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Another way to transfer findings and exploit technologies is to conclude licensing agreements or to secure trademark rights.

Holders are the Helmholtz centers, since inventions made by scientists generally belong to the research centers according to the Employee Invention Act. If, after receiving an invention disclosure, the centers decide to apply for a patent or similar for the invention, the granted property rights can be sold or licensed out. In this case, the inventors have a share in the proceeds of the exploitation.

Drug against metastatic prostate cancer

An active substance developed jointly with the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) offers new possibilities for the treatment of one of the most common types of cancer in Germany.

Light microscopic image of an adenocarcinoma of the prostate gland© Wikipedia/KGH

Lutetium-177 PSMA-617 is the name of the patented active ingredient on which the new drug for treating prostate cancer is based.  The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) developed it together with the University of Heidelberg and Heidelberg University Hospital.

The active ingredient consists of ligands coupled with radioactive lutetium-177. These can dock to PSMA, a prostate-specific membrane antigen that the majority of prostate cancer cells carry on their cell membrane (it is rarely found in the rest of the body, however). The targeted accumulation of the active substance in the cancer cells leads to a concentrated effect of the radiation dose in the harmful tumors.

Through clinical studies by ABX GmbH in Radeberg and subsequent further development by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the active ingredient was developed into a drug. Ursula Wyrich, Commercial Director of the DKFZ, says: "The inventors recognized the clinical potential of the active ingredient and specifically pushed ahead with preclinical development. We secured the rights early on and looked for partners in the pharmaceutical industry who would take over the further development into a drug. This consistent focus on transfer is now paying off - above all for the patients concerned."

Following approval in the United States in March 2022, the drug was also approved in the EU in December 2022. Approval has so far been limited to patients who have already received chemotherapy and who do not respond to hormone withdrawal.

DKFZ press release →

World's largest medical technology company uses DLR technology

The DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics has been working on robotic assistance systems for medicine for over 20 years and in 2013 licensed the medical robot they had developed to the medical technology company Medtronic.

The successful technology transfer of the MiroSurge® medical robotics system to Medtronic was the starting point for the establishment of the MIRO Innovation Lab in 2017.

Now, the system further developed by Medtronic, named Hugo™ RAS System, has received approval for the European market.

The new Hugo™ RAS system (robotic-assisted surgery) is based on the technological principles of the MiroSurge® telesurgery system developed by DLR. The MiroSurge® system consists - depending on requirements - of two or more MIRO robot arms. The robotic arms are modeled on the human arm in terms of structure, size and mobility, so that it can be operated intuitively, sensitively and safely. These characteristics are reflected in the Hugo™ RAS system. Lightweight robotic arms and numerous sensors ensures that movements are executed with high precision.

Click here for the MIRO Innovation Lab press release.

Rocket burners in homes

Technology developed at DLR used in heating systems for more than 40 years.

Der am DLR entwickelte sogenannte Blaubrenner

Most homeowners would not imagine that they have space-age technology in their cellar. However, it is now the case that more than half a million oil heating systems work using the “blue burner” technology developed at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Since 1977, several European companies, including MAN and Buderus (now Bosch), have acquired the rights to use this environmentally friendly technology. The blue burner is therefore a prime example of how technology transfer can be effective in the long term. The process was developed using DLR’s extensive expertise in developing rocket engines, and has since been improved thanks to collaboration with license holders. The basic idea is that the fuel oil is vaporized in the mixing zone prior to combustion. Hot exhaust gas from the combustion chamber is channeled into the mixing zone where it meets the vaporised oil and air from outside. As it is vaporized, the fuel oil is very evenly distributed and therefore burns almost completely – with a blue flame instead of the usual yellow one. Not only does this mean less oil is needed, the flame is also virtually soot-free and the exhaust fumes contain very low amounts of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.

Fast-particle cure

A treatment method developed at the GSI offers new hope for tumor patients.

Behandlungsplatz am Heidelberger Ionenstrahl-Therapiezentrum HIT

The particle accelerators at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research are generally used for basic research in physics. But in one project, they are being applied for medical purposes. In collaboration with doctors at the radiology department at Heidelberg University Hospital and at the German Cancer Research Centre, physicists at the GSI developed a new method to treat cancer with ion-beam therapy. Targeted irradiation with carbon ions from particle accelerators has proven effective in treating tumors and leaves the surrounding healthy tissue largely unaffected. It also makes it possible to effectively treat tumors in other areas, such as the brain. The therapy is recognized as a form of medical treatment and has been used by the Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center (HIT) since 2009. Working on the basis of a GSI patent, Siemens AG designed a turnkey ion-beam therapy facility. The first one is being used at Universitätsklinikum Gießen und Marburg, and more have been planned for Kiel and Shanghai. Siemens recently concluded another supplementary license agreement with GSI. It is for a bio-physical model developed in Darmstadt that allows the radiation to be planned and prepared in detail.

Pioneering work on new vaccine

DKFZ lays the foundations for a cancer vaccination

Humane Papillomviren (HPV)

DKFZ lays the foundations for a cancer vaccination

Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer among women. It is caused by an infection with human papillomaviruses (HPV), which also cause warts. That today there is a drug called Gardasil® that can vaccinate girls against the disease is partly down to researchers at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ). Most worthy of note is Prof. Harald zur Hausen, who was the first to postulate that HPV might play a role in the development of cervical cancer. He was later awarded a Nobel Prize for his findings. Since Gardasil® was launched on the market in 2006 the DKFZ has made millions in license revenue. Another development in Heidelberg is also promising success: DKFZ researchers have found a way to diagnose women with an increased risk of cervical cancer more accurately than ever. Smear tests, the routine procedure used until now, have often produced incorrect findings. The new test promises significantly more accurate results, removing the need for complicated follow-up examinations, which are often uncomfortable for women. The pharmaceutical company Roche has already licensed the procedure with the intention of developing it further and bringing it onto the market.

From lab to computer

The GMR effect brought more than a Nobel Prize to Forschungszentrum Jülich – it also brought high licensing revenue 

Nobelpreisträger Prof. Dr. Peter Grünberg

When at the end of the 1980s Peter Grünberg discovered the GMR or giant magnetoresistance effect in his lab at what is now Forschungszentrum Jülich, he did not just cause a sensation in the scientific world – he revolutionised computer technology. The effect describes the huge leap in electrical resistance that occurs in a system of alternating, thin magnetic and non-magnetic layers when there is only a very small change in the magnetic field surrounding them. Even then the researchers involved were sure that GMR was a significant discovery – and on 16 August 1988 they registered the patent, just 14 days before their French rivals. They hoped that the patent would pay off, but they could never have known how much. Just nine years later IBM, with its Jülich license, brought the first GMR product out on the market. The new read heads contained sensors with this kind of GMR magnetic layering, enabling them to read data stored extremely densely in tightly packed, ultra-thin magnetic layers on a hard drive. This boosted the storage capacity of hard drives considerably. IBM became the first license holder in 1995. Thanks to its strategic thinking, Forschungszentrum Jülich did not grant it an exclusive license and was therefore able to sell the license to 13 more companies, including Siemens, Hitachi and Seagate. This allowed the research centre to generate remarkably high license revenues totalling more than €10 million. Today nearly every computer hard drive makes use of this technology. In 2007 Peter Grünberg – along with his French rival Albert Fert – was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the GMR effect.

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