Ruperto Carola
BioRegio Special 1997

On 20 November 1996, news reached the University that the Rhine-Neckar Triangle had been selected as one of the three model “BioRegions” to have triumphed in the “BioRegio Competition” of the Federal Ministry for Education, Science, Research and Technology. It was a distinction that the whole region had been hoping for and the reward for more than a year's concerted efforts. In concrete terms it means an extra 50 million marks of federal funding over the next five years and at least the same amount again from industry. After the competition was announced in October 1995, the University took the initiative and assembled over 40 companies and institutes from the Rhine-Neckar region to form an initiative called the “Rhine-Neckar Triangle BioRegio”. The idea was to join forces and hammer out a masterplan for stepping up the application and implementation of biotechnology in the region. From the outset, it was obvious that success in this competition was anything but a foregone conclusion, as Rector Peter Ulmer makes clear in his Editorial for this special issue of the “Ruperto Carola” research magazine. There were 17 regions vying for a place among the winners, and Berlin, Munich and Cologne were expected to be particularly tough contenders. The entire magazine is devoted to the BioRegio success story. It charts the combined efforts undertaken and assembles articles on some of the research and cooperation projects envisaged. Among the factors listed by Rector Ulmer as ultimately tipping the scales in favor of the Rhine-Neckar region are the competent support provided by consulting firms Schitag Ernst & Young and Abshagen Consulting and the firmly established existing tradition of cooperation between science, industry and local government, a tradition that was given further impetus by the additional esprit de corps generated by the competition. Professor Ulmer reports that there was no lack of criticism from basic research quarters within the University about getting involved in a scheme largely designed to create jobs and hence deemed to be more of an economic than a scientific program. The Rector's office was however of the opinion that this was a challenge the University should square up to. While there is no doubt that it will always remain a haven of basic research, the University must acknowledge that application-oriented research is also very much a part of its educational portfolio. In addition, a university bears a by no means insignificant portion of the responsibility for assuring the future prospects of its highly qualified graduates. Potentially, the new jobs associated with the BioRegio program are jobs for Heidelberg University graduates as much as for anyone else.

The successful joint commitment entered into by science and industry in the region is already bearing fruit. Over 180 projects with potential applied uses were identified in the framework of the participation in the competition, and six of those have such immediate commercial potential that they could lead to the establishment of companies in the near future. In his article “Vision and Strategy—The BioRegio Competition”, Ulrich Abshagen describes the concept that spelled success for the Rhine-Neckar region, a concept designed to ensure that in future the region will be up among the front runners when it comes to turning ideas into products, as befits an area with such an outstanding scientific reputation.

“DNA Analysis as a Business” is the subject of the second article, by Magnus von Knebel-Doeberitz. With the latest technology and in record time, the newly established “LION bioscience AG” intends to provide its services commercially in determining the sequence of building blocks in hereditary material. A prospective customer here is the pharmaceutical industry, which requires this kind of information for the development of new drugs.

The third article, “Hitting a Target with Invisible Weapons”, comes from the German Cancer Research Center. Wolfgang Schlegel and Markus Götz of MRC Systems GmbH Heidelberg describe new ways of achieving spot-on tumor irradiation that will spare the surrounding healthy tissue.

Basic research and the quest for new drugs against epilepsy go hand in hand in an unusual joint venture involving BASF, the Californian biotechnology firma Lynx Therapeutics, the Molecular Biology Center of Heidelberg University and the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research. The venture is described by its initiators, Peter H. Seeburg, Bert Sakmann and Alfred Bach, in the article “Gene Activity on Film”. At their location in the Heidelberg Technology Park, BASF-LYNX are operating with new methods that promise to revolutionize many areas of biology. The approach makes it possible to determine as in a film what genes are active in the cells at any given time.

And “A Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease is No Longer just a Utopian Dream”, as Christian Haaß demonstrates in the following article. Enormous progress has been made in the last few years of research into the molecular mechanisms operative in triggering this disease. In the framework of the BioRegio program, this progress could be harnessed for the purpose of developing effective agents that might conceivably prevent the disease from breaking out in the first place.

“Artificial Blood” is the next topic. After an accident or during a operation, the survival of the patient will frequently depend on offsetting the loss of blood by means of transfusions. But transfusions from blood donors are not without their problems as the recent debate on HIV-infected sources has illustrated. Also, the supplies in the blood banks are frequently unable to cover the huge demand. Wolfgang Kuschinsky tells the story of the quest for substitute blood solutions.

Turning research achievements into hard cash is a process that invariably involves patenting. For 10 years now, “Help in the Jungle of Patent Law” has been provided by the Technology Licensing Bureau (TLB) of Baden-Württemberg's universities. Thomas Gering and Klaus Kobek tell us exactly how the Bureau aids inventors in negotiating the various obstacles encountered on the road from brainwave to registered product.

The birth of the victorious BioRegio program was not of course entirely free of labor pains, as Bernhard Dobberstein recalls in an interview given to Michael Schwarz. He was the link man on the basic research side during the flat-out stage of the BioRegio contest. Finally, in the “News and Views” column, director of the German Cancer Research Center Harald zur Hausen pays tribute to the people who masterminded the BioRegio concept. This issue of the magazine is also available in English, translated by science journalist Patricia Kahn.

The research magazine “Ruperto Carola” is printed and published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter – Heidelberger Verlagsanstalt. Single copies cost DM 10,– (DM 5,– for students). Like the special support subscription (4 issues for DM 60,–), they can be ordered from:
Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg,
P.O.B. 105760,
D-69047 Heidelberg

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