The German economy is undergoing a period of upheaval. The automotive industry is
investing billions in developing new powertrain technologies and mobility services, while
manufacturing industries and mechanical engineering are becoming greener and more
sustainable. Following the phase-out of nuclear power, by 2038 brown coal will no longer be used
for electricity generation and priority is being given to developing renewable energy sources.
And importantly, digitalization is making its way into almost all areas of our lives. And as if all of this weren’t exciting enough, 2020 will go down in history as the year of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus is not only putting businesses and jobs at risk, it is also speeding up some development processes.
MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY AND PHARMACEUTICALS IN SAXONY-ANHALTOne of these is SmartMembranes, which wasfounded in 2009 by two scientists, Dr Petra Goeringand Monika Lelonek. The company is nowthe world’s leading manufacturer of porous,highly ordered materials made from aluminumoxide and silicon. The membranes can filtergases and liquids, but they can also offer protectionagainst contamination from bacteria,dust and viruses. The laboratories and officesof SmartMembranes on the Weinberg Campusprovide the ideal working conditions.Dr Petra Göringis one of thetwo foundersof Smart-Membranes.“Here we have the infrastructurethat we need and a closeknitnetwork with the researchinstitutions that are basedhere, including the FraunhoferInstitute for Microstructureof Materials and Systems andMartin Luther University. Afterwe moved in, we were able toget started straight away,”says Dr Petra Göring, a chemist who workedas a researcher at the Max Planck Institute ofMicrostructure Physics before setting up thecompany.NH DyeAGNOSTICS GmbH was also establishedin the TGZ by Dr Jan Heise. This start-up develops,produces and sells products that can beused to identify protein biomarkers of cancer,for example. Jan Heise is currently heading aconsortium that aims to bring a rapid coronavirustest onto the market (interview page 37).The fine membranes produced by Smart-Membranes can filter gases and liquids.Heppe Medical Chitosan GmbH is also basedin the Technology and Start-Up Center on theWeinberg Campus. This company, which wasfounded by Katja Richter, manufactures theraw material chitosan that is used in the pharmaceuticalindustry in more than 40 countries.Chitosan is an endogenous substance, whichmeans that it is produced inside the body. As aresult, it is very well-tolerated and can be easilybroken down. Because of these properties,the pharmaceutical industry uses chitosan asa transport agent for drugs. It is also valuableto the medical technology industry, for exampleas a coating material for implants. KatjaRichter took her degree in biotechnology atBraunschweig University and worked part-timeon chitosan at Bio-Zentrum Halle during herstudies. This is when she found out about theWeinberg Campus. Later she founded her owncompany in the TGZ.The physicists Dr Ruzin Aganoglu and StephanKufner had worked for several years in thefield of optics and medical technology beforefounding Lab-on-Fiber GmbH and moving to theWeinberg Campus in 2018. This start-up developslaser probes for minimally invasive surgery.More than 100 life sciences and material sciencescompanies are currently based at the WeinbergCampus Technology Park which is the ideallocation for them to grow and flourish.technologiepark-weinberg-campus.deWEINBERG CAMPUSTECHNOLOGY PARKIN FIGURES:TOTAL AREA(HECTARES):134COMPANIESON SITE:100JOBS:6,000NH DyeAGNOSTICS GmbH (NHD) develops innovativeproducts for identifying protein markers. Since June2020, NHD has been working at high speed with itspartners to develop a coronavirus test that can be usedin developing countries.How did you reach the decisionto develop a coronavirus test?JAN HEISE: When it became clear in the spring that theworld was in the grip of a virus pandemic, my wife and Iasked ourselves what our company could do to help. Wehave been working for 18 months as part of a consortiumto develop a rapid test for drinking water quality and werealized that our work formed a good basis for a rapidcoronavirus test. And because I can’t ignore things likethis, I asked our partners in the consortium whether weshould develop a fast test that could be used even in thepoorest communities. The real catastrophe isn’t takingplace in Germany, but in developing countries.How does the test work?JAN HEISE: It is easy to use and is similar to a pregnancytest. After you have taken a swab, the test takes about15 to 20 minutes. If you see one stripe, everything is fine.If you see two stripes, the person has the virus. We have“I can’t ignorethings like this.”A conversation with Dr Jan Heise, scientist and founder and managingpartner of NH DyeAGNOSTICS GmbH (NHD) in Halle (Saale), about thedevelopment of rapid COVID-19 tests.also developed an app that provides information for usersabout how to dispose of the test and what they must doif they are infected. That is very important, particularly indeveloping countries.Was it difficult to get funding for the project?JAN HEISE: First of all, we had our initial concept of developing,validating and producing a rapid test in six to eightmonths assessed by experts. Then we sent an applicationto the German Federal Ministries of Health and of Educationand Research. The application was processed veryquickly and we were given the approval to go ahead. Thismeans that the government is funding a large proportionof the development costs, which amount to a total of sixmillion euros.What is the schedule for the developmentof the new test?JAN HEISE: We started on June 1, 2020 and we aim tobring the new tests onto the market in early February2021. Around 60 scientists are working on the projectand they are all highly motivated and committed. At themoment things are looking really good and everything isgoing to plan.dyeagnostics.com3637