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02.10.2018

Investmentlounge: start-ups scouting for new capital

The next GO-Bio Investmentlounge is just around the corner: around 80 participants – among them investors and founding teams – are expected to join the event on 08 - 09 November near Berlin.

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German founding teams supported by governmental funding initiatives such as GO-Bio, Spinnovator, Life Science Inkubator, EXIST-Forschungstransfer and KMU-innovativ will use the Investmentlounge to pitch, get in touch and network with investors. For the first time, international investors will also participate in the networking event organised by the German Ministry for Research and Education (BMBF).

To date, more than 30 venture capitalists and business angels and around 20 founding teams have registered. “With the Investmentlounge we provide a platform for the researchers to build viable business start-ups and to get in touch with investors as early as possible”, says Matthias Kölbel from BMBF. At this stage, the teams usually require different amounts of capital, ranging from one million euros to 20 million euros, depending on the respective business model. “While some of the founders are still working their way from academia to business, some of the projects have already reached quite advanced levels”, according to Kölbel.

The topics addressed by the founders range from medical technology solutions and therapeutic developments to bio-based innovations relevant for other industry sectors. In the following, three projects that will take part in the upcoming Investmentlounge are briefly presented.

A cancer vaccine for turning T cells into contract killers

Among the presenting projects will be the AmpliVak-team headed by Richard Kroczek. He is professor at the Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center and will take part in the Investmentlounge for the first time. The mission of the project, currently funded by the BMBF in the “GO-Bio” initiative: the development of a therapeutic vaccine that stimulates the body’s cellular immune defence system. The role of the ‘contract killer’ is played by cytotoxic T cells. These specialised hunters are able to detect and eliminate cancer cells, but before they can identify the altered cells as a target for attack, other immune cells – the dendritic cells – are required to carry out the role of ‘agitator’. These nudge the T cells towards their target by presenting fragments of foreign tumour structures on their cell surfaces. With the ‘AmpliVak’ technology Kroczek and his team have succeeded in equipping a specific group of dendritic cells with cancer target structures. The injection of the antigen is sufficient to commission the killer T cells. In a next step, the number and the function of the “killers” is strongly amplified. The ‘AmpliVak’ project already reached first milestones: the pre-clinical development of a vaccine for head and neck cancer has reached an advanced stage. At the Investmentlounge, the AmpliVak-team will present the technology for the first time to a broader circle. “We are now ready and confident to hand out our business card to the investors”, says Kroczek. If everything runs according to plan, the project will enter the second GO-Bio funding phase in mid-2019.

Exploring alternative protein sources

Another project offers a sustainable solution for the growing demand of proteins in the food sector. The GO-Bio "NuTriPep" project aims to supply the emerging market with premium peptide combinations made from plant-based raw materials. To achieve this, the team led by biochemist Hans-Jürgen Danneel from the Institute for Food Technologies at the Eastwestphalia-Lippe University of Applied Sciences, draws on agricultural by-products, which accumulate during the processing of oats, corn, canola or hops. These resources are the raw material that the project team needs. They extract high-quality proteins that are superior to conventional plant-based proteins. The novelty lies in the extraction and fractionation procedure that has been developed for that purpose – the protein hydrolysis can be conducted gradually in a controlled manner using enzymes. A pilot plant is planned to go into operation in 2019. „We need the ‘proof of technology’ to demonstrate the enhanced quality of our proteins and convince with facts“, says Danneel. The project team is looking forward to the Investmentlounge and has started to analyse the different sales channels and scout for investors in all directions: funds, strategic investors, ingredient producers.

Novel yeast-based combination vaccines for farm animals

Animal health will be another hot topic at the Investmentlounge. Currently, infectious diseases pose a great challenge to agriculture and lead to an immense need for vaccines. In addition, the extensive use of antibiotics in animal health needs to be drastically reduced. The start-up Verovaccines responds to these challenges by developing novel yeast-based combination vaccines. The company was founded in 2017 as a spin-off from the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and out of an earlier Go-Bio funding received in 2013. Sven-Erik Behrens and Hanjo Hennemann head the company and have created a vaccine platform that is based on modified and patented strains of milk yeast. The yeast cells produce harmless virus components, are killed and then injected as vaccine under the animal’s skin. “The result is a strong activation of the immune defence, which is safe and completely protects against pathogen infection”, explains Hennemann. The project is currently in the preclinical phase. “We already achieved proof of concept in three different projects, validating the technology and vaccines”, says Hennemann. In the second GO-bio funding phase, which started in April 2018, several projects will enter regulatory development. The company founders are optimistic to gain official approval of first vaccine until 2022. Business Angels and a VC already co-invested in Verovaccines. The team hopes to attract further financial support for the next development stages during the Investmentlounge.

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