Successful gathering of German biotech industry in Würzburg

Opening plenary of the 2019 German Biotech Days © BIO Deutschland / Andreas Grasser

The tenth edition of the German Biotech Days (DBT) was held in Würzburg from 9 to 10 April. The successful event drew some 770 participants to this Franconian city, situated on the Main River. In his opening address, Peter Heinrich, Chairman of the Board of BIO Deutschland, emphasised how important it is to discuss the achievements and potential of biotechnology with the various stakeholders. He also presented the latest figures for the biotech sector, which BIO Deutschland and EY had published the previous day (see below).

The regional hosts of the 10th German Biotech Days were BioM, the coordinating agency of the Bavarian Biotech Cluster, as well as BioPark Regensburg and the local partner, Innovations- und Gründerzentrum Würzburg. Horst Domdey, Managing Director of BioM, spoke in his address of the need to improve Germany’s innovation ecosystem, particularly highlighting the poor environment for raising venture capital, though he did point out that the financing situation in Bavaria was better than in other federal states. Furthermore, he called for the creation of a new “Business Plan for Biotech” in Germany. Christian Schuchardt, mayor of the host city of Würzburg, also welcomed the biotech community and stressed the region’s importance as a hub for biotechnology research.

Much to the regret of the organizer, Germany’s Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek cancelled her appearance shortly before the conference began, but Division Head Andrea Noske gave the speech for her. The Minister let it be known that her ministry would continue to incentivize biotech research, not least because biotechnology is the key to a sustainable bio-based economy. The German government’s plans have ranged from the Bio-Agenda through an agency promoting breakthrough innovations to the new bioeconomy strategy, which is scheduled to be released in August and which contains new measures such as innovation spaces for the bioeconomy. According to the Minister, the programme “KMU-Innovativ BioChance” will be divided into two areas: health research and bioeconomy/sustainable economy. She also pointed out that Science Year 2020 will focus on the bioeconomy.    

David Spencer, a PhD student at RWTH Aachen University, then entertained the biotech community with a short talk entitled “Why pugs struggle to breathe and what that has to do with genetic engineering”. Matthias Tschöp, Scientific Director of Helmholtz Zentrum München, gave a compelling talk about the importance of translational health research, using the example of diabetes. The history and long-standing experience of the Bavarian biotech flagship MorphoSys, from tech start-up to biopharma company, was presented by its CFO, Jens Holstein. He also emphasised that Germany needs more entrepreneurship if it is to create successful biotech companies. He made the point that there is no correlation between the revenue and market value of a biotech company, adding that investors in the United States have a different mindset and see a company’s future potential and not just current profit opportunities. He also said that German biotech entrepreneurs must go where the money is.

Roland Weigert, State Secretary in the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy, opened the plenary session on the second day of the event. He highlighted in particular the Bavarian state government’s commitment to supporting the biotechnology sector, while also pointing out that the Free State is home to many excellent research institutions, universities, and companies. Winfried Horstmann and Volker Rieke, Director-Generals in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), respectively, then took part in a discussion with Martina Schraudner, acatech, and Jan Schmidt-Brand, Heidelberg Pharma, on the progress made on the biotechnology initiatives the German government announced a year ago, such as the Bio-Agenda and the Industrial Bioeconomy Platform. The ministry representatives assessed the current status of the various programmes as positive. According to Rieke, the cuts announced in the BMBF’s budget are, after years of increases, not a cause of concern and the funding for the various programmes is secure. No further information was given on the continuation of the GO-Bio support programme for biotechnology start-ups. Schmidt-Brand brought up the importance of mobilising private capital to finance biotechnology ‒ a point that was supported by Horstmann. With regard to implementing the programmes, Rieke called for optimising liaison with other ministerial departments.    Schraudner said going forward she would like to see additional instruments be used to integrate biotechnology with other industries. She also underscored biotechnology’s potential to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The plenary closed with Gerhard Frank from Innovations- und Gründerzentrum Würzburg passing the baton of the German Biotech Days to Janin Sameith from Hessen Trade and Invest. The 2020 German Biotech Days will take place in Wiesbaden on 27 and 28 May.

In addition to the plenary sessions, the DBT programme featured numerous symposiums and breakfast seminars on various topics in medical and industrial biotechnology, as well as on topics like framework conditions, success factors, and financing issues. Some 42 exhibitors also presented their services and products. Platinum Sponsors supporting the DBT 2019 included the Health – Made in Germany export initiative, CMS Hasche Sigle, Jennewein Biotechnologie, Nordmark Biotech, Roche, Sinceritas and World Courier.

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