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Protein research and industry are closely connected neighbours in Halle

In Saxony-Anhalt, protein research stands out of the scientific landscape. It enjoys a special place

Although the State Government has decided not to undertake any new large-scale construction projects before a new university planning concept has been drawn up, it is making one exception. The future Protein Research Centre is not included in this ban. The new building at the Martin Luther University is expected to be completed in 2016. The costs have been shared between the German Government and the State of Saxony-Anhalt, which is contributing 17 million Euros. According to Milton T. Stubbs, Professor at the Martin Luther University Institute for Biochemistry and Biotechnology in Halle-Wittenberg, there exist excellent reasons for this exceptional case. 

In his words, Halle is a key centre for protein research. "The connection between academic and industrial research, in particular, here is so closely integrated - as is the case at few other locations in Europe. This is reinforced by a long tradition, established many decades ago by Professors Alfred Schellenberger and Gunter Fischer, and seamlessly continued in the middle of the 1990s by Prof. Rainer Rudolph. "Rudolf possessed the necessary experience and networks to draw protein research closer to industry. His achievements included the initiation of the ProNet-T³ network of excellence as well as the co-founding of the Scil Proteins GmbH Company in Halle“, reported Dr. Ulrike Fiedler, who has been Head of this company for 13 years.

Stubbs and Fiedler put the fact that the Halle location today enjoys a prestigious national and international reputation in protein research down to three factors. "First of all the extremely close relationship between the university and industry", emphasised Fiedler. "Solutions to large number of problems faced by companies are provided by the university. For example, the key Affilin technology for his company was developed at the university. After being patented, it was taken over by Scil Proteins GmbH." Another locational benefit named by Fiedler, who studied biochemistry at the university in Halle and obtained her doctorate there, are the employees who are trained at the university and possess the necessary expertise. "And lastly, there is the intensive support provided by the State of Saxony-Anhalt", both Fiedler and Stubbs highlighted. "They have several times taken risks to support protein research. "Not everybody does that in Germany", added the 44-year-old Scil-Proteins Managing Director. She manages two companies. In her words, Scil Proteins GmbH is an internationally highly rated research company that supports the development of new products in the pharmaceutical industry with its innovative Affilin Technology. The sister company, Scil Proteins Production Gmbh, produces proteins as active ingredients in medicines and vaccines for European, American, Brazilian and Japanese companies. It possesses the European Medicines Agency (EMA) licence. This allows the company to manufacture the active ingredient Reteplase, used in cases of acute heart attack. A successful inspection by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year has now also made it possible for Scil Proteins Production to manufacture drugs for the American market. "There are not many companies in Germany and Europe that possess this seal", Fiedler proudly stressed. 

According to Stubbs, a similarly close cooperation to that enjoyed with Scil Proteins GmbH also exists with Probiodrug AG (in Halle), the French company Sanofi-Aventis, the Swiss Group Roche and the Danish pharmaceutical Novo Nordisk company. The 51-year-old scientist, who was born in the USA and grew up in Britain, studied in Oxford and gained his doctorate there. He then worked in Munich, Stockholm and Marburg before coming to Halle. "This illustrates that the Weinberg Campus, where university institutes and industrial enterprises are direct neighbours, possesses an international appeal”, explained Fiedler. The scientist and industrial manager often sit down together to consult on joint projects. One of these is the "Halle Conference on Recombinant Protein Production". This conference, which has already taken place on four occasions, is organised jointly by the university, Scil Proteins GmbH and (in the future) the Rainer Rudolph Foundation. Science and industry are equally represented in the speakers. "This is an uncommon relationship for scientific events", explained Stubbs. "Participants come from the four corners of the world. Students are provided with the rare opportunity to meet industry representatives and introduce themselves free of charge." This now traditional event being held next year for the fifth time, is uniquely financed via sponsors, being supported not only by Scil Proteins GmbH but also by Halle University, the city of Halle, the Bio-Mitteldeutschland GmbH Company, Probiodrug and Icon Genetics, two biotech companies based in Halle, the Swiss pharmaceutical companies Roche and Novartis, the German pharmaceutical group Boehringer Ingelheim, the American GE Healthcare Company, the Japanese Ajinomoto Company, the German health care group Fresenius Kabi as well as the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.

The outstanding reputation enjoyed by protein research in Halle is also attributable to the ProNet-T³ network initiated there, one of 17 supported measures in the New Federal States (i.e. the former East Germany) in the field of cutting edge research. Scientific academics from the university in Halle are working in this network together with their partners on 24 themes. The Federal Ministry of 

Education and Research (BMBF) has made a total of eleven million Euros available to this network since 2010. 

The network cooperates with 39 research institutes and 15 companies in Germany and the world, with a total of 83 scientists working together there. Cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease are included in their focus. The establishment of this network resulted in the further development of the Halle research location as centre of protein sciences, explained Stubbs. "The network thereby intensifies applied protein research and increases industry commitment in the region". The bundling of the expertise of the university in Halle, the Max Planck Research Unit for Enzymology of Protein Folding and the Leibniz Institute for Plant Biochemistry has created a visible network in Halle that enjoys both national and international prominence. The quality of the ProNet-T3 network is also enhanced by the fact that the Halle location has entered into a partnership with the Center for Integrated Protein Sciences in Munich (CIPS-M). 

Yet another outstanding project named by Stubbs is the "ZIK HALOmem" project funded by the BMBF, designed to explore the structure of membrane proteins. "This creates a key prerequisite for the development of new medicines", according to Stubbs. In addition to a protein-oriented post-graduate programme called "Conformational Transitions in Macromolecular Interactions", the Halle University is also participating in the "Vakzinova" project at the "Go-Bio" foundation programme initiated by the BMBF. This project is concerned with the generation of new veterinary vaccines as well as the corresponding initial funding designed to help new company start-ups. 

Stubbs and Fiedler agree that the research centre starting up in 2016 in Weinbergweg in Halle will provide yet a further boost to protein research. This centre is intended to bring together the various working groups conducting protein biochemical research with the cell biological and medical groups. "Then all the protein researchers will be working under one roof", states Stubbs, looking to the future. 

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