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Beyond biotech

Cologne's biotech centre BioCampus is branching out from its original purpose. Director André van Hall tells Natasha Turak why an interdisciplinary approach is the way forward.

The BioCampus on the edge of Cologne’s city limits is set for a comprehensive rebrand, says director André van Hall – one that will encompass its ambitions toward becoming a multidisciplinary science and technology hub rather than a centre focused purely on biotech. Everything from its new name to its corporate logo is up for transformation.

“The BioCampus originally was only made for biotech companies,” Mr van Hall tells fDi. “That wasn’t a good idea for the future as the target group – biotech companies – is too small.” Germany has about 500 biotech companies with around 18,000 employees, a small figure compared with its US or British counterparts.

“Furthermore, you can support synergetic effects by having an interdisciplinary environment,” says Mr van Hall, who adds that in scientific fields, it is ideal to have different disciplines located together. “This is why we are planning a rebranding. It doesn’t make sense to call it biotech if we’re going to do much more than that.”

International R&D

The 25-hectare property is currently home to 29 companies carrying out sophisticated research and development in life sciences and, increasingly, other scientific fields. Established as a biotech park in 2002 after serving as factory premises since 1962 and funded by the city of Cologne, BioCampus is already an FDI destination for major players including German multinational Bayer, French healthcare company Sanofi, and Swiss life sciences company Lonza. Sanofi, which owns its facility on the property since buying German pharmaceutical manufacturer Nattermann in the early 2000s, employs about 400 of the 1000 people that work on the campus.  

“We want to provide one address for a whole company’s life,” Mr van Hall says. This includes rentable space for individual offices or labs for small start-ups, scale-up support for flexible growth, construction of customised facilities for later-stage growth, and partnerships with academic institutions such as the nearby University of Cologne.

BioCampus is a growing magnet for international companies as they discover and invest in the specialised start-ups within Cologne’s science community. Mr van Hall calls them “hidden champions” – Germany’s term for companies that are not well known but are market leaders in their field – and names some that have won major investment or acquisition by multinationals.

One such is cell and gene company Amaxa Biosystems, founded in Cologne and bought by Swiss company Lonza in 2008 for €180m. Another is Sividon diagnostics, one of only two companies worldwide producing diagnostic kits for breast cancer patients, which was recently acquired by US-based molecular diagnostics company Myriad Genetics. Meanwhile, German start-up Direvo, a specialist in biomass conversion, was partly bought by Bayer for €270m.

Happy endings

“These are typical examples for Cologne’s BioCampus,” Mr van Hall says. “Here is an innovative start-up, it grows, and an international player buys it. It’s a perfect story, and we need 50 more of them to get that traffic here.”

Other hidden champions at the BioCampus include Axio Genesis, a spin-out from the University of Cologne. Since its founding in 2002 it has become a major force in the field of pluripotent stem cells. Rimasys is another start-up with roots in the university, in this case medical technology. Smaller foreign players include Finland’s Kemira, UK-based Bioclub, and Ayoxxa Biosystems, which was founded in Singapore. The latest foreign company to enter the campus is Hawk-Eye, an IT innovator in sports technology originally set up in the UK.  

“We have to increase the number of such cases,” says Mr van Hall. “But you can see that companies see something interesting here, especially for foreign investors. If a US or UK company is looking for a sophisticated location, we are here, and we want to be part of the competition.”

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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