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Empowering Innovations: From the Idea to Impactful Products

Innovations and transfer are specifically promoted at Helmholtz Munich. A team of experts advises researchers on patent applications as well as on cooperation with industry and the spin-off of high-tech companies.

Innovations and transfer are specifically promoted at Helmholtz Munich. A team of experts advises researchers on patent applications as well as on cooperation with industry and the spin-off of high-tech companies.

Our world is in a constant state of change. Today, we have only one chance: to accelerate the transfer of scientific breakthroughs into solutions for society.

Dr. Annette Janz, Head of Innovation Management at Helmholtz Munich, is always one of the first to find out how innovative the research is at Helmholtz Munich: Together with her team, she is the key contact point for scientists with new discoveries that are suitable for patent application. But more than that: the tasks can be summarised in three stages, starting with the promotion of innovation projects, through the management of the registered patents, to the area of transfer, which deals with industrial cooperation and spin-offs - because innovative research ideas can also give rise to promising start-ups.

"We are committed to a positive culture of innovation," as the biotechnologist Annette Janz puts it: at many events and special partnering conferences with industry, she and her colleagues provide information about their topics and the latest patents at Helmholtz Munich and aim to arouse interest in them. Time and again, the innovation management team encourages the researchers to keep an eye on potential patent opportunities arising from their work.

Professional Support Right From the Start

The work of the innovation management team begins at an early stage of research: With the help of an innovation fund and a commission of external experts, they look for particularly promising approaches that are then promoted internally. Every year, they specifically call on scientists to submit project proposals. "We now get requests for many more projects than we can actually fund," she says. The goal is clear: innovations should be promoted through additional resources and professional support, and promising approaches should no longer be allowed to fail due to a lack of funds or because they simply fall through the cracks. "In the life science sector, you simply need endurance to further develop and validate new approaches so that potential industrial partners or investors will be attracted," emphasizes Annette Janz.

The second major area of the department is intellectual property management (short: IP), dealing with the protection of inventions through patents, an important basis for developments in the health sector. Her team has to clarify which of the researchers' ideas can be patented and which ones allow for potential commercial exploitation. New active substances such as small molecules or antibodies, medical devices, innovative methods, and procedures - the range of potential patents for therapeutic and diagnostic applications is wide.

Networking for Medical Success

In addition, the area of business development is of central importance, aiming to further develop promising approaches with suitable partners outside of Helmholtz Munich: After all, a research institution on its own cannot carry out the complex clinical trials that are necessary before new types of drugs can be approved and subsequently marketed. For financial reasons alone, an industrial partner is often necessary, and Annette Janz and her team take care of such cooperation and IP licensing. "In this way, we help to ensure that promising approaches reach patients as quickly as possible," she says.

Fit for Spin-Offs: The Innovation Management Team Provides the Appropriate Know-How

The concept also involves preparing researchers for a spin-off. In addition to coaching and counseling, this also includes providing the necessary patents through licensing agreements, approaching and finding investors, and support in founding the new spin-off. The external technology transfer partner Ascenion GmbH has been successfully working with Helmholtz Munich and the Innovation Management team in this area for a long time.

Spin-off Projects in the Life Science Sector Need Time

Moreover, the ELSA program, for example, in which Helmholtz Munich is involved, serves to impart specific start-up knowledge. ELSA is the abbreviation for Entrepreneurial Life Science Accelerator. In this program, participants are trained over a quarter of a year to start up a company outside the academic sphere. The ELSA program is open to all researchers - from post-docs to professors. They can apply to participate.

"Spin-off projects in the life sciences sector are significantly different to other technology sectors," explains Thomas Buhl, Head of Venture & Transfer Programmes at Helmholtz Munich, responsible for ELSA. The ideas often require much more time before a marketable product emerges from them. The development process is more capital-intensive and regulatory and patent issues play a central role. These are often high-risk projects for investors, but they also have higher profit potential if successful.

"Essentially, there are five types of spin-offs in the life science sector," Thomas Buhl has observed. The first category includes therapeutic products; a new antibody, for example, belongs to this category, which is also the most time-consuming. If initial studies have already been carried out on mouse models, it often still takes ten years until a market launch - typically this is the phase in which venture capitalists are interested. Number two are companies that focus on diagnostics. Here, the product offered - whether for corona diagnostics or an imaging procedure - is typically closer to being market-ready by the time the investment is sought. The third category comprises technology platforms, for example in the area of artificial mini-organs known as organoids. In addition, there is the category Buhl calls "devices" with tangible hardware products that can be used for instance in biomedical research and development. Finally, also due to the possibilities of artificial intelligence, the increasingly important field of bioinformatics and computational health - for example, to screen a large number of cells for certain characteristics.

How Can We Accelerate Spin-Offs at Helmholtz Munich?

A major challenge for many life science startups is the need for laboratories with the required regulatory approvals, such as those involving genetic work, and equipped with expensive state-of-the-art instruments. Not only do substantial costs accumulate quickly, but it is also often difficult and time-consuming to find suitable laboratory spaces and navigate the necessary regulatory approval processes.

However, Helmholtz Munich has a catalyst for life science success stories: Starting in 2024, a floor of the recently inaugurated Helmholtz Pioneer Campus will be used as a startup incubator in partnership with the Life Science Factory GmbH.


Innovative Ideas for Better Health

The fact that Helmholtz Munich is producing inventions in all fields of the life science sector shows how innovative the work in the Munich laboratories is. And there are already a number of success stories for applications: For example, new active substances and technologies from Helmholtz Munich are being used in clinical trials and drug development, medical technology devices in the field of imaging and diagnostics have been approved and Helmholtz Munich has already launched many successful spin-offs (e.g.;; Many new spin-off projects are also in the pipeline. "These successes," says Annette Janz, Head of Innovation Management, "encourage us."

Latest update: October 2023.