The Mainz-based company Biontech develops individualized cancer drugs. The company also collects billions of dollars via the US technology exchange Nasdaq. The prospects for the German biotech industry as a whole are less golden for experts.
“An der Goldgrube 12″ is the address of Biontech in Mainz. What was created on a small scale years ago is now considered a beacon for the German biotech industry. The company, co-founded by the oncologist Ugur Sahin, develops individualized cancer drugs. Investors believe in a golden future – Biontech raised over $ 1.4 billion through financing rounds, cooperation’s with pharmaceutical companies and the move to the US technology exchange Nasdaq in October. However, experts rate the prospects for the German biotech industry as a whole as less golden.”We don’t just want to develop individual drugs, we have a completely new approach,” says Sahin, who was awarded the German Cancer Prize in 2019. “Our goal is to develop individualized therapies that are tailored to the cancer of each individual patient.” So far, it has been common practice to restrict a patient’s tumor diagnosis to individual characteristics and to derive therapy decisions from this. Individual peculiarities of the disease would only be roughly recorded. Biontech relies on “next generation sequencing”, a technology that can detect the analysis of billions of genetic traits in human genetic material and changes in cancer – something completely new.
“You can compare that to Tesla,” says Sahin. The entire innovation chain, including the production of large quantities, had to be set up. Only that the level of individualization is much higher at Biontech. If that works, it will bring an enormous advantage over competitors. Biontech is currently treating patients with late-stage cancer where the disease is rarely curable. But the trend is that even the smallest metastases will be diagnosed earlier with blood tests.
Siegfried Bialojan, biotech expert at the consulting firm EY, sees Biontech alongside Qiagen, Evotec or Morphosys as a “beacon” for the German biotech industry. But these lighthouses are not very representative of the segment as a whole. Broadly, the industry falls far behind, even though the potential in this country is “huge” given the strong research landscape. “Little happens there against the background,” criticizes Bialojan. Despite research funding billions, little added value comes out.