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Once upon a time

To celebrate BioRN Life Science Cluster Rhine-Neckar’s 25th Anniversary, this blog is travelling through the major milestones in the recent history of the region and cluster growth. For many of the readers, this will be a journey through memories, but for others, maybe an inspiration for cooperation and growth.

How it all began.

While at the beginning of the 90`s in the United States, modern biotechnology was already a billion dollars industry, Germany risked missing the opportunity. Due to political neglect and social aversion, the establishment and growth of the biotech industry was hampered.

The ‘BioRegio’ competition in 1996 was the turning point. BioRegio’s main purpose was to encourage local biotech communities to interact more closely, to create an entrepreneurial spirit among scientists and to help them in setting up of their own business. This competition and the related funding received strongly contributed to the burst of the modern German Biotech Industry. Its value, scientific rigor and social impact have been just recently reinforced with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Hopes of the world community rely now on the pharmaceutical/biotech companies.

In 1996 the German Federal Research Ministry (BMBF) selected the Rhine-Neckar Triangle (including Heidelberg, Mannheim, and Ludwigshafen) as one of the three winners of the contest (together with Munich and Rheinland). On the 21st of October 1996, the association BioRegion Rhein-Neckar-Dreieck e.V., was officially founded by the City of Heidelberg, IHK, Arbeitskreis Rhein-Neckar-Dreieick e.V. (now Zukunft Metropolregion Rhein-Neckar e.V), DKFZ, Heidelberg University, EMBL Heidelberg, Boehringer Mannheim (now Roche Diagnostics), Knoll (now AbbVie), Merck, BASF, Orpegen (now Celonic), Biomeva (now AGC Biologics) and (Schitag-)Ernst & Young. This has been the first step for the establishment and development of one of the strongest biotech cluster in Germany and Europe, and the founding stone of today’s BioRN Network e.V..

During the founding meeting, the first executive board was established: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Abshagen, Abshagen Consulting and later Heidelberg Innovation GmbH (Chair), Dr. Dieter Jahn, BASF, Dr. Wolfgang Henkel, DKFZ, and Dr. Klaus Plate, City of Heidelberg. In Spring 1997, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Abshagen handed over his role to Prof. Beyreuther (Heidelberg University - ZMBH), that led the board until 2001. Together with him also Dr. Schwiezer, (Boehringer Mannheim -now Roche) and Dr. Puchta (DKFZ) were elected members of the BioRN executive board.

The founding members had altogether a crucial and active role in the concept setup and development of the application to the ‘BioRegio’ competition. Ernst & Young (led by Alfred Müller and Ingo Köhler) prepared the application with a decisive support from Prof. Dr. Ulrich Abshagen and Dr. Ernst-Dieter Jarasch (DKFZ and later Managing Director of BioRegion Rhein-Neckar-Dreieck e.V., 1998-2009).

The program endowed the region with a budget of over 25 M Euro to turn biotechnological ideas into products, production processes and local services, while keep and create new jobs in the region. For the stringent selection of the projects the association appointed a scientific board (in German ‘Kuratorium’) of industry and academic key players in the region. The committee is still a part of today’s organisation and always guaranteed rigorous scientific and business evaluation of projects. The first scientific board was chaired by Prof. Meuer (Heidelberg University) until 2001. Prof. Meuer became later chair of the executive board from 2001 until 2017, when he ‘retired’ from his position at BioRN and received the Honorary Membership for his engagement and dedication.

The association identified and selected 35 projects (out of over 180 applications) to be funded through BioRegio over 5 years. From these projects, 14 biotech startups were created, and by 2001 they generated about 800 jobs in the region. Most of the startups have found a home in the Technology Park Heidelberg, the first biotech park in Germany (established in 1984). Proudly we can name some of them as still active and fond members of BioRN: Affimed (2000), Apogenix (2000), Cellzome (2000) and Heidelberg Pharma (1999).

Already before the BioRegio competition, some companies were pioneering the biotech field here in the region and today are still members of BioRN: Progen (1983), Genbiotec (1983 that became Biomeva and was acquired recently by AGC Biologics) and Metasystems (1986).

By the end of the BioRegio funding period in 2001, new members -beyond the founding ones, joined the association and BioRN counted a total of 39 members.

Clearly ‘BioRegio’ was the initial spark of biotech industry in the region, which is today one of the strongest life sciences hubs in Europe. What was and still is the secret sauce? The common vision that guides all major actors in the region to cooperate towards setting the framework for the establishment of a competitive biotech cluster.


Did you know that?

Prof. Hafner was elected to the scientific board back in 1996 and is still chairing it today! In the BioRN history, nobody was active for so long in one of the boards.



Document #1: BioRN founding assembly

On October 26, 1996 the founding members met to formalise the establishment of BioRegion Rhein-Neckar-Dreieck e.V.. As described in the minutes: (i) the executive board was established (chaired by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Abshagen), (ii) bylaws were set and signed, (iii) members fees were agreed.


Document #2: General Assembly and election of a Scientific Board

On December 18, 1996, the assembly of the association took place to elect the first BioRN Scientific Board. This independent board, involving industry and academic key players in the region, had the duty to evaluate the projects submitted in the framework of the BioRegio Initiative. Prof. Dr. Stefan Meuer was elected as chair of this board.


Document #3: Call for funding in the framework of Bio-Regio initiative

This document contains guidelines and conditions for potential applicants, interested in receiving funding in the framework of Bio-Regio initiative. The booklet was printed on green paper and distributed among scientists and future entrepreneurs in Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen. See the document.


Document #4: Legal establishment of BioRegion Rhein-Neckar-Dreieck e.V.

This is the official legal establishment of BioRegion Rhein-Neckar-Dreieck e.V. submitted at the “Finanzamt” in Heidelberg.


Document #5: BioRegion Rhein-Neckar-Dreieck @BioTechnica in Hannover. Published on the ‘Stadtblatt’ on October 13, 1999.


Document #6: Publication on ‘StadtBlatt’ (12 April 2000): “BioRegion is a successful model: the number of jobs in the field doubles within three years”.


Document #7: Ruperto Carola Research Magazine of the University of Heidelberg. Special BioRegio 1997 “Vision and Strategy – the BioRegio Competition” from Prof. Dr. Ulrich Abshagen. Complete version (in German):


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