Day 2 – Workshops and Plenaries
Design vs. Introduction of New Products
This session covered the process from an idea to an industrial product in a highly controversial approach. Mathias Steiger, a researcher at the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology, asked about how we get new ideas, why we get them and how are these ideas linked to new products. Using interesting thoughts from Plato, citing the allegory of the cave, and referring to Karl Popper’s mental “world of theories and products of human mind”, he concluded that a human brain offers unlimited capacities for developing new ideas or concepts no matter how futuristic they may be. He outlined a process for creating a new product that starts with getting the material organized. After the problem and the knowledge was “digested”, Steiger suggests an approach that is highlighted in brain research: to make a break, to stop working and thinking and to release consciousness until a great idea appears suddenly. This is the thought one should work on.
This thought could be implemented in either an academic or an industrial approach. Paola Branduardi, Professor in Chemistry of Fermentation and Industrial Microbiology, University of Milano-Bicocca, compared academic and industrial research. While academic procedures include more freedom for thinking and more time for research, industrial projects are driven by more stress for the researchers because of straightforward timelines to achieve highest titers and yields with the lowest usage of raw materials. Additionally, there is a limited freedom for publication and for solving additional scientific scopes that arise within some industrial research project. Branduardi: “Each industrial project needs a communication process where all needs are discussed and fixed.”
Alex Patist, Senior Director Bioprocess Technology at Genomatica, went one step further and demonstrated strategies for the successful implementation of a new product by following some rules for commercialization like (1) what is the value of the product, (2) is there a technological development, (3) is the product safe and easy to use, and (4) is the technology behind the product free to operate. Following that rules, Patis compared two substances that were considered to be the Holy Grail of sweetness: Stevia and Manetin. While Stevia is just 300 times as sweet as glucose and inhibits some bitterness, Manetin is a much more powerful sweetener that is “as close to glucose as you can get”. Using bioprospecting, the industry discovered a route to synthesize Manetin enzymatically. Finally, after setting up a whole production process deficiencies appeared and it was not possible to bring the substance to the market. The product turned out not be safe to use. Therefore, a project has to be stopped timely instead of sinking money. A proper documentation should ensure that the idea could be resumed if new technologies allow new scientific approaches.
Cascade Design, Metabolic Engineering and the Philosopher’s Stone
The biocatalysis community is in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. Oliver Thum from Evonik Industries revises the classical definition of the Philosopher’s Stone – turning base metals into gold – and finds a modern definition that fits for biotechnology: Finding a good catalyst is the key. He outlines the challenges that industry faces when new processes involving biocatalysts are developed and shows how simple and cheap molecules can be transformed into highly complex and valuable products using cascade approaches. His examples demonstrate impressively that the concept using biocatalysts in a cascade fashion has long grown out of its infancy and has developed as a real alternative to conventional routs.Nicholas Turner and his coworkers from the University of Manchester showed that finding the Philosopher’s Stone is possible. By discovering a new enzyme for reductive amination they were able to make one of their already efficient processes to produce chiral amines even more effective.
Nicholas Turner and his coworkers from the University of Manchester showed that finding the Philosopher’s Stone is possible. By discovering a new enzyme for reductive amination they were able to make one of their already efficient processes to produce chiral amines even more effective.But only possessing the Philosophers’ Stone is not sufficient. Andreas Liese from
But only possessing the Philosophers’ Stone is not sufficient. Andreas Liese from Hamburg University of Technology adds another important component to the game. He talks about the importance of having the right type of reactor for the right kind of reaction and emphasises the importance of interdisciplinary work for the success of biotechnological processes.The session was topped off with Andreas Schmid from the University Dortmund who encouraged the audience to see “biocatalysts as a continuum” and suggested ways for the audience to define the efficiency of a good biocatalyst.
The session was topped off with Andreas Schmid from the University Dortmund who encouraged the audience to see “biocatalysts as a continuum” and suggested ways for the audience to define the efficiency of a good biocatalyst.
The session was driven by a panel that consisted of Dirk Carrez (BBI/BIC), Rita Litauszky (FFG, Austrian national contact point), Manfred Kircher (CLIB2021), Jonathan Kua (A*star, Singapore) and Arjen van Kampen (PNO). After introducing their particular organizations, the panelists discussed the added value of networking and agreed that excellence and reliability are the most crucial factors for a good consortium, which is able to meet the needs of industry successfully. In terms of complexity of consortia, it was recommended to keep it as simple as possible, since the administration is significantly easier. However, Rita Litauszky (FFG) emphasizes that „even if it is good to keep it simple, nevertheless, the impact has to be reached and in this sense, a bigger amount of partners might be more advantageous. It has to be shown that the tax money is invested in the best way.”
Moreover, branding is an issue in the particular constellation of partners. In order not to loose the own visibility in a big consortium, the panel recommends to have a clear vision for each partner in the project, and, vice versa, successful projects can also drive the visibility of each individual partner later on.
According to Manfred Kircher (CLIB2021), an appropriate project controlling is a mandatory instrument for the different sized consortia. The panel is convinced that controlling is the only way to show what projects deliver and that tax money has not been wasted. However, Arjen van Kampen (PNO) would also recommend to “focus more on impact control than on administrative control in the future”.
A question from the audience addressed the initiation of a consortium: Who starts the project and when? The panel agreed that a vision is usually defined by one organization, that has the expert status on a particular topic and, subsequently, the further network (which mainly relies on personal contacts) is activated.
Jonathan Kua (A*star) pointed out that there are many similarities between Asia and the EU since even in Singapore excellence and impact are important. Additionally, the way how consortia are growing via personal contacts is almost the same. However, A*Star has a quite unique status in Singapore as a research center. Thus, there is no need to form many different consortia. Instead, A*Star focusses on meeting the needs of the industry and is tackling the impact.
Finally, the panel concludes that a good project idea supported by a good consortium will always find its money, no matter if there are calls available or not.
Trends in Biotechnology
Using the world cafe model, about 100 participants at the European Summit of Industrial Biotechnology (ESIB) discussed future aspects of biotechnology in a relaxing atmosphere. The key points: Technologies like CRIPSR/CAS will gain importance, as will bio-based projects embedded in a sustainable, circular economy without waste. The research institutions will provide tailor made solution and the pharmaceutical industry will offer personalized therapeutics. Therefore, a broader basic and specialized, international education is necessary as is more proficiency in working with big data or the use of external expertise.
Most emphasis was put on communication and collaboration. Communication with the public and using public knowledge (citizen science) in a simple, clear but interesting way should help to justify public funded research. The participants agreed on more interdisciplinarity to drive scientific progress and on establishing a critical mass of cooperating scientific institutions to use synergies and to be able to fulfill all needs.
Products That Convince Investors and Customers – Designing Stars
For designing a star it needs people, enthusiasm, persistence, and diligence. “Don’t give up too early and protect your IP”, is the message of CEO and patent attorney Gerda Redl. However, there are more aspects to consider. “In the past, moving from academia to industry was a step down”, recalls Anthony Rees, CEO of Rees Consulting AB. This has changed since companies like Genentech, Amgen and others established highly effective departments for research and development. Rees: “Today the requirement for an MIT professor is to have started a company”. According to the author of more than 120 scientific papers and 20 patent families, most challenging in founding a company is the definition of the product, to follow the concept, to avoid investing time and money in distracting sidelines and to not allow the timeline to slip too much. He recommends establishing a “productability” in an early stage, to spend all money wisely even if there are millions available, and not to pin all hopes on just one product.
Rees and Arne Skerra, Professor of biological chemistry at the Technical University Munich, shared a warning regarding money from investors. While Rees mentioned that the owner’s property is diluted with every Cent from an investor, Skerra prefers dealing with companies instead of investors that are more problematic to handle. Skerra’s criteria for economic success are proprietary technologies, unique products, or new technologies that solve existing problems or turn out to be a yet unknown benefit. Based on that, a smart story should be told to prospective business partners.
Andreas Gassauer, CEO of Marinomed, told a convincing story about his company with about 22 employees in Vienna/Austria. Searching for a substance that could fight all viruses that cause a cold, his researchers unveiled the potential of Carrageen. The substance is cheap and using a smart formulation as a nasal spray it inhibits viruses from attaching to the mucosa cells and this way prevents an infection. After promising tests with children, big pharma jumped in and uses the method in many nasal sprays that are available on the market.
The Power of the Microbiome – Designing Nature
Microbiomes, whole populations of microorganisms in specified areas, are gaining more importance in agriculture or in human medicine. Davide Bulgarelli, principal investigator at the School of Life Sciences Reception at the University of Dundee, investigated the crop production using barley as a role model. Analyzing which microorganisms are present and what are they doing in the rhizoshpere (the soil that is influenced by the plant’s roots), he is trying to build synthetic microbiomes for an improved agricultural production.
Massimo Marzorati, business development director & co-founder of ProDigest, is active in gut microbiome research. ”Humans are like bioreactors and the gut is one of the most colonialized environments on the planet,” says Marzorati. The bacteria living in the gut contribute highly to our well-being as they stimulate the immune response, produce vitamins, reduce cholesterol or prevent impairments of intestinal functions. To study the influence of the human microbiome, ProDigest uses the SHIME technology, an artificial gut developed at the University of Gent, that is able to simulate the human intestinal system.
Designing Sweeties – Added Value for Biotech
The importance of glycosylated sugars as antioxidants e. g. in cosmetics and for other industrial applications is increasing since their value has been revealed some time ago. Tom Desmet, a professor at the University of Gent, addresses three types of enzymes that turned out to be highly useful for designing glycosylated sugars: transferases, transglycosidases, and phosphoglucose isomerase. There are two ways to produce glycosylated sugar molecules. First, using the enzymes themselves like it is done with sucrose synthase for the in-situ supply of nucleotide sugars that can be upgraded with a glycosyl transferase to e. g. flavonoid sugars with long lasting antioxidant properties. Second, whole cells that have been modified using metabolic engineering can be used to produce special “sweeties” in vivo.
Timo Koch, head of innovation at Pfeifer and Langen, talked about the development of new sugar molecules. These have to satisfy the customer’s needs like low calories or anti-cariogenic properties. Additionally, some sugars are not sweet at all. Like cellobiose, some are valuable compounds for feed applications. Others are used as stabilizers in cosmetics or to protect the skin from UV-radiation like glycosyl glycerin. There is much need for new sugars as long as they are compatible with the customer’s desires that are more tricky in Europe than in the US or in Asia where the introduction of new compounds is easier.
Hardly Combinable – Crowdfunding and Science
To get money from the crowd, you need something that you can show and you have to able to tell a compelling story – that is the essence of Weinhard Willfort’s talk about crowdfunding of science. There is much money available from the crowd. The leading country is the UK with a contribution of 4,3 Bio Euro, followed by France and Germany. With a volume of 13 Mio Euro in 2015, Austria is somehow dwarfish compared to western European countries.
Although there is much money available and the crowd is willing to finance innovative projects, as crowdfunding is all about a product, a continuous news flow, and a perfect communication, early stage science or science that is focused on a method is nearly impossible to fund. Willfort, head of the “innovation service network” (www.1000×1000.at), addressed later stages of development and talked about solar panels for balconies “to produce your own energy”. The project rose more than 650.000 Euro in just seven weeks.