Success stories in Helmholtz technology transfers
Technology transfer in the Helmholtz Association comprises numerous forms of so-called “Transfer through brains” – for example, the exchange of a scientist out of a Helmholtz Centre to a business enterprise, or collaboration projects and license agreements with enterprises. In reference to the transfer in business application, a very successful result has been presented. In the three most significant transfer channels – collaborations with enterprises, license agreements and spin-offs – the numbers provide evidence, as do many success stories about the committed work involving scientists and transfer experts at the Helmholtz Centres.
Spin-offs represent a further strategy for transferring research findings into commercial applications such as new products and services. New technology-oriented businesses that are based on knowledge constitute a particularly valuable channel for knowledge and technology transfer as they allow the commercial use of research findings to stimulate positive growth and employment opportunities. Employees at Helmholtz Centres often form new businesses on the basis of their know-how and licence agreements. These spin-offs often sign user agreements that enable them to make use of the Centres’ large-scale infrastructure to work on further product development. Sometimes the respective Helmholtz Centres get involved in the new companies. This enables spin-offs to save money on licences and the use of equipment and lets the Centre participate in the company’s growth and commercial success. Between 2005 and 2013, 100 Helmholz spin-offs were established. Several successful examples are listed below.
Starting up a spin-off – a fictional example from KIT
Many successful spin-offs by Helmholtz scientists have shown how technologies can be brought onto the market. Bringing research findings into the commercial sphere requires careful planning, and the technology transfer points and Helmholtz Enterprise can provide invaluable support in this. This animation produced by KIT illustrates how to start up a spin-off, taking a fictitious researcher at the institute as an example. (in German)
Source: IMA, KIT
Therapy for tumour patients
Helmholtz Zentrum München develops antibodies for medical treatment
It was the first therapeutic antibody to be made in Germany. In 2009, the European Medicines Agency EMEA authorised the use of Removab®, an antibody for treating malignant ascites. This occurs in the advanced stages of some cancers and severely reduces patients’ quality of life. Removab® boosts the immune system’s reaction, allowing it to destroy cancerous cells in the abdominal cavity and therefore fight the cause of ascites. The new antibodies activate several of the immune system’s defence mechanisms at once, attacking tumour cells more precisely and effectively than ever before. The patent for this antibody technology was registered by Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health in 1994, and a company, TRION Pharma, was founded in 1998 to develop the antibodies so that they could be used in medical treatment. TRION Pharma now employs around 130 people, and it is currently developing further Triomab® antibodies in cooperation with its subsidiary TRION Research, which currently employs eleven people. With its comprehensive patent portfolio, the company has firmly established itself in the monoclonal antibody therapy sector. TRION Pharma also collaborates closely with Fresenius Biotech GmbH. They worked together to bring Removab® into clinical practice. Triomab® antibodies are produced quickly and cheaply using a unique biotechnological process. Studies for approving further indications are already underway. New antibodies for treating breast cancer, B-cell lymphoma and skin tumours are also under development. Helmholtz Zentrum München is therefore a cradle for a new generation of antibodies that can be used to accurately target cancer cells during immunotherapy.
The fight against label fraud
Forschungszentrum Jülich spin-off provides hard facts about where food comes from
In a world of international commodity flows, it is important to have a reliable way of tracking where our food comes from. A scientific method for establishing this was discovered in the 1980s by Hilmar Förstel at what is now Forschungszentrum Jülich. Using wine as the basis for his research, he found that the grapes contained different variations, known as isotopes, of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon in different concentrations, depending on the composition of the soil, water and air. This distribution of isotopes can act like a fingerprint and can give the food characteristics typical of where it comes from. The result of Förstel’s research was a database containing the isotope distributions of a variety of wine cultivating regions. The technique that worked so well with wine was easily transferrable to other food products and so in 2002 the company Agroisolab was founded. It quickly established itself as many sectors were keen to know the origins of their products for example, of beef during the BSE crisis or of rare tropical woods for the protection of the rainforest. In 2008, Agroisolab was awarded the Innovation Prize for the Aachen region for its strong growth. In early 2009, TÜV Rhineland took a majority stake in Agroisolab and opened one of the biggest laboratory centres of its kind in Jülich.
Environmentally friendly cement
KIT spin-off and Schwenk collaborate on innovative production process
Concrete revolutionised architecture and still shapes the world around us to this day. But manufacturing its binder composite, cement, is a process that consumes large amounts of energy and emits lots of carbon dioxide. Now, four scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have managed to create a “light version” of cement. They are working with industrial producer Schwenk within a specially created limited-liability company to further develop the process, branded “Celitement”, to become a large-scale commercial process. But the only “light” thing about Celitement is its impact on the environment. After it is mixed with water, this novel kind of cement is just as strong as the conventional stuff. Normal cement powder requires a compound containing large amounts of calcium in order for it to set when mixed with water. But this compound can only be created by “burning” large amounts of calcium carbonate at 1,450°C, a process that emits CO2. Celitement sets in a different way that requires two thirds less calcium carbonate. Subsequent processing requires much lower temperatures of around just 200°C. The new cement has to be put through its paces in a number of different practical tests before it can be launched on the market. But the foundations have already been built for greener cement production.