The Big Trends
European Trends for Driving Innovation and Project/Grant Management
Dealing with EU projects and complex requirements sometimes can be challenging. The good news: There are a lot of opportunities and perspectives for your EU projects and there is guidance to bring your research on the fast lane. The first special session, chaired by Georg Schirrmacher, Head of Science Network Management at the company Clariant, presented trends and strategies to drive innovation and develop successful projects. Yasmin Dolak-Struss, an expert from the FFG Austrian Research and Promotion Agency, introduced different types of funding schemes from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) and highlighted their benefits. “EU funded projects aim to improve the career development and training quality of researchers and strengthen the relationship of academia and industry”, she stated. One of the many different possibilities such programs provide are training networks and individual fellowships: For example the “Innovative Training Network” consisting of the network-wide training of three to 15 individual beneficiaries with a max. duration time of 36 months. Dolak-Struss mentioned EID BIOCASCADES as a successful project, coordinated by Prof. Robert Kourist from Graz University of Technology and acib. Other interesting MSCA funding schemes are exchange programs such as the “Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE)”, funding the exchange of staff for career development, or events like the European Researchers Night. As closing remark Dolak-Struss addressed the great potential of MSCAs and that the MSCA team at the FFG offers proposal checks for the different kinds of MSCA applications improving the success rates of the applicants.
Stephen Webb, CEO and Founder of the RTDS Group, a company providing guidance to bring research ideas closer to the market, talked about writing funding proposals, finding the right project partners, building a vast network and good relationships, supporting ongoing projects and running workshops to bring science and business closer together. Webb highlighted the importance of politically driven research and the society impact: “Research has to be accepted by the consumer. In order to achieve this, researchers need to take a closer look at the full value chain. They have to ask, if politics and people will accept the product. Therefore, it is important to develop a consistant storyline showing a vision of the final results, even before a proposal is written”, Webb explained. He stressed that we not only need good results but also a business model including stakeholder analysis and delivery channels. “A good project begins with the end in mind.” When IP and results are to be generated in the frame of the project, the commercial exploitation of them needs to be discussed. Concepts to manage intellectual property rights (IPR) in ongoing research projects need to be developed and agreements for the ownership of results should be signed in advance to avoid uncertainties. As closing remark he stated that you should take your time writing a proposal. And, as in many aspects of life itself, one thing is necessary for the success of a project as well: good communication.
Trends in Science
Chemocatalysis or biocatalysis – can one do without the other? Do they stand together or are they contradictions? Two experts in their particular fields gave insight into their long lasting experiences and highlighted the perspectives of both aspects. Matthias Beller, Director of the Leibniz institute for organic catalysis, started the session with pointing out the differences between homogeneous, heterogeneous and biocatalytic reactions. In simple words, he differentiated between 1-phasic (homogeneous), biphasic (heterogeneous) and enzymatic (biocatalytic) reactions. Chemocatalytic reactions are usually connected with fossil based resources, while biocatalysis usually deals with renewables.
“A big challenge in chemocatalysis is, for example, the fact that in case of dibutene 10% of all products are not used because of low reactivity, and industry is interested in catalysts that activate these non-reactive parts!”, explains Beller. In this context, the ligands of a reaction system can play an important role – in most cases even more than the main reaction itself – in order to activate compounds. This does not only count for homogenous reactions such as the dibutene conversion, where ligands are carbonylated, or the use of ruthenium as a ligand for ester dehydrogenation. Also in heterogeneous reactions, e.g. iron based systems nitrogen ligands can influence the stability in a positive way.
According to Manfred Reetz, emerit. Professor at the Max Planck Institute für Kohlenforschung, also numerous enzymatic processes find their place in industry. The traditional challenges in biocatalysis are the narrow substrate scope, poor or wrong stereoselectivity or insufficient stability. One solution is directed evolution, which strongly relies on experience, trial and error and – of course – a lot of work. However, library quality has to be improved and researchers have to face the problem of amino-acid-bias in the meaning of favoured and disfavoured amino acid exchanges as well as imperfect PCR amplifications, which might be solved also by synthetic libraries. Apart from that, a reduced amount of amino-acid-exchanges enables researchers to cover 95% of a library with screening less transformants and a combination of modern synthetic mutagenesis with traditional directed mutagenesis brought best results so far.
The conclusion of the discussion was, that no matter if it is a biocatalytic or chemocatalytic approach: There are numerous possibilities for improving a reaction system and the challenge is to choose rationally and plan targeting, even if – according to Einstein – rational thinking is not always beneficial for finding new things. In the end of the day, competitiveness and costs are determining parameters for the success and sustainability of a method.
Trends in Industry
Joe Adams, Scientific Leader at API Chemistry, GSK, United Kingdom and expert in multiple scientific cooperations in Europe with more than 23 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, mentioned the emphasis on biotechnology in pharma. “You have to produce your APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) faster, cheaper and more sustainable. Hence, new technologies such as continuous chemistry, synthetic biochemistry, chemocatalysis and automation are readily being applied. Industrial Biotechnology is expected to be the “new normal” for high value chemical manufacturing, as it can add additional value, reduce the environmental footprint, generate cheaper processes and enable new products in general. Mentioning the successful Chem21 IMI-project with acib as a partner, Adams showed some examples on how biocatalysts have been applied by GSK for their products. “Although enzymes are a good starting point and are able to speed up things dramatically, there is still a lot to do”, concluded Adams, pointing out that enzyme pathway engineering might become very important in the future.
For Torben Vedel Borchert, Vice President and Head of Discovery at Novozymes A/S, Industrial Biotechnology is an important tool to mitigate the effect of humans on planet earth. Global macro trends showing the need for innovations are 1) shifting demographics and urbanization, 2) climate change, 3) transition to sustainable agriculture and 4) water scarcity. As stated by Adams, for Borchert sometimes the greatest answers in life are found in its smallest components, namely enzymes and microorganisms, which are used in different Novozymes products from textiles to dishwasher/washing detergents as well as food/feed production etc.
“There are a lot of technology trends changing the industrial biotechnology as we know it today”, Torben explains. Stating fields such as a) reading and synthesising DNA, b) Genome editing tools (e.g. CRISPR/Cas9), c) Data driven discovery, d) in vitro expression systems or e) UHTS (ultra high-throughput screening) and enrichment, he also mentioned artificial intelligence. In some cases even matching the actual performance, Novozymes implements machine learning to teach their researchers which variants to go for in protein engineering. Establishing an open bio-innovation network, scientists should be encouraged to connect and collaborate with Novozymes. “To make a difference in the real world”, tells Borchert.
Weichang Zhou, CTO & Senior Vice President Biologics Development and Manufacturing at WuXi Biologics, added an overview on how the pharmaceutical industry in China changed from 2000 until now: Although overall sales of (bio)pharmaceuticals are ranked second globally behind the USA and with approximately 6.000 existing (bio)pharmaceutical companies, there are still no biologics developed in China that have been approved for commercialization. “We have a long way to go”, explains Zhou, who reveals WuXi’s goal of developing integrated continuous bioprocessing – in his opinion, a major future trend. The integrated biologics platform of WuXi, founded 6 years ago with 50 people, now employs 2500 people. Also, manufacturing increased from a 50L to 2000L-scale. Integrated up- and downstream processing at WuXi enables to combine the advantages of up- and downstream processing. Since those processes are smaller, more flexible and the capacity can rapidly be increased on demand, Zhou predicts that in the future biopharmaceuticals might be produced like coffee or food at Starbucks or McDonalds: “An easy and standardized production all around the world.”
The large number of questions and lively discussion following Session express the importance of a wide range of trends in industry and – that the future can’t come fast enough.
Trends in Science Communication
For a little experiment in attention seeking, Juliane Fischer, Independent Journalist e.g. DiePresse Scicence/Innovation and Oliver Lehmann, Head of Stakeholder Relations at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST and President of the Educational and Administrative Faculty Club, surprisingly changed the title of the session in “How to date supermodels” and showed pictures of Gisele Bündchen and other celebrities. Needless to say: It worked.
“Why is attention so important?”, Raffael Fritz from Red Bull Media House GmbH and chair of the session asked the audience. “The former struggle for existence now becomes the struggle for attention”, Lehmann explains, citing Darwin’s theory of evolution and Georg Franck’s famous book “The Economy of Attention” from 1998. As science communication has changed quite a bit in the last 15 years, the classic “legacy” media in printed or electronic form is in decline. The financial crisis did its part and had a huge impact on the media. If you look closely, there is a paradox visible: “Although science has a huge attraction and actually more and more people appreciate it, science journalism is in great danger. Mentioning a study of the Association of Education and Science Journalists in 2014, there exists an above-average number of freelance journalists with a below-average income, often forced to do PR and other jobs to be able to make a living. “The result is a mentality of so called “copy and paste” journalism”, says Juliane Fischer.
Together with the new university law, a major turning point for science in Austria, an increased competition for public funds, cooperation with companies or even between best students and employees arose, leading to the “sensational science” as we know it nowadays: Natural sciences, medicine, information technology, also archaeology are preferred over humanities and social studies. Why? “Because they transport images. We are moving from print to a more visual media world”, says Lehmann. With a rather mischievous smile on his face, he mentioned a few reasons, above all, extrinsic ones like fake news and the person associated with this term. Or the rise of social media in general. Intrinsic reasons are the inability to adapt to these changes, harbouring risks, especially in terms of speed. “A lot of science journals, magazines and newspapers changed their appearance and prepared themselves for the big shift that is known as social media. “Social media is an access point, enabling more traffic. With it comes more media coverage about science”, Lehmann mentions a certainly pleasing advantage for digital communication, giving successful examples for communicating science to public like “I fucking love Science” or Influencers like “Neil deGrasse Tyson”. Local examples were Florian Freistetter from ScienceBlogs or Florian Aigner, also press officer from the Vienna University of Technology.
Giving hope to the audience, Fischer pointed out that social media as well as other formats, can give an answer to the crisis. “Ask yourself: What do you want to get out of it? Set a certain goal and choose a platform or channel you are feeling comfortable with. Then interact and network. Good photos, basic information transported in vivid texts help too.” In addition Lehmann emphasized: “Once you are in there, stick with it, don’t leave. Post in a continuous or increasing pace. And don’t forget: You are the expert. You have interesting things to talk about. Be yourself, be authentic.” Because in the end, Lehmann closes, “it actually is all about the person who conveys the message.”
Trends in evaluation of science
How can science be evaluated? Well, there are different indicators: For example qualitative indicators, like an assessment of an expert working in the same field as the evaluated scientist, and quantitative indicators, which rely mainly on data like the amount of publications or citations. These indicators are important tools for every bibliometrician in order to analyse the quality of publications of scientist’s active various fields. In the beginning of the session the session chair, Dr. Schiebl, asked three important questions: How many people are familiar with the term bibliometrics? How many used bibliometrics to evaluate other people? And how many are “victims” of bibliometrics?
Professor Wolfgang Glänzel, one of the most active bibliometricans, talked about how reliable bibliometric methods for measuring research performance are. He explained, how the impact factor was developed as a tool for analysing databases and not scientists and how it is actually misused nowadays. He also explained how “indicators can only be as good as the underlying data analysis”. This is also addressed in the so-called Leiden Manifesto, published as a comment in Nature three years ago, which determines ten principles for research inidicators/metrics.
Professor Peter van Besselaar as well started his talk with the question, if having more publications in “small” papers is really better than having fewer publications in quality ones? Nowadays, many researchers try to publish as many papers as possible to be visible, to get more citations and to reach a higher impact factor. In other words, is productivity really a valid indicator for evaluating science? “Many countries consider counting publications as wrong. In general there is a strong tendency to reject productivity as indicator”, he stated. In the Netherlands productivity was even removed as indicator and as alternative only the five best publications are taken into account when evaluating a scientist’s research. However, when having a closer look at successful scientists they share some common traits: They are creative and have many new ideas. They also have the skills to test those ideas and the knowledge to communicate their new findings to other people. All these traits in a researcher also directly correlate with the amount of publications they can deliver. Therefore, productivity can be a useful indicator, although it is often neglected often.
Stefan Hornbostel talked about the practical side of bibliometrics, giving the example of the evaluation of the German excellence initiative. This initiative was started in 2005 to explicitly fund “excellent” universities in order to find the “German Harvard”. To measure the effect of the German excellence, initiative bibliometric studies were used. This studies showed that the “excellent universities performed similarly well before and after 2005. So, the hopes of the initiative to improve performance of those excellent universities was not fulfilled. However: The “excellence clusters”, which were founded within the initiative and have the purpose to connect universities with leading research institutes and industries performed very well.
Trends in IPR
The generation of intellectual property (IP) and patent filing is a complex topic. Some researchers are still afraid of restrictions to publish their results. Nowadays, technology transfer offices (TTO) support researchers in their inventing process. Berthold Rutz from the European Patent Office, EPO, Munich informs: “Currently, the highest number of patents is coming from medical technology, but also pharmaceuticals and biotechnology are among the top 10 technical areas of patent filing”.
The most important discussion point for the audience was the IPR strategy in terms of target countries and how to prevent researchers from countries that are not covered by the application from “stealing” an invention. Birgitta Gassner (European patent attorney) points out that a rational decision for relevant countries is crucial, since patent filing is also a cost factor: inventors not only have to consider costs for the initial claim but also for translations and lawyer support, which is getting expensive as soon as the number of countries for patent filing is increased and when inventors come into the PCT phase.
Stefan Krahulec, responsible for technology development at Böhringer Ingelheim recommends to spend enough effort on good contracts already in the beginning of a project, which also regulate the handling of IP and which include precise definitions of background IP that is going into a collaborative project. Gerald Rupert, IP manager at CAG Holding GmbH goes one step further and explains: “10% of the time effort means the managing of own patents, 90% concern all other patents. And if you do not care about your patents, others will do!”
All parties of the podium discussion emphasized the importance of support during the invention process and of the awareness about patent information as well as the consideration of FTO- (freedom to operate) aspects. Especially, Angela Siegling (aws) invites the audience to make use of the supporting programmes of aws for SMEs and start-ups, which give advice in IP strategies, investigation of existing IP and marketing on international markets.
Patenting is complicated and can be expensive but the benefits are worth the effort – since patents enable us to prove on patent infringements and to force on our rights.