Technology transfer: Bridging the gap between science and market

Yearbook report 2016 of Max Planck Innovation, the Max Planck Society's tech transfer office

April 06, 2016

With the claim ‘Connecting Science and Business’, Max Planck Innovation is partner of both science and industry. Its interdisciplinary team provides consulting and support for scientists in evaluating inventions, applying for patents, and founding companies. Max Planck Innovation offers industry a central point of access to the innovations of the Max Planck Institutes, thus providing the important function of transferring the results of basic research into economically and socially useful products and services.

Max Planck Innovation joins TechnologieAllianz

Since 2015, Max Planck Innovation, has been a member of the nationwide Verband für Wissens- und Technologietransfer (Association for the Transfer of Knowledge and Technology) comprising German universities and research facilities. The association’s mission is to ensure that the technologies developed at the institutes of the Max Planck Society become part of Germany’s largest pool of patented inventions. Companies from Germany and across the globe use this central point of access to licence German high technology.

TechnologieAllianz thereby increased the number of institutions affiliated with the network to a total of 40 members. The association’s members currently represent well over 250 scientific institutions and support more than 130,000 scientists from all federal states in Germany. They are thereby opening up the entire spectrum of innovative research results from German universities and non-university research facilities, as well as universities and colleges in Austria. Germany's largest portal for patented, cutting-edge technology from the world of science is thus paving the way for interested companies to gain exclusive access to the whole palette of copyrighted inventions from all sectors at TechnologieAllianz.

‘We are delighted to have Max Planck Innovation, and other new members join us. This will make our network even more attractive in the future, both for scientific institutions and for industrial partners’, emphasises Alfred Schillert, Chairman of TechnologieAllianz. Managing Director of Max Planck Innovation GmbH, Jörn Erselius, firmly believes joining TechnologieAllianz is a logical step for further improving the transfer of results from basic research to financially and socially useful projects: ‘Over the past three decades, we have built up a close-knit network in science and industry. This experience and these contacts significantly contribute to the success of our work. For that reason, we believe the decision to join TechnologieAllianz is definitely the logically correct step to take. Not least in order to advance the development of professional standards and new tools for technology transfer, and to establish TechnologieAllianz as the central stakeholder vis-à-vis science, business and politics’.

Licence agreements

Sebastian Probst Eide and Paul Francis from the Aircloak Team.

Aircloak has concluded a licence agreement for a data protection software solution. Thanks to this technology, which was originally developed at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Kaiserslautern, user- and customer data can be evaluated in compliance with data protection laws, as conclusions cannot be drawn about individual persons. This makes it possible to unlock the full potential of data for analysis- and marketing purposes without jeopardizing individual users’ privacy.

 As Internet users, we each leave behind a unique profile based on our surfing behaviour. Our journey through the web is closely monitored by numerous companies that attach ‘trackers’ to visitors accessing their websites. While the collected data is stored in a pseudonymised manner, meaning that the user’s IP address is abbreviated, for example, each user is nevertheless assigned his or her own number. This data is valuable to companies because, among other things, it allows them to show users targeted advertising during their next online visit based on their past surfing behaviour. A lot of data about us is also collected offline. Companies from which we procure various services, such as energy providers and banks, hold information about our electricity consumption, financial status and consumer behaviour.

From the perspective of data protection law, data usage becomes particularly controversial when customer- and user data (albeit pseudonymised) is sold to other companies, which is often the case in practice. By combining data from various sources, it is sometimes possible to draw exact conclusions about individual persons and correctly identify them. The more detailed the data, the greater this risk. Naturally, the entities purchasing the data want it to be as detailed as possible so that data analysis produces more meaningful information. In order to strike a balance between the conflicting interests of data protection and data usage, the Aircloak team is pursuing an entirely new approach.

In addition to the technical aspects, Aircloak's strategy for greater anonymity also takes into account the relevant legal, economic and sociological factors. The cloak ensures that companies and their data analysts cannot filter out individual users from data sets. The information is protected by this impenetrable cloak, behind which user data from one or more sources is managed. The cloak therefore serves as a kind of black box that cannot be breached from the outside.

Data flowing into the cloak is already encrypted on the user’s device and can effectively be regarded as anonymised from that point onwards. Before the data enters the cloak, the data source receives an attestation confirming that the information is actually being transferred to the intended cloak and not to a different destination simply claiming to be one. This raw data is available in the cloak. Nobody can access it directly, not even auditors or Aircloak. Furthermore, manipulation of any sort is impossible. Customer queries are answered using the raw data. The latter is filtered using special cryptographic hardware before being made available to the customer. The data contains maximum information, making it ideal for conducting anonymous analyses. Moreover, Aircloak, which operates the cloak, also wards off queries targeting individuals. The company identifies such queries based on particular patterns.

A technology based on single-stranded RNA interference (ssRNAi) was co-exclusively licenced by the US companies WAVE Life Sciences and IONIS Pharmaceuticals. It was developed at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. Both companies now seek to further advance this technology with the goal of developing new methods for treating a large number of rare genetic diseases. ‘RNA interference is a promising mechanism that prevents proteins from triggering diseases. However, most approaches based on double-stranded RNA molecules are limited to applications treating liver diseases. ssRNAi-based approaches, on the other hand, could form the basis for new treatment methods targeted at a large number of diseases’, explains Paul Bolno, President and CEO of WAVE Life Sciences. ‘We look forward to advancing the technology developed by the institute in order to develop safe and effective nucleic acid treatment methods for patients’, Bolno adds.

 Spin-offs

Peter Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Colloid and Interfaces, Potsdam/Golm

The Max Planck Society and Actelion have founded the start-up Vaxxilon to bring carbohydrate-based vaccines to market.

Sugar does not just make vaccines sweet. In fact, some vaccines actually owe their effect to carbohydrates, a group that includes sugars. Vaxxilon plans to research, develop and market these types of carbohydrate-based vaccines. The synthetic vaccines will primarily provide protection against bacterial infections. With a view to launching them on the market, Vaxxilon has acquired the exclusive rights to various preclinical vaccine candidates and methods from Max Planck Innovation, The scientific basis for Vaxxilon’s business model was established by a team of scientists headed by Peter Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam/Golm.

Many people living in developing countries, for example, cannot afford antibiotics – if they even have access to antibiotics in the first place, that is. Yet doctors are anxiously searching for new ways of combating bacteria in industrialized nations as well. The reason for that is that some bacteria have become resistant to all or almost all antibiotics – and the situation is becoming increasingly acute. Vaxxilon could help to close the gap in the arsenal against microbes. Thanks to its research into carbohydrate-based vaccines, Peter Seeberger’s group at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces laid the groundwork for precisely such solutions. ‘This new class of vaccines can be produced more quickly and at a lower cost, and also offers further benefits in terms of distribution and administration, which could improve global access to vaccines’, says the Max Planck Director.

Vaxxilon aims to fully harness this potential. ‘We are impressed by the work carried out by Professor Seeberger’s team’, says Jean-Paul Clozel, Managing Director and CEO of Actelion. ‘That’s why I am delighted that Actelion can help translate these research results into prophylactic and therapeutic options’. Actelion is the principal investor and majority shareholder in Vaxxilon, having made a funding commitment of up to 30 million euros to be released in several instalments over a period of three to four years. ‘This investment represents an innovative way of taking advantage of the synergies that exist between the spheres of research and industry’, says Jean-Paul Clozel. ‘With Vaxxilon, we are creating an opportunity to launch synthetic carbohydrate-based vaccines on the market within the next decade’.

Peter Seeberger’s team has conducted research into and developed preclinical candidates for vaccines against various bacterial infections. Furthermore, collaborative efforts between Peter Seeberger and Gennaro de Libero, a professor of medicine at the University Hospital of Basel, have resulted in a decisive method for developing and producing new vaccines. ‘It makes me very proud that the research and technical development we carried out at the Max Planck Society in collaboration with my colleague Gennaro de Libero from the University Hospital of Basel will now be advanced at Vaxxilon’, says Peter Seeberger. ‘I strongly believe that thanks to the agility and flexibility of a small company, combined with Actelion’s financial backing, this new vaccine technology can enter the clinical testing stage and be made available to affected patients in a quick and efficient manner’. Vaxxilon plans to carry out its first trials on humans using a new vaccine over the next three years.

The spin-off  Venneos GmbH raised over 1 million euros in a seed round. The company is based in Stuttgart and is developing a novel imaging system for analysing biological cells. A consortium of business angels and family offices along with the German seed stage investor High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF) and the Max Planck Society invest in the company to develop a market-ready product and prepare the market entry of the first product generation.

Venneos is developing a silicon chip-based imaging system for analysing biological cells. The system is based on an innovative measurement approach that allows customers to detect cellular changes which remain invisible using other technologies. The automated parallel analysis of up to several thousand individual cells makes experiments more objective, reproducible and reliable. In addition, the microscopy-like visualisation of the results allows for an intuitive interpretation. Thanks to its compact size, the system can easily be integrated into daily lab work.

For the seed round valued at 1 million euros, the Venneos team was able to secure funding from a consortium of business angels from the greater Stuttgart region, family offices, High-Tech Gründerfonds and the Max Planck Society. ‘With the support of these financially strong investors, we can work together to establish a new standard for cell analysis!’ states David Wehner, Managing Director and co-founder of Venneos. The company is currently collaborating with pilot customers, amongst them researchers in fields such as tumour biology, immunology and pharmacology as well as pharma and biotech companies, to further advance the prototype. ‘The projects conducted jointly with pilot customers prove that there is a demand for our products in academia as well as in the pharmaceutical industry’, explains co-founder Jonas Lehmann. Venneos is now looking for new employees specialised in working at the interface between physics, electrical engineering, computer science and biology with whom to further develop the company’s imaging system.

‘We are delighted that a strong investor consortium is keen to finance this disruptive technology in the field of cell analysis’, says Marco Winzer from High-Tech Gründerfonds. By bringing these investors on board, the company has established a solid foundation for further funding rounds. Florian Kirschenhofer, Start-Up Manager at Max Planck Innovation: ‘We are delighted that Venneos GmbH was able to win very experienced investors: the consortium of business angels from the greater Stuttgart region and the family offices, as well as HTGF. With their support, the promising technology developed at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry can unfold its full potential’. Venneos GmbH was founded in 2014 and is currently being sponsored by the German federal support program EXIST Transfer of Research. The team consists of five people and received awards at the 2014 WECONOMY founders’ competition and the 2015 Science4Life business plan competition.

The Body Labs spin-off raised $8 Million for its 3D body modelling technology in a Series A funding round. Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Manhattan, the company has developed a technology that is based on nearly a decade of in-depth research conducted at Brown University and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. This technology allows users to easily create highly accurate and realistic avatars that can mimic the entire range of human motion. Body Labs plans use the new capital to further grow the company, accelerate product innovation and expand its current position as market leader in the 3D body modelling sector.

‘Our technology makes it possible, for the first time ever, to automatically, accurately and cost-effectively make the human body shape available via a digital platform’, explains Bill O'Farrell, co-founder and CEO of Body Labs. Forward-looking companies can now confidently design and deliver products and services that are custom-tailored their customers' respective body shapes. This means mass customisation adapted to the human body shape is quickly becoming a reality, and we play a vital role in how goods and services are designed, manufactured, bought, sold and recommended’.

Body Labs' suite of products and services comprises BodyHub, BodyKit and BodySnap. The technology developed by Body Labs is subject to exclusive licence agreements with Brown University and the Perceiving Systems Group of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, which also focuses on continually advancing the body modelling technology. The Series A funding round was spearheaded by Intel Capital, Intel's strategic investment and merger & acquisition organisation which backs innovative technology start-ups and companies worldwide. Additional investors include FirstMark Capital, Max Planck Innovation, Osage University Partners and Catalus Capital, as well as the company founders and a number of Body Labs employees.

Baxter, a pharmaceutical and medical technology company, acquired SuppreMol GmbH for around 200 million euros. SuppreMol was founded as a spin-off of the laboratory of Prof. Robert Huber, the 1988 Nobel laureate in chemistry, at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry. At its facility in Martinsried, the company develops innovative protein therapeutics. The acquisition by a global leader in the biopharmaceutical industry creates ideal conditions for successfully advancing the development of novel drugs for treating autoimmune diseases and allergies.

SuppreMol GmbH has built up a portfolio of novel immunotherapeutic drugs that focus on modulating Fc receptor signalling pathways. This approach is based on therapeutic proteins that inhibit excessive and detrimental immune responses, and could thus have broad applications in the treatment of autoimmune disorders. With regard to SM101, the most advanced new drug candidate, a clinical Phase IIa study has already successfully demonstrated the drug’s effectiveness in patients. SM101 is used for treating primary immune thrombocytopenia (ITP, a disorder causing low platelet levels) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue). The company’s portfolio also includes several projects with therapeutic applications in other autoimmune and allergic diseases. ‘SuppreMol’s portfolio of novel investigational treatments complements and builds upon our leading and differentiated immunology portfolio, enabling us to expand into new areas with significant market potential and unmet medical needs in autoimmune diseases’, says Ludwig Hantson, President of Baxter BioScience.

The acquisition brings new momentum to the German biotech industry, considering that – according to the biotech news magazine Transkript – it is the highest takeover price paid since 2011. ‘We are pleased that the Max Planck spin-off SuppreMol was able to win Baxter as a very strong partner for the development of the innovative autoimmune pipeline, which is originally based on the findings of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry’, says Ulrich Mahr, Member of the Board at Max Planck Innovation GmbH, who is also a long-standing member of SuppreMol's advisory board. In its role as a technology transfer organisation, Max Planck Innovation already provided SuppreMol with in-depth support and advice in the pre-seed phase, and assisted the company in gaining its initial investor consortium. Later, as part of the advisory board, they accompanied SuppreMol from the spin-off phase all the way to the successful acquisition by Baxter. So far the company’s main shareholders included MIG Fonds, Santo Holding, a subsidiary of the Strüngmann brothers, BioMedPartners, FCP Biotech Holding, the German government-owned development bank KfW, Z-Cube, Bayern Kapital and the Max Planck Society.

In addition to the technology portfolio, Baxter will also acquire and operate SuppreMol’s office in Munich. SuppreMol’s 20 employees will thereby be able to continue conducting their research at the site near Munich and work closely with Baxter. ‘Matching therapeutic innovation with market requirements is challenging for biotech companies. Working with Baxter, a global immunology leader, is the ideal setting for SuppreMol’s promising therapeutic projects to deliver on our ambitious goal of treating major autoimmune diseases and severe allergies’, says Klaus Schollmeier, CEO of SuppreMol.

If all the mergers and acquisitions that were concluded in the life sciences sector since 2005 and Q1/2015 are taken into account, six Max Planck Society spin-offs rank in the top 20. Three of them even made it into the Top 10 (biotech ranking by Ernst & Young).

In 2015, the auditing and consultancy firm Ernst and Young awarded entrepreneurs the title ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ for the 19th time. The prize honours individuals whose spirit of innovation and exemplary entrepreneurial commitment have led to the creation of new business fields. The winners of the 2015 award in the Start-Up category were Nobel laureate Stefan Hell and Gerald Donnert who, with the company Abberior Instruments GmbH made a scientific revolution in microscopy commercially viable for worldwide use. The prestigious entrepreneur’s award was presented at a festive gala event hosted at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. The celebratory speech was given by Günter Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy & Society.

Abberior Instruments GmbH, a spin-off of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and the German Cancer Research Center, was founded as the result of Hell’s ground-breaking discovery that it is in fact possible to circumvent the Abbe diffraction limit and thus multiply the resolution of conventional light microscopes by up to ten times – and theoretically by even more than that. The STED and RESOLFT microscopes developed to application readiness by Abberior Instruments make this possible by using a special light beam that sequentially keeps adjacent details in the dark, so that the latter do not glow simultaneously, but one after the other. This allows the observer to clearly distinguish between the individual details. In 2014, Hell was awarded the Nobel Prize In Chemistry for this revolutionary work. The Nobel Committee lauded Abberior Instruments for thus making available optical microscopy in its highest resolution to date, further stating that this invention will advance industrial and academic research and help scientists uncover the underlying systematics of diseases or even life in general.

Incubators

In order to validate inventions – including those resulting from basic research conducted at the Max Planck institutes – in accordance with industry needs and/or the requirements stipulated by equity investors and thereby introduce these inventions to the industry and market, Max Planck Innovation has set up various incubators over the past few years. 2015 was another year full of positive developments.

The Lead Discovery Center GmbH (LDC) which was established in Dortmund by Max Planck Innovation in 2008, is active in the field of small molecule drug discovery. It takes on projects resulting from research conducted by the Max Planck Society and other research facilities and transforms them into what are known as ‘leads’. In 2015, the LDC received grants worth 1 million euros from the Max Planck Foundation for the development of two innovative drug discovery approaches. The funds originate in equal parts from the Max Planck Foundation (MPF) and the Dr. Helmut Storz Foundation, which is held in trust by the MPF. The first of the two funded projects is a new anti-inflammatory compound being jointly developed by the LDC, the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics and the Max Planck Research Unit for Enzymology and Protein Folding. It targets a group of enzymes called cyclophilins, which play an important role in the development of acute inflammation. This first-in-class compound uses a novel and more targeted mechanism of action that could reduce the dosing requirements and side-effects associated with traditional cyclophilin inhibitors, which include immune suppression and kidney or liver damage. The project holds strong potential for the treatment of inflammatory diseases in cardiology and autoimmunity. The second project addresses a highly innovative molecular target that plays a pivotal role in various cancer forms, including breast and ovarian cancer. This project will benefit from the LDC’s extensive expertise in the discovery of small molecule inhibitors for the enzyme class in question. The LDC will collaborate closely with the Center of Advanced European Studies and Research (Caesar), which is affiliated with the Max Planck Society. Without this generous financial support, it would not have been possible to advance these two projects into translational development. The goal is to identify an appropriate industry partner for each project at the end of the funding period to ensure further development. 

Furthermore, the LDC signed a licence deal with Qurient Co., Ltd., providing Qurient with exclusive worldwide rights to a series of highly-selective CDK7 inhibitors discovered at the LDC for the treatment of cancer, inflammation and viral infections. The partners will closely collaborate to advance the approach from the validated lead stage into clinical development. Upon successful proof-of-concept in humans, they will jointly identify a suitable partner for follow-on licensing and marketing. The agreement on CDK7 is the second licence agreement to be concluded between the LDC, Max Planck Innovation and Qurient, and the starting point of a broader alliance between the partners. Building on the success of their ongoing collaboration on Axl kinase inhibitors, they have agreed to join forces for the development of selected further projects from the LDC’s portfolio in the fields of oncology and inflammatory diseases. The partners will closely work together through all stages, from project identification through to clinical proof-of-concept and subsequent sublicensing, with the LDC leading drug discovery and optimisation and Qurient guiding preclinical and clinical development, typically until completion of Phase II. ‘It is an exciting moment for Qurient to have LDC as an upstream partner, providing innovative drug discovery programs to our ‘lead-to-clinical POC’ pipelines’, says Dr Kiyean Nam, CEO of Qurient. ‘As being shown in the Axl inhibitor program, we will join forces to achieve exceptional science and operational excellence until the program reaches mutually beneficial end point’.

The LDC has also initiated and expanded its collaborative efforts with a number of other partners. This includes entering into a partnership with the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) for the development of new drugs against multi-resistant hospital pathogens (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus; MRSA). The LDC is also extending its partnership with AstraZeneca, the goal of which is to discover new medicines for the treatment of human diseases with high unmet medical need. The partners will cooperate for an additional three years to advance projects in the areas of oncology and neurology as well as cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory and inflammatory diseases. For this purpose, AstraZeneca will make available its extensive set of high-quality screening compounds to complement the LDC’s internal substance collection. The LDC is now also collaborating with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to identify and accelerate innovative drug candidates, especially those sourced from academic projects, for the treatment and prevention of diseases with high unmet medical needs. In future, the LDC will also work together with t Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to jointly select high-potential cancer drug discovery projects. ‘We are extremely pleased to cooperate with Infinity. With strong capabilities in drug discovery and development and a novel anti-cancer development candidate in registration-focused clinical trials, Infinity is perfectly set to advance pioneering oncology projects into the clinic and eventually to the patient’, says Dr Bert Klebl, Managing Director of the LDC.

The Life Science Inkubator GmbH (LSI), which has been operating in Bonn since 2009 and in Dresden since 2013, accommodates start-ups from the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical engineering at its facility to prepare them for the funding stage. The incubated spin-off project Bomedus GmbH, which developed a new approach for permanently reducing chronic and phantom pain using ‘intelligent back belts’ and stump belts, was able to obtain around 2.5 million euros in a Series B funding round. The additional capital will be invested in launching further innovative medical products for treating chronic and phantom pain which are currently in the pipeline, and in preparing clinical research projects. The new investors and shareholders are NRW.Bank, the state development bank of North Rhine-Westphalia, and private investor Dr Christoph Schug, a financial expert who also serves on the supervisory board of several companies. Other shareholders of the company include the German seed stage investor High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF), the LSI Pre-Seed Fund (PSF) and Prof. Andreas Hoeft, Bonn. Bomedus GmbH develops and distributes innovative medical devices for treating chronic pain. The company’s product portfolio is based on a newly developed electro-therapeutic method known as Small Fiber Matrix Stimulation (SFMS). For the first time ever, this new technology enables patients to achieve a non-invasive modulation of the pathologically altered neuronal impulses that emerged as the pain became chronic. This is a prerequisite for sustainable pain relief or even pain elimination. To date, this cannot be achieved using pharmacological approaches or conventional non-invasive electro-therapeutic methods, making this newly developed technology unique. ‘Bomedus GmbH has built up an exciting technology platform that is suitable for treating various types of pain and therefore addresses significant market opportunities’, says Dr Thomas Raueiser, Senior Investment Manager at NRW.Bank.

NEUWAY Pharma GmbH another start-up taken on by the LSI, obtained 3.15 million euros in a Series A funding round, thereby raising the total to 5.85 million euros. The new funds were made available by the lead investor Wellington Partners, the LSI Pre-Seed Fund, the German government-owned development bank KfW and several private shareholders. NEUWAY Pharma focuses on the preclinical and clinical development of innovative therapeutics for treating rare diseases of the central nervous system based on the company’s proprietary ZNS Drug Delivery Platform. The new funds will allow NEUWAY to not only further advance its ZNS Drug Delivery Platform, but to also produce test substances under GMP conditions.

Furthermore, the cooperating LSI Pre-Seed Fonds was able to secure new funds worth around 7 million euros and therefore extend its successful collaboration with the LSI by another five years.

IT Inkubator GmbH was officially opened in Saarbrücken in March 2015. In future, the ideas and inventions arising from research projects of the joint venture between Saarland University’s computer science department and the Max Planck Society will be further developed on campus and subsequently marketed for application. Scientists can either set up their own companies or develop the technology to the stage where established businesses can purchase licences. To support the scientists in their efforts, Max Planck Innovation GmbH and WuT GmbH, Saarland University’s patent marketing agency, jointly founded IT Inkubator GmbH to create the structures that inventors and young entrepreneurs need in order to bring new technologies to market. The IT incubator was officially opened on March 4 by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Prime Minister of Saarland, Prof. Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, and Prof. Volker Linneweber, President of Saarland University. ‘Ground-breaking innovations are inconceivable without sound basic research. In order to translate scientific knowledge into innovation, however, we need to bring science and entrepreneurship together. That is the idea behind incubators – and when it comes to computer science, Saarbrücken is the Max Planck Society’s number one choice. Two outstanding Max Planck Institutes, Saarland University with its distinct emphasis on computer science, the Cluster of Excellence for Multimodal Computing and other strong players in the region all show that this is the right place for the IT incubator’, Martin Stratmann said.

Photonik Inkubator GmbH was founded in Göttingen in 2014. It offers start-ups with promising ideas the best possible setting for implementing their entrepreneurial visions. This is where innovative research projects from the fields of photonics/optical technologies and plasma are developed into marketable products. In addition, researchers acquire the business skills they need in order to successfully compete in the market. Good research conditions and competent project management along with full funding – the comprehensive support provided by the photonics incubator helps bridge the gap between science and business. In 2015, FiberLab won first prize in the Start-Up category of the Innovation Award hosted by the municipality of Göttingen. The start-up team developed a sensor named FiberLab which is essentially based on a fibre Bragg grating and features an additional component for measuring shapes in three-dimensional space and detecting the refractive index of surrounding fluids. In addition to temperature, force or pressure, this fibre-optic sensor is able to detect its own three-dimensional shape with a very high degree of precision. This includes bends, torsion and ultimately also its own movement in space. Thanks to the fact that it can be flexibly integrated, the sensor grants instruments, textiles and other devices intelligent perception. One of the fibre’s main advantages is its diameter of less than a quarter millimetre, which makes it ideal for applications such as brain catheters where only a minimum amount of space is available. Furthermore, the sensors are independent of electric and magnetic influences and are also highly temperature-resistant, meaning they can be sterilised. Over the course of the project, the techniques for processing the fibres will be further automated so that when enough units are available, the fibre can also be used as a one-time disposable product.

Research funding

Max Planck Innovation also assists scientists in obtaining funding.

One such example is a highly promising Max Planck Society spin-off project that received funding as part of EXIST Transfer of Research a support programme of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), for the development of its technology and business model. ambiverse has developed a new software for the machine-based understanding of texts, granting companies access to more relevant information on the Internet and better access to the content of their own databases. Due to the vast quantity of texts available online and in large company databases, it is often not possible to clearly categorise polysemous or varying names of people, places, companies or events. When reading a text, people generally determine who or what is meant based on the context. Upon reading the sentence ‘Müller was the top goal scorer in South Africa’, for example, a well-informed human being would generally be able to tell from the context whether the text was referring to Gerd Müller, Germany’s celebrated former football player who was at the pinnacle of his career in the 1970s, Thomas Müller, his worthy successor and top goal scorer in 2010, or the former footballer’s namesake Gerd Müller, Germany’s current Federal Minister of Development. Machines, on the other hand, cannot automatically glean such information from context alone, even though that kind of knowledge is essential for a more in-depth comprehension of digital content. ambiverse, a spin-off founded by the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, has developed an intelligent software solution that automatically and accurately recognises and interprets words and phrases with multiple meanings. The software relates words in the text to specific entities, e.g. people, companies, films or books, in reference repositories such as the free knowledge databases Wikipedia and WikiData or in-house company databases. Furthermore, companies can integrate their own databases and archives into the search. This innovative technology can therefore be used to develop more powerful search and analysis tools for news archives, corporate documents, product reviews and many more. ambiverse has now plans to use the new funds from EXIST to make the software ready for the market and develop a viable business model.

The Max Planck Society spin-off project ultralumina was also awarded funding through the EXIST Transfer of Research programme in 2015 to develop its technologies and business model. ultralumina plans to improve applications in the semiconductor industry and in material processing with products from the field of photonics. Optical glass fibres conduct light virtually without loss and are therefore used in many technical applications, for example in data transfer, metrology and medical technology. However, conventional glass fibre cables are not ideal for conducting (laser) light at the ultraviolet end of the spectrum, as UV light damages the fibres. Yet UV light is employed in many areas, for example for characterising sensitive semiconductor components, processing industrial materials and in medical engineering. ultralumina, a start-up project founded by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen, has now developed new UV light sources by using glass fibres with a hollow core. UV light can be conducted through these highly specialized fibres with very little loss and without causing damage to the fibres. Moreover, it is now possible to produce high-intensity broadband UV light thanks to the new fibres’ special design, which uses a micro-structured photonic crystal fibre with a hollow core that has a diameter of a few tens of micrometres. With support from Max Planck Innovation, the ultralumina team has now secured funding through the EXIST Transfer of Research programme. The funds made available by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy will be used to refine the research results to date and develop a business model for setting up a company. In this way, ultralumina hopes to manufacture and market optical equipment (UV light sources and high-power lasers) and photonic hollow-core fibres in future.

Max Planck Innovation also helped a project initiated by the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry obtain funding through the m4 pre-seed competition. The m4 Award particularly fosters projects related to personalised medicine and supports teams of scientists in translating excellent research into innovative products and technologies. The funding is designed to help validate outstanding projects and make them ready for the spin-off stage. This particular project focuses on obesity, a serious medical condition that entails numerous secondary diseases and currently afflicts 175 million people. Currently available treatment drugs only result in minimum weight loss and often trigger severe side effects. The scientists at the institute are working on a new class of therapeutic agents called selective FKBP51 inhibitors. These drugs can be taken orally and act locally in the body’s muscles and fatty tissue. Due to the fact that they do not enter the brain, they are not expected to have any serious side effects. The project team plans to use the new funding to optimise the active ingredient and collect comprehensive preclinical data. The m4 funds will allow the scientists to further advance the technology over the course of the next 24 months and afterwards perhaps also found a company for marketing the drug.

With the support of Max Planck Innovation, the iPAM project was able to extend its funding made available by the ‘Validation of the Innovation Potential of Scientific Research – VIP’ programme. As part of the German federal government’s high-tech strategy, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) initiated this financial assistance scheme with the goal of closing the current gap between basic and applied research. The aim of the iPAM project is to develop and validate a wide-field microscope that is significantly faster than the conventional technology and is used for three-dimensional fluorescence measurements, for example. Cell biology research often requires using confocal microscopes, an optical imaging technique that illuminates one point in a sample at a time. Only later is the data combined to form an overall image – a rather time-consuming procedure. That is why a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry developed the iPAM (intelligent Programmable Array Microscope). This microscope is designed to significantly accelerate the creation of such images. Approx. two million flexible micro-mirrors ensure simultaneous illumination, and a sophisticated graphics software evaluates the data with virtually zero delay. The iPAM makes it possible to individually adjust the illumination and the image without having to move any large mechanical parts. If the iPAM project is successful, it will allow for a very high resolution and image acquisition speed at comparatively low manufacturing costs. As part of the VIP programme, the iPAM project previously received a seven-figure sum over the course of three years, up until and including the year 2015. This funding was extended in late 2015. Max Planck Innovation supports the scientists working at the various Max Planck institutes especially with regard to filing applications for VIP funding and provides assistance in developing market- and competitor analyses as well as suitable patent strategies.

Novel low-energy defibrillator.

Max Planck Innovation also helped secure an extension of the funds awarded to the LEAP project as part of the GO-Bio biotechnology start-up drive, an initiative set up by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The ministry’s GO-Bio competition gives young scientists with research experience the chance to work with their own team in Germany to advance innovative research topics in the field of biosciences and make them commercially viable. The goal of this funding scheme is to identify and technologically validate a product’s application potential and prepare its commercial exploitation with the main objective of founding a biotech company.

In 2015, the LEAP project (low-energy anti-fibrillation pacing), which was set up by the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and was awarded 2 million euros in funding over the past few years with the help of Max Planck Innovation, was able to extend its funding eligibility period. The prize money allows the researchers to put in place the scientific and technical preconditions for founding a company and systematically advancing their invention, a low-energy defibrillator. The project’s clinical goal is to develop an implantable defibrillator that stops atrial fibrillation, which would otherwise kill a person within minutes, without the need to subject the patient to the traumatically painful and severely tissue-damaging electric shock associated with conventional defibrillation technology.

Events

Every year, Max Planck Innovation cooperates with various partners to present a series of events. The goal of these events is to foster the link between science and business and the transfer of research results into products.

In December 2015, several of the latest research projects deriving from the institutes of the Max Planck Society were presented at the 4th Innovation Days in Berlin. Some 250 participants from industry and research attended the conference, which was organised by Germany’s leading research institutions: the Max Planck Society, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association and the Leibniz Association.

The focus of the presentations was on nutrition & crop science as well as photonics & sensor technologies. Several spin-off projects based on technologies from different Max Planck institutes presented their developments, including Lipotype (functional foods), Targenomix (identifying herbicide target molecules using systems biology approaches), Computomics (use of next-generation sequencing to accelerate crop breeding and improve plants), ultralumina (hollow-core optical fibres – ultraviolet light and beam delivery), nano.AR (technical applications of biomimetic nanostructures) and ultrafast diffraction- and imaging systems. Each team had the opportunity to present its findings to venture capital experts looking for promising projects in which to invest. The BIRD project (Broadband Infrared Laser for Medical Diagnosis) was presented to industry representatives scouting for new technologies which they can license and advance in order to bring them to market.

Moreover, the Innovation Days presented extensive networking opportunities for all participants. Via the online partnering platform, participants were able to organise meetings in advance to meet up with potential research-, license- and business partners in the partnering cubicles provided by the event’s organisers to discuss future technologies and potential spin-offs. Another important item on the agenda of the 2015 Innovation Days was the presentation of the Karl Heinz Beckurts Prize. The Innovation Days were supported by a number of sponsors including Siemens, BASF, Bayer, Trumpf, Roche, Sanofi, DIN, Evonik, Zeiss and many more.

Founders event during the Start-up Days.

2015 also marked the 9th Biotech NetWorkshop. Organised jointly by Max Planck Innovation and Ascenion this event for start-up entrepreneurs presents a platform where scientists with an interest in founding a start-up can exchange experiences with seasoned managers of life science spin-offs founded from within the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations, and the Hannover Medical School. The event is highly popular year after year.

In September 2015, the technology transfer organisations of the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Association, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Leibniz Association jointly hosted the 3rd Start-up Days in Dresden.

The Start-up Days offer scientists from the institutes of the four major research organisations comprehensive information on all relevant aspects related to start-ups. The event addresses scientists working in the biological/medical as well as the chemical/physical/technical fields. At the conference, scientists have the opportunity to attend and participate in a wide range of presentations and interactive workshops to learn more about various topics related to founding a start-up.

Facts and figures

In the year 2015, a total of 137 inventions were reported to Max Planck Innovation (2014: 131) and 69 licence agreements (incl. agreements regarding joint inventions/TT agreements) were concluded (2014: 80). The revenues are expected to total 22.0 million euros (2014: 25.7). In 2015, these revenues included the sale of a company, generating immediately available proceeds worth approx. 1.3 million euros, as well as a small outstanding payment from a previous corporate sale (2014: 100k euros). Due to the downstream billing procedures of some licensees, the official figures for the 2015 business year will not be available until mid-2016.

In 2015, Max Planck Innovation supported three spin-offs of various Max Planck institutes. The organisation was able to conclude eight new participations and realise external seed/Series A financing rounds for three spin-offs, as well as a capital increase from shareholders for another spin-off. In addition to the 8.7 million euros thus obtained, a further spin-off was able to secure funding worth 30 million euros in the form of a subordinated shareholder loan. It is particularly worth mentioning that over the past few years, an increasing amount of funds for the pre-seed stage were raised through financing programmes such as EXIST Transfer of Research, GO-Bio and m4. Since 2010, and with the support of Max Planck Innovation, 23 of the Max Planck Society’s start-up projects were able to secure funds totalling approx. 19.5 million euros through various financing assistance schemes specialised in technology validation and start-ups.

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