5 German Biotechs to Look Out For in 2021
Biotechnology is the defining industry of 2021. Last year, the German government invested a record sum of 3 billion euros on biotech companies. From fierce newcomers to soaring unicorns, these five German biotechs are worth keeping an eye on
This Berlin-based biotech is less than three years old, and it’s already attracted high-profile investors such as Boehringer Ingelheim and Andera Partners. Like many biotech ventures, T-Knife is a so-called BRIDGE spin-off, i.e. a commercial venture initiated as an academic research project. The startup was co-founded by former postdoctoral students Elisa Kieback and Holger Specht, together with their supervisor Professor Thomas Blankenstein. The science behind the business is ten years in the making: the three carried out research for Charité and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine before taking their findings to the startup ecosystem. The basic principle: optimized, lab-engineered T-cells. These are white blood cells that naturally eliminate diseased bodies such as tumors, but T-Knife’s technology can make them even more efficient in attacking cancer. In August 2020, the company received $66 million in capital funding from four different investors. Their next steps? “Establishing a U.S. presence and expanding our management team,” says Dr. Kieback, CTO.
Germany’s biotech superstars. Founded by Dr. Özlem Türeci her husband Dr. Uğur Şahin, the company made worldwide headlines by partnering up with US biopharma Pfizer to develop the first COVID-19 vaccine. But this unicorn is no one-trick pony; as it continues to tackle the ongoing pandemic, BioNTech is also working on cutting-edge cancer treatment. Two pillars of their research are mRNA-based technology and an individualized immunotherapeutic approach. The COVID-19 vaccine is just one example of mRNA technology at work, while individualized immunotherapy may well be the future of pharmaceutical treatment. Cancer and other degenerative diseases present countless genetic specificities, which would make personalized therapy more effective than one-size-fits-all treatment. In 2020, BioNTech and CureVac were awarded half of the German government’s 3-billion-euro investment in biotechs.
CureVac has been a biotech pioneer for more than twenty years: its founder, Dr. Ingmar Hoerr, made the groundbreaking discovery that mRNA could be stabilized and harnessed for medical treatment. Like their competitor BioNTech, messenger RNA is the beating heart of CureVac’s medical research. Rumor has it that in 2020, President Trump attempted to commission them an mRNA-based Coronavirus vaccine – exclusively for American citizens. BioNTech narrowly beat CureVac in developing the first effective vaccine, but the company is set to launch its own COVID-19 shots in the coming months. Switzerland has already pre-ordered five million doses. The firm boasts more than 400 employees in the United States and Germany, investments from household names such as Dieter Hopps, and the likes of Bayer Pharmaceuticals and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as partners.
4. Legendairy Foods
Someday soon, meat and dairy will be replaced by lab-made substitutes. Whether you welcome the transition or shudder at the thought, there is no denying that more sustainable alternatives to these foods are increasingly in demand. While healthcare biotech receives the most attention and funding these days, foodtech is another area in which these technologies can bring about incredible change. In line with this zeitgeist, Legendairy Foods aspire to “realign your morals and your consumption”. Their vegan dairy alternatives are based on a lab-fermented milk protein. They are healthy, cruelty-free and of course sustainable: no cow breeding equals less greenhouse emissions, less water consumption. The two-year-old Berlin startup has already raised four million euros in funding, and is currently hiring a number of positions. Amazing news for vegan cheese lovers all over the world.
5. Immunic Therapeutics
From their Munich labs and headquarters in New York City, Immunic fight against a variety of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. These include Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disorder that affects significantly more women than men. In addition, Immunic’s research targets lesser-known illnesses such as Guillain-Barré syndrome – not as sexy as curing cancer, but equally important. A major turning point for the company came in 2019, when their merger with the American biotech Vital Therapies gave them access to the US stock market. Now, the company aims to develop, produce and sell its drugs independently rather than partnering up with bigger pharma companies. It looks like they’re on the right track, with more than 90 million euros raised over three funding rounds, and two lead products entering the last phase of clinical testing.
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