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For a long time, answers to urgent questions of mankind have been coming from the federal state Hessen, right in the centre of Germany. Almost 100 years ago, insulin was produced for the first time on a large scale in Frankfurt, where the chemical company Hoechst was located. This insulin has enabled diabetes patients around the world to live largely normal lives. At the beginning of the 20th century, the German chemist Otto Röhm discovered the enormous potential of animal enzymes for leather stain and food production. His work later gave rise to the Darmstadt-based company AB Enzymes, today one of the oldest enzyme producers in the world.
Strong in fighting Corona
Since 2020, the Corona pandemic in particular has been drawing attention to the enormous capabilities of the biotech industry in Hessen: BioNTech produces a mRNA vaccine in the city of Marburg for about one billion vaccinations annually. Lipids, required as active ingredient carriers, are supplied by Merck KGaA and Evonik Industries AG, both located in Hessen as well. Finally, the vaccine is filled at the healthcare company Sanofi in Frankfurt. Additionally, the Frankfurt Airport has proven to be the largest pharmaceutical logistics hub in Europe: From here, the vaccine is distributed around the world. To support African countries in producing the RNA-vaccine against Covid-19, BioNTech container factories are scheduled to be shipped from Frankfurt to the African continent during 2022. At the end of June, construction work for the first African mRNA production container started in Kigali, Rwanda.
Hessen is a vital location. Even without Corona, biotechnological solutions and products for the healthcare industry are a particularly vital and innovative economic factor in Hessen. With a gross value added of 10.5 billion euros, more than 95,000 employees and an export volume of around 12.5 billion euros, the healthcare industry is foremost within Germany. More than 20 percent of the nationwide sales of the pharmaceutical industry are "Made in Hessen".
Hessen is strong in research. Hessian companies invest a disproportionately high amount in research and development. In comparison with the German patent portfolio, Hessen's share in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical technology sectors accounts for 18 percent of total patents. For so-called world class patents the figure even counts for 21 percent. Six universities, together with institutes of the Max Planck Society and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, start-ups and centres for technology and innovation undertake high-performance research for biotechnology and medicine.
Hessen is perfectly interconnected. Hessen has built strong networks that shorten distances between individual players and address current issues and developments. These include the "gesundheitswirtschaft rhein-main" initiative and the House of Pharma & Healthcare. The “Initiative Gesundheitsindustrie Hessen” is unique throughout Germany. Under its umbrella, representatives of the state government, companies, research institutions and trade unions engage in discourse on economic, scientific and social issues.
Big questions? Hessen gives answers
An important partner for biotech companies is the Technologieland Hessen, which on behalf of the Ministry for Economics is offering expertise especially to small and medium sized companies. The Technologieland will be host for the upcoming German Biotechnology Days 2023 in Hessen’s capital Wiesbaden. Dr. Hendrik Pollmann and Dr. Stefaniya Gencheva from Technologieland provide information and advice in the areas of biotechnology, bioeconomy and health industry. "Face-to-face meetings are essential for networking," emphasizes Pollmann, Project Manager Life Sciences & Bioeconomy. This fact applies even more in biobased sciences: "The biotechnology industry always thrives on collaboration between the different disciplines of chemistry, biology and technology," Pollmann states.
While the fight against Covid-19 focuses primarily on medical biotechnology, other areas also face major challenges. These include feeding the world's growing population. As prosperity grows worldwide, so does the demand for meat. Conventional agriculture however can no longer satisfy global meat markets without causing massive damage to the environment and to global climate.
Darmstadt-based Merck KGaA is therefore exploring the production of so-called cultured meat, which grows from stem and muscle precursor cells in bioreactors. The Brain Biotech AG located in Zwingenberg is also working on more sustainable food production. Brain developed a genome-editing enzyme that enables microorganisms to synthesize proteins for animal-free cheese. The company is also researching biotechnological the production of brazzein - a natural and sweet-tasting protein much healthier than conventional sugar.
Bioeconomy holds great potential
There is no doubt that globally, we need a different means of dealing with natural resources. We have to foster alternatives that use resources sparingly and return used products and waste material back into economic circulation. How can biological resources be used in ways that promote sustainable and climate-friendly economic activity? This is the focus of bioeconomy, which has a strong foothold in Hessen: Companies from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, from plant engineering and process technology generate annual sales of 8 billion euros through bioeconomic processes and materials.
The issues they are dealing with are very practice-oriented. For example, the "Bioeconomy in the Metropolitan Area" (BioBall) innovation alliance in the Frankfurt/RhineMain metropolitan region is promoting new processes for recycling biowaste and sewage sludge. In a biorefinery in the city of Brensbach, Biowert Industrie GmbH processes cellulosic meadow grass into a sustainable insulating material and into green electricity.
Bioeconomy still holds a great deal of untapped potential, which is the subject of intensive research in Hessen. In the LOEWE-funded project "AROMAplus", the Geisenheim University of Applied Sciences and the University of Giessen together with DECHEMA (the expert network for chemical engineering and biotechnology in Germany) are jointly investigating how synthesis in microorganisms can be specifically controlled. This could be used to obtain natural flavorings from agricultural waste or to cultivate edible mushrooms on unused byproducts of the food industry.
Hessen is facing future challenges
The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries in Hessen are doing crucial work to face future challenges: Biobased technologies are being used to develop new materials, foods and therapies. They close material loops for a circular economy and make production processes more efficient and sustainable.
None of this is possible without digitisation. Whereby Hessian companies are considered healthcare movers - they use digital technologies efficiently by coupling data from various sources and establishing particularly adaptable business models.
In a complex world, close links to other fields of innovation such as material technologies, resource efficiency and smart production are essential for success. "As a consultant, we from Technologieland Hessen can contribute valuable experience, networks and expertise also from areas beyond biotechnology," Gencheva emphasizes. Thus resulting in an all-round view that is hardly possible in other federal states.
DBT 2023: Come and see!
Convince yourself and come to the German Biotechnology Days 2023 in Wiesbaden! Hessen will use the DBT to present all stages of the value chain - research, upscaling, production and marketing. It will show that the federal state will continue providing answers to essential questions. The evening event at Biebrich Palace, one of the most important baroque palaces on the Rhine, will bridge the gap between future challenges and the long-lasting tradition of biotechnology in the centre of Germany.
Weitere Informationen finden Sie unter www.technologieland-hessen.de/life-sciences-biooekonomie