BioRegionUlm recently announced the launch of BioPharMaXX at a meeting held in Ummendorf castle (close to Ulm). The acronym refers to a cluster focusing on biotechnology, pharmacy and medical technology that was selected as one of twelve regional clusters in a state-wide contest in Baden-Württemberg in 2008. Company representatives and researchers presented projects to improve the time-consuming and costly protein purification process used in biopharmaceutical production. The projects that were selected for funding were all representative of the BioPharMaXX cluster’s mission, namely to systematically reinforce the region’s strength.
Conditions in the Ulm BioRegion, which extends from the Eastern Swabian Mountains to Lake Constance, are excellent for the further development of the cluster. Companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Rentschler, Vetter and Merckle have made the region a world leader in biopharmaceutical production. The region's location factors are excellent for the further development of innovative medicine. Dr. Nikolaus Rentschler, Chairman of the BioRegion Ulm association: "The region's biopharmacy and technology offer huge opportunities for the diagnosis and therapy of serious diseases. In the science city of Ulm, with the University of Ulm, regional universities, hospitals and companies, the BioPharMaXX cluster has strong partners who can help the interdisciplinary network of biotechnology, pharmacy, diagnostics and medical technology grow even closer together.
The cluster specifically focuses on the biopharmaceutical production process, in particular with a view to increasing the yield of cell culture production systems optimised using genetic engineering methods (upstream) as well as the further development and more efficient design of methods used to purify biopharmaceutical products (downstream). The cluster management is convinced that the large number of manifold service providers and suppliers to the biopharmaceutical industry must be more tightly integrated into the network in order to organise quality management more efficiently. They also believe that the structure should include manufacturers of laboratory equipment or devices in order to seamlessly integrate their products into the manufacturing chain. One of the BioPharMaXX cluster's major tasks will be to expand and extend existing corporate structures. To this end, the cluster managers are focusing particularly on the strengthening of small- and medium-sized (SME) companies. The cluster's thematic focus addresses specific aspects of the value creation chain, including for example basic research. Many research groups at Ulm University are looking into aspects of regeneration, including research into ageing, which are issues that will become increasingly important in terms of health economics in view of demographic changes.
The BioPharMaXX cluster is also focusing on the end of the value creation chain. According to cluster management, it is important to have a comprehensive policy relating to drug safety and quality management issues such as auditing, product quality and stability as well as finding tools and ways to improve these processes. Another aspect of major interest is diagnostics approaches that have primarily resulted from creation-oriented projects. It is also part of the cluster’s tasks to pursue and combine such comprehensive aspects.
The cluster's managers are well aware of the fact that three years is not long enough to come up with commercial products. The example of downstream technology shows that the development of commercial products takes a long time and requires a lot of patience: as the projects kicked off, many interested parties participated in roundtable discussions whose initial objective was to set up one cooperative project. However, in the end three projects emerged, involving partners from Baden-Württemberg and other German states and financial support from two different funding mechanisms. The biopharmaceutical location of the Ulm BioRegion, as well as Baden-Württemberg and Germany as a whole, will benefit enormously from the cooperation between academic and industrial partners.
The cluster manager, Dr. Gabriele Gröger, points out that BioPharMaXX has a strict focus on a specific topic, and if required, will work with partners far beyond Baden-Württemberg's borders. If the cluster is successful, it is envisaged that new companies will be established or will relocate to the area, thus creating new jobs in the life sciences. Job creation is one of the cluster's major goals, as it plans to recruit and train talented life science graduates for new jobs.
Cooperations such as those that focus on purification technologies are the result of networks whose players were previously brought together at meetings organised by the BioRegionUlm association. Thanks to financial support from the EU and Baden-Württemberg, networking between the partners will be put on a more systematic basis, enabling them to focus on specific topics. As the responsible body for the BioPharMaXX project, the BioRegionUlm association takes on a number of different tasks designed to bring the process to fruition: it initiates, moderates and supports networking activities now and in the future and will, complemented by many other business promotion measures, eventually also contribute to the strengthening of national and international location marketing activities.
Dr. Gabriele Gröger was born in Dietenheim/Iller in 1957. She studied chemistry at the University of Ulm and did her PhD in the laboratory of Prof. Hartmut Seliger on the chemical and enzymatic synthesis of nucleic acids. Gabriele Gröger has run the BioRegionUlm association's coordination office since its establishment in 1997 and is in charge of the organisation and implementation of the BioPharMaXX cluster project.
Maike Rochon studied biology at the University of Osnabrück from 1995 to 2001. After a one-year practical training course in journalism and science PR, she spent two years (2002 - 2004) at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (Sweden) in the area of infection research, before moving on to the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig where she did her PhD in the Department of Structural Biology (Professor Dirk Heinz). She has been project consultant for the BioPharMaXX cluster since September 2009.