technology for networked industrial and building automation, as well as overarching production management. Our objective is to remain with the customer from consultation, planning and implementation of a project right through to maintenance of the systems. After all, we have a strong connection with the products that we use and are very familiar with our customers’ processes.

What excites you about working for Actemium?
I find it motivating to create something together with other people and to be successful together. Actemium enables people like me, who have a very entrepreneurial spirit, to remain entrepreneurs, even though we belong to the large VINCI Group. Actemium is a network with a decentralized management structure. That means that, in this large entity, there are various small organizations – so-called business units – that operate as autonomous and agile players on the market. All our BUs are highly segmented, so that there is no competition between them.

Why was it decided to opt for Basel as headquarters?
The companies from which Actemium Switzerland emerged in 2013 already had a presence in the region. So in 2013 everything ultimately came together in Basel-Stadt. Originally we were competitors, if anything, which meant that our business units had to be well segmented. For us the pharmaceutical and chemical industries were and are hugely important. The pharmaceutical industry in particular invests a lot, Switzerland is an attractive hub and, above all, the Basel region has a very stable market.

Is it not difficult to prevail against the competition in the pharma hub of Basel?
Our competitors of course have a similar strategy. We try to stand out through other factors: The Actemium University offers training for customers and staff, and we also cultivate an internal network of talents for staff under 30 years of age known as Young at Actemium. Our young employees give presentations on the company from their own perspective at graduate fairs or universities – without the presence of a member of management. Trust is very important to us. This year we also introduced a Talent Award, for which theses can be submitted once a year by technicians and engineers. This annual prize will be awarded by us and external jurors from our customer base – for example from Roche, Novartis or Endress+Hauser. The aim of this award is to foster greater contact with universities and develop our own talents more. As part of this effort, we also train 20 apprentices every year and offer dual education studies for five or six students.

Is the strength of the franc a problem for Actemium?
We are fortunately heavily engaged in the pharmaceutical sector, where the strong franc only plays a minor role. Many pharmaceutical companies also export in dollars, a currency that has appreciated in value – which has offset the weakness of the euro to some extent. In fact, despite everything, we have steadily grown more than 10 percent in the last few years.

Aside from Switzerland, Actemium also has sites in Alsace and in Southern Germany – does this lead a trinational exchange?
It’s very important to us that our regional network is cultivated. The advantages of this to our customers and employees, however, depends heavily on their own personality. Some make intensive use of the opportunities, while others are perhaps a little more introverted and do not set as much store by networking. Beyond the three-countries corner, Actemium has business units in a further 35 countries. We are thus ideally positioned to service our customers; there are international working groups that share ideas and information on various issues. Recently, for example, a meeting took place in Paris on the topic of Industry 4.0. In the Basel region, we have established a three-countries corner network that meets three times a year to pool their strengths. We have already seen the first successes: a project in French-speaking Switzerland, for example, could only be tackled in the first place thanks to the pooling of knowledge by mechatronic experts from France and automation experts from Switzerland. This offers our customers huge added value of course, because they get everything from a single source. Actemium in Switzerland goes a step further: we have developed our own CV database, in which each of our 215 employees has posted his or her CV and expertise. The information is updated once a year at the performance appraisal interview with employees. In this way we can easily search for experts internally – regardless of whether we are looking for language skills or other expertise. And in fact we usually also find the skills we are looking for. Not the global Actemium network is expressing a strong interest in this solution. Digitalization continues its advance, and everyone is talking Industry 4.0.

How will this impact the work of Actemium?
We notice how the subject of Industry 4.0 tends to confuse our customers, because most of them don’t know exactly what it means. Industry 4.0 is not a ready-made solution that you can take out of a drawer – it differs from one customer to another. For this reason we will usually first get customers to explain what Industry 4.0 means for them – and then explain what we understand by it. In this way, we arrive at a shared understanding and a good starting point for successful projects. It’s not only about networking objects and gathering data in the Cloud – that’s just the beginning! When the data is in the Cloud, it requires smart conversion for the customer in order, for example, to improve the value chain. Industry 4.0 per se is not a revolution: technologies are used that have already been around for years. But it will lead to a revolution.

So it will take some time yet?
I believe so, because a lot of customers don’t yet seem ready to completely embrace the subject. Take a meat producer that organized a workshop on Industry 4.0, for example. The talk there was almost exclusively about SAP. The fact that the weather, for example, can influence people’s meat consumption and the production of meat could be rescheduled early on as a result did not register. In the future, visionaries who can show customers business opportunities in the area of Industry 4.0 will be in demand – I see great potential here. The strengths of the systems and technologies used have also not yet been exploited to the full by any means. There is still a lot of upward scope in the next 20 years.

What other trends do you see besides Industry 4.0?
We set great store by robotics, manufacturing execution systems and energy efficiency. As regards the latter in particular it is still early days. Our customers have so far had little incentive to invest in energy efficiency – this will probably not come about until there are legal requirements in place. I firmly believe that you always have to step outside your comfort zone, reinvent yourself and adapt in order to survive in the future. And I try to apply this philosophy at Actemium – so that the staff and thus also the company do not remain seated in their comfort zone for too long.

What do you expect from BaselArea.swiss and what would you like to see from the promotion of a region and innovation?
I think it’s great that there are neutral platforms like BaselArea.swiss. For when companies organize such events themselves, then it always happens for reasons of a concrete benefit that the company expects to derive from it. So neutral platforms are an advantage because they can also link up different networks.

What does Actemium want to achieve?
The basic values of the Actemium network place the focus on people. We invest an annual three to five percent of the payroll sum in further training for our employees. We cultivate the network and generate our own talent through the training of apprentices and the dual education system. But of course we also want to grow further – in order to establish a nationwide presence in the longer term. To make sure we remain sustainable, each business unit should occupy an innovative and future-oriented business area aside from its core expertise. But regardless of whether we are talking about employees, customers or shareholders, everyone should be happy. And we try to achieve this through healthy, stable and profitable growth.

And if you could wish for something for your company?
Then I would wish that we become the best automation company and the best employer in the field of automation nationwide. And we are well on track. If we achieve that, we can achieve anything – and we enjoy working hard on this every day.

Interview: Sébastien Meunier and Nadine Nikulski, BaselArea.swiss

*Patrick Vergult is the CEO of Actemium Switzerland Ltd., a company that offers solutions and engineering services in the field of industrial and building automation. Actemium sees its mission as helping its industrial customers to modernize their factories and buildings and increase their profitability.

In 2001, Patrick Vergult was co-founder and major shareholder of ELSE Automation Ltd. The company joined the VINCI Group in May 2011 and became part of the Actemium network of VINCI in 2013. In addition, he founded curaVer Business Support, a company that provides consulting and support services mainly to foreign companies settling up business in Switzerland. He was also successfully involved in the restructuring of travel company Venture Europe, where he underwrote the financial risk.

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Production Technologies – der neue Bereich von BaselArea.swiss

02.11.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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.

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FutureHealth Basel to re-think healthcare system

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Pharmaceutical industry is driving the Swiss economy

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Keime und Antibiotikaresistenzen – ein Eventthema, das uns alle betrifft

05.10.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Evolva secures further development

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The Chemical Industry is ALIVE in the Basel region!

07.09.2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oettinger Davidoff commits to Basel

26.10.2017

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BaselArea.swiss welcomes Biopharmaceutical Company Ultragenyx

06.07.2016

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

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

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

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

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

The company's website for more information on Ultragenyx

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

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

02.12.2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Ralf Dümpelmann and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

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

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

report Life Sciences

Evotec acquires Aptuit

02.08.2017

report ICT

Start-up develops innovative search engine

28.07.2017

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

Idorsia meets study objectives

28.07.2017

report Life Sciences

Roche gains CE mark for lung cancer diagnostic

26.07.2017

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 Life Sciences

Polyneuron reaches milestone

21.07.2017

report Life Sciences

Myovant strengthens executive team

20.07.2017

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 ICT

Merck uses Genedata software for innovation

19.07.2017

report Precision Medicine

Clinerion simplifies data collection

17.07.2017

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

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«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.


Video explaining the fermentation process

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