Since its foundation in 1993 following German reunification, the 134-hectare Weinberg campus located in Halle in the former East Germany has developed rapidly. From humble beginnings more than 25 years ago, the science and technology park campus, which is the largest in central Germany, has been home to some 220 start-ups and garnered €1bn in investment along the way.

The campus, which is connected to the Martin-Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg (University of Halle) and built on former military barracks, today boasts more than 100 companies and institutes in the life sciences sectors, employing about 5500 people, including biochemists, biotechnologists, material scientists, pharmacists, agronomists and nutritionists.

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The Weinberg campus is one example of 12 ‘centres of excellence’ across Saxony-Anhalt, where business, renowned research institutes and world-leading scientists co-operate to devise new innovations and ideas to solve some of the problems faced across the areas of science and technology.

“Saxony-Anhalt is focusing more heavily on future topics such as chemistry, bioeconomies and medical engineering, which are closely linked to universities, research institutions and clusters,” says Thomas Einsfelder, managing director of Investment and Marketing Corporation Saxony-Anhalt (IMG), the economic development agency promoting the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Protein focus

Although there is a breadth of expertise across the life sciences on the Weinberg campus, a focus on protein research has developed following 60 years of research at the University of Halle, which set up a protein research centre in 2018 and is a short walking distance from the campus.

The protein-focused campus is home to international success stories including Icon Genetics, a producer of proteins for pharmaceutical and diagnostic applications – formerly a subsidiary of Bayer until it was acquired by Japanese chemical group Denka Co in 2015 – and Wacker Biotech, a biopharmaceutical subsidiary of publicly listed global chemicals group Wacker Chemie.

One home-grown example of the world-leading protein research culminated in a spin-off start-up called Verovaccines, which was set up in 2017 by entrepreneur and molecular biologist Dr Hanjo Hennemann, and professor Sven-Erik Behrens from the neighbouring University of Halle.

Following successful funding of €3m from Go-Bio, a German government funding initiative for life science researchers, the Verovaccines team proved the efficacy of their innovation, and subsequently developed a novel yeast-protein based livestock vaccine. Their novel ‘combination’ vaccine circumvents many of the most pressing problems faced in the development and application of vaccines worldwide.

“I think we can serve the biggest need in the vaccine industry, which is a price-sensitive market, as we can provide a cost-effective vaccine and you can also save application costs by combining the vaccines,” says Mr Hennemann, Verovaccines' CEO and co-founder.

Moreover, since Verovaccines’ innovative vaccine is in powder form it is thermostable and can be stored for more than half a year at body temperature, meaning it is far less likely to lose its effectiveness during transport and storage.

“You can handle it like flour, meaning it's thermally stable and doesn’t need to be stored in a fridge. With common vaccines you have a big problem, as if you break the cold chain the vaccine loses its effectiveness. You have a big demand for thermostable vaccines in emerging markets, where they do not have a refrigerator at every stage of the logistics chain,” adds Mr Hennemann.

Verovaccines, which expects to attain the necessary approvals for its vaccine by 2021 and has secured another €3m from Go-Bio for its secondary corporate phase, is a success story of the Weinberg campus, making up the list of 100 companies that have used the world-leading scientific research at the University of Halle to develop internationally renowned innovations and bring them to market.

Assistance available

Given the Weinberg campus technology park’s history of support for a number of start-ups in the life sciences sectors, Verovaccines received all the help needed to develop its technology and connect with investors.

“We provide a special service connecting start-ups with investors, named Investforum Startup-Service, which accompanies innovative start-ups on their way to becoming a successful enterprise. As a result of the close co-operation between members of our different target groups, investors receive access to start-ups and firms get to know innovations in order to ensure their competitive advantages,” says Dr Ulf-Marten Schmieder, CEO of the Weinberg Campus.

In Verovaccines’ case, the Weinberg campus provided the necessary assistance to ensure a smooth transition from the first academic phase to the second corporate phase of the project. “For researchers and academics within this space, it helped a lot to be assisted with many of the necessary steps to become a company, such as filing necessary patent applications and the accounting needed to receive funding,” says Mr Hennemann.

The campus is a bustling collaborative environment of companies at various stages of development, whereby representatives from more mature companies advise younger companies on some of the common problems they face, such as infrastructure and regulatory challenges.

One such example of a more mature company on the campus is Probiodrug, a publicly listed biopharmaceutical company founded in 1997 and headquartered in Halle. It has successfully developed novel therapeutic products to treat diabetes, and currently focuses on the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

With the establishment of the Accelerate Innovation in Life-Sciences and Material-Sciences project in 2017, which supports the sustainable growth of young science-based companies from Saxony-Anhalt, the campus’s collaborative environment is likely to go from strength to strength, and more young companies may achieve the same success as Probiodrug.

Untapped opportunity

While it performs well among eastern German states, Saxony-Anhalt has been a relatively untapped location for foreign investors across Germany, making up just 1.67% of all greenfield FDI projects and 4.78% of total capital expenditure in the country from 2003 to March 2019, according to figures from greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets.

“The Technology Park Weinberg Campus in Halle is one of the most interesting locations of the future for researching, starting a business and pursuing business in Europe. Our campus is international, innovative and connected and thus attracts intelligent minds from around the world to Saxony-Anhalt,” says Mr Schmieder.

With the central German state's centres of excellence, such as the Weinberg campus, asserting themselves as world-leading research and innovation locations, investors may begin putting their money where their mouth is.

Costs of this report were underwritten by Investment and Marketing Corporation (IMG) Saxony-Anhalt. Reporting and editing were carried out independently by fDi Magazine.