What makes the InSciTe formula unique? Marcus says, ‘The strong involvement of the regional government is something you don’t often come across. As founding fathers, the Province of Limburg, the universities, and DSM made a bold move in establishing InSciTe. The partners have gone out on a limb to forge new economic activity in a sustainable biomedical and bio-based ecosystem, and it takes tremendous drive to do that. Their motto is "Just do stuff and make it work". This is reflected in the way high performing, multidisciplinary teams of passionate professionals with an academic or business background are interacting. During SyCap trials in the clinic, for instance, the spirit of enterprise within the team of clinicians and scientists was palpable, and they work together seamlessly. They complement each other so well, and are so enthusiastic.’
Koen believes the common focus is another factor that sets the formula apart and has helped ensure its success. ‘Everyone's pulling in the same direction, towards clinical trials, the patient, and the market. There are now more than 30 additional partners contributing their expertise on InSciTe's open innovation platform. This makes for more agile projects, fortified by new insights. Researchers are incentivized to develop their expertise and business skills. Plus, the training curriculum that has been put together, in which researchers can take part in-house, is a unique feature of this partnership. Genuine synergy has been achieved here between DSM, InSciTe, the universities, and the clinic. We can keep building on this combination of partners.’
How are the interests of public and private parties kept in balance in this partnership? Marcus responds, ‘It all comes down to having proper agreements in place from the start. Before anyone signs, all the parties must be absolutely clear what they want and expect. This includes guaranteeing that all the participants are committed and will take responsibility for going to the market,’ Koen adds.
‘I advise future partnerships to work in "venture" form, like micro-enterprises. Apply focus and flexibility with time driven milestones and budget. Universities, for instance, can work more with postdocs than PhD students. This gives you the flexibility to tweak the product along the way, without jeopardizing somebody's thesis.’
Both men are proud of what has been achieved. Marcus says, ‘Value has been added for consumers/patients and society. And we have developed technology and economic activity which will also have a longer-term impact. Look at Medace and their model for fast product development and quality systems. That truly is a major achievement in our science-based environment, which will have a lasting impact. It’s still early days, but hugely significant. We never envisioned this at the outset. We can also be proud of the knowledge and expertise that we are able to contribute to other initiatives, such as Brightsite and the emergence of actual start-ups.’
Koen concurs, adding that the right entrepreneurial mentality is a major positive, creating a real buzz and a certain vibe. There's plenty of enthusiasm for starting up a business. But, he cautions: ‘Once the business has been set up, we need to dot all the i's. In order to facilitate any new startup from our projects, all parties need to be engaged. We experience that there is room for improvement in terms of speed. For instance, do we want protracted discussions about background IP or do we want to focus more on foreground IP? We’ve been taking a back seat for too long. In America, these processes are well embedded and result in more agile and quicker acting.’
DSM too can learn from the results achieved by InSciTe. Marcus says, ‘We're looking at the input from SMEs, the talents in our environment, and the connections that have been forged, including with universities. The biomedical sector really has taken off. In bio-based, we're seeing things develop along a different track. For a long time, "bio-based" was the magic word, but now it's circularity. It makes sense to go along with this, if that's the sweet spot where you can make a difference as partners.’
InSciTe winds down at the end of this year. How can the achievements be taken forward? Koen answers, 'First, we’ll support that the clinical trials of PoSTuRE and WISE are delivered and we want to get new businesses, such as Avalanche Medical that emerged from the SyCap project, on the right track.’ Marcus adds, ‘To be more self-sufficient, lots of different parties must be pulling in the same direction. In places where this works, such as Boston or West Coast America, you see a constant influx of talent and available infrastructure. At each step, capital and senior managers with vision are needed to drive forward the initiative.’ Koen continues, ‘Later this year, we’ll be taking stock in a more detailed analysis. Personally, I firmly believe in a venture type approach, an agile set-up. There will certainly be some interesting potential combinations for locking in the value we’ve created.’
Koen Janssen is Vice President Innovation/R&D for DSM Biomedical. Koen is a Belgian national who received his PhD in Polymer Chemistry from the University of Leuven. He started his career at DSM in 1991. He has worked in several technology and business areas, most of them in the materials field. In 2014-2015 he was Director of Chemelot and active in the growth of the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, next to creating a vision for Chemelot. After 4 years of Innovation Director for DSM Dyneema, he moved to the US as Vice President Innovation/R&D for DSM Biomedical based in Exton Pennsylvania. He joined the board of InSciTe in 2019.
As CTO, Marcus Remmers is responsible for DSM’s global Science and Technology portfolio. Marcus started his career in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry with Hoechst/Intervet and Merial (the Animal Health division of Sanofi), where he held roles as Country President as well as leading Licensing & Acquisition and Pharma and Biologics R&D organizations. He holds a Diploma in Chemistry from the University of Freiburg and a Doctorate from the Max-Planck-Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz.