The innovation strength: Life science cluster in Germany

Innovation is a key for growth and prosperity, says Tom Orlik, the chief economist of  Bloomberg Economics. And if he is right, these three countries have good prospects for good economic development. Germany has risen the first place in the Bloomberg Innovation Index 2020, followed by Korea (2nd place) and Singapore (3rd place). The index considers factors such as research and development intensity, high-tech density, and highly qualified professional concentration.

One of the reasons to achieve this level of innovation is creating spatial concentration of universities, hospitals, research centres and large companies to supply new knowledge – well known as clusters. As a PhD in Biochemistry, the way that Germany manages this strategy for the life sciences sector always made me curious. In the following, I describe important points to understand the structure of the clusters, the most famous ones in Germany as well as the institutions involved.

The life science sector always seeks basic research and a highly educated workforce compared to other sectors which promote high levels of collaborations with universities. Clusters facilitate the generation and transfer of knowledge, promote productivity, and new business formation. In the past decades, Europe understood the strength of clusters and is currently home to 2900 specialized clusters. But not all European clusters achieved success. The German life science sector is the largest one in Europe, and supports smaller life science companies, with more than 500 small independent dedicated life science sectors.

Europe’s largest university hospital and hundreds of life science companies

The three main German biotech regions are Berlin-Brandenburg, Heidelberg-Rhine-Neckar, and Munich-Bavaria. Europe’s largest university hospital (Charité – University Medicine Berlin) is located in Berlin-Brandenburg. Moreover, this region has more than 500 life science companies, among them biotechnology, medical technology, and pharmaceutical companies. In Heidelberg-Rhine-Neckar you find many successful partnerships between global chemical and pharmaceutical companies such as BASF, ABOTT, Roche, and Merck. Finally, Munich-Bavaria is one of the biotech hotspots in Europe. It includes many sub-clusters such as Medical Valley, Wurzburg, and BioCampus Straubing. The region has centres that support medical technology such as the Centre for Medical Physics and Technology at Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nurnberg, the International Center for Telemedicine at University Hospital Regensburg, and the Chair for Medical Materials and Implants at the Technical University of Munich. Universities and research institutes play important roles in the cluster structure. Germany houses renowned research foundations: the Max Planck Institutes, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Helmholtz Association, and Leibniz Association. These institutions have high research budgets, a world-class education system to the workforce, and provide fundamental and applied science to the private sector.

In most cases, the initiative to create collaborations between research institutions and the private sector comes from the German Federal Government. One of them is the Central innovation program (Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand – ZIM), a funding program to develop new products and technologies. It funds small and medium-sized companies public and private non-profit research and technology organizations acting as cooperation partners.

Leading the way for further innovation

All in all, Germany stands out with a high research budget, highly qualified professionals, and strong governmental support for collaboration between public and private institutions. Beyond these advantages, Germany knows how to integrate these features to create economic communities in Europe and thus leads the way to further innovation.

Having all this in mind, not only other nations can learn from it. In the collaborative approach of clusters, there might be also some learnings for young scientists. Firstly, look for an institution that partners with the private sector. This way, your own project will get more visibility. Secondly, search for initiatives that have PhD or postdoc programs associated to the development of new technologies. They are more likely to get funding. Thirdly, participate in events to exchange ideas between academia and business. This way, you will enlarge your professional network.

You will find more ideas and information in this regard on Let it inspire you: You will certainly burst your creative and innovation skills, but also open new horizons to your own professional growth.

Author: Ana Paula Mendonça

Who is Ana Paula Mendonça?

Ana Paula Mendonça is from Brazil and has a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Rio de Janeiro. During her PhD, she spent some time in Germany at the University of Bremen. Now, she is a postdoc at the University of Padova in Italy and is still extremely interested in the knowledge exchange between life science companies and universities.

To the profile of Ana Paula Mendonça

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January 2021