Pomorskie is one of the most mature biotechnology clusters in Poland, attractive to Biotech and life sciences companies, potential investors, researchers, innovative startups and students. Discover the biotechnological hopes of Pomerania.
Feeding the next billion people, recycling plastic, fighting bacterial resistance to antibiotics, combating lifestyle diseases – solutions to these mega-challenges are within our reach thanks to molecular biotechnology. Here in Pomerania, many home grown companies thrive in the innovative environment and play a significant role in the fourth industrial revolution we are witnessing.
As we all know, almost all products from the beauty, pharmaceutical, and domestic consumption sectors need to be rigorously tested before being approved safe for consumption. Most of these products are tested on animals. It is estimated that every year around 12 million animals are used as product test subjects for scientific, commercial and regulatory purposes. Animal testing is common but at the same time, very cruel. Meanwhile, a Tricity biotechnology company is proposing a better solution.
– Our scientists have replaced experiments in laboratories with computational methods – says Karolina Płonka, sales and marketing manager at the Tricity-based R&D company, which has moved experiments from traditional laboratories to virtual space. QSAR Lab is a pioneer in the field of computer modeling of biological activity, toxicity and physicochemical properties of nanomaterials. Which basically means that by the machine learning methods and artificial intelligence they are able to assess the safety of chemicals and nanomaterials for human health and the environment. The company’s products are used in the NanoTech, chemical, BioMed, BioTech and pharmaceutical sectors, among others.
– We were even in talks with the space industry people – adds Karolina Płonka.
Using nature’s tools
Enzymes (tiny protein molecules that speed up chemical reactions in the body) have been nature’s nanotechnology tools for millions of years. Those synthetically produced by BLIRT are now used all over the world by the biggest players in the field of biotechnology.
– Because they are very small and dedicated to carrying out one specific biochemical reaction, they are extremely effective and have wide applications in science and industry, ranging from medicine to production of food, plastics, fuels, and even hydrogen and oxygen – explains Tomasz Wrzesiński, Managing Director for Marketing and Sales at BLIRT. – They are much safer than chemical compounds and are easily deactivated – he adds.
BLIRT, or Biolab Innovative Research Technologies, was established 25 years ago as DNA Gdańsk. Recently, it’s been focusing on the development, production and sale of highly specialized enzymes that are used to create very sensitive diagnostic tests and purified (thus safe) medical substances used both by industrial clients, start-ups and global pharmaceutical corporations.
It runs in our DNA
Another Pomeranian company, A&A Biotechnology, produces enzymes that enable efficient processing of DNA and RNA for various research and diagnostic purposes.
– Our products make it possible to obtain high quality nucleic acids from materials that are difficult to process, such as oil-contaminated soil or prehistoric microorganisms trapped in rock salt – says Sławomir Dąbrowski, R&D manager at A&A Biotechnology.
Dąbrowski emphasizes how important it is for their business to have the vibrant biotech ecosystem around that includes technology parks, startup incubators and universities. – The Pomeranian universities are our partners in many projects, both nationally and in the European Union – he adds.
He’s not the only one who thinks that Pomerania’s ecosystem is ripe for some major breakthroughs in Life Sciences.
Towards a better quality of life
Many Pomerania-based companies have successfully found their niches in the global supply chain. They build their competitive advantages primarily on competences and creativity, not on capital. Big capital is something they are looking for, to grow faster.
– To launch a new, innovative drug, you need around 1 to 1.2 billion dollars – says Karolina Płonka. – There are no companies in Pomerania with such capital at the moment.
This does not mean, however, that only the world’s largest pharmaceutical players can afford to run biotech business. There is a place for smaller, innovative companies. Significantly, many local companies from Pomerania have successfully combined medical technologies with IT solutions, paving their way in the digital healthcare arena.
Let’s take the C-Eye. It tracks movements of the eyeballs that are looking at the content displayed on a screen. The professional version of this product is currently the only tool available internationally that helps medical personnel diagnose and communicate with stroke patients, especially those who have just woken up from a coma or facing severe neurological conditions that prevent them from speaking.
– Nobody wants to find themselves in an intensive care unit – says Bartosz Kunka, CEO of AssisTech, the company behind the C-Eye. – Imagine how frustrated and aggressive you can become when you do not know what’s happening to you and you can’t communicate your basic needs.
The staff of this small spin-off from the Gdańsk University of Technology has a scientific and research background. Most of them are graduates from the Pomeranian universities. They are IT experts, but not only. The company also cooperates with the Tricity institutions – University Clinical Centre in Gdańsk and the psychology department of the University of Gdańsk.
Indeed, the academically versatile community in the region is the driving force behind most innovations in biotech.
One of the first milestones for the sector’s growth in the region was the opening of the joint venture between the major universities in Gdańsk. The joint venture established in 1993, called the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology of the University of Gdańsk and the Medical University of Gdansk, now holds the status of the European Center of Excellence in Molecular Biomedicine. Then, there is the biotechnology department of the Gdańsk University of Technology – the leading research and technical university in Poland.
Plus there are independent research institutes involved in technology transfers and development of projects with high commercial potential. Like IBMM, Institute of Biotechnology and Molecular Medicine.
– All of our projects can be applied in the MedTech sector, says IBMM’s Development Director, Dr. Sabina Żołędowska. – We want to contribute to the effort of ensuring that people live longer and healthier.
Prevention seems to be the key here. IBMM develops products that enable quick diagnosis of cancer and identification of pathogens, helping save lives before they are lost. It also runs other projects in the field of environmental protection and veterinary medicine, optical research, electronics and medical diagnostics.
– It would be a sin to not participate in this race – says Karolina Płonka from QSAR Lab.
The region is in it to win. It strongly focuses on smart specializations – local sectors that have the biggest potential for development and expansion abroad. Biotechnology is one of them.
Pomerania has all the necessary components to navigate the deep waters of biotechnology of the future. It has three universities, favorable geographical location with local, regional and international connections, high standard vs low cost of living, and – and most importantly – a thriving culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
It has innovation friendly policies and investment incentives in sectors affected by deficits of highly specialized staff, such as grants that encourage small and medium entrepreneurs to establish modern production facilities in the region.
However, there is currently no visible synergy effect of all these efforts and grassroot initiatives, the companies say.
– It’s important to create a climate for cooperation between the scientific and commercial sectors by developing partnership models – says Sławomir Dąbrowski from A&A Biotechnology. – Our universities have already introduced implementation studies, but their scale, especially in cooperation with small companies, is small.
According to the companies, this can be achieved fast if several global corporations in the life science industry decide to relocate their R&D centers to Pomorskie and collaborate with the local startups and universities. This would push the region out of its comfort zone and onto the path of faster development of the biotech sector.
– As a newcomer to Gdańsk, I‘ve found the atmosphere here in the region inspiring. It’s a place that combines its coastal free spirit with very rich traditions that span from the Cistercian farming and cottage industry to the Hanseatic trade and Gdańsk’s Old Town magnificent architecture, and smartly connects it with good business practices that enable innovation and growth – Wrzesiński says.
Want to be part of this growth story? Reach out to us at Invest In Pomerania and let us help you.
To read/watch in-depth interviews with the leaders and decision makers in the biotech and life sciences sector, click here
Joanna Irzabek for Invest in Pomerania