Yearbook 2019: Max Planck Innovation – The technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society

GIVLAARI™ (givosiran) product and packaging (picture: Business Wire)

Every year, Max Planck Innovation evaluates an average of 120 inventions, with roughly half of these leading to a patent application. Since 1979, approximately 4,450 inventions have been accompanied and around 2,680 exploitation contracts have been concluded. Since the early 90s, 156 newly founded companies (spin-offs) have emerged from the Max Planck Society. Max Planck Innovation advised the vast majority of them. Over 6,000 jobs have been created in these spin-offs since then. Since 1979, MI has achieved a total turnover from license revenues and divestments of around 490 million euros.

In 2019, Max Planck Innovation was notified of 119 inventions, filed 82 patent applications and concluded 53 exploitation agreements. The realization proceeds are expected to be approximately 18.6 million euros. The final figures for the 2019 financial year will not be available until mid-2020 due to downstream invoicing by various licensees.

In 2019, nine spin-offs emerged from different Max Planck Institutes. Over several financing rounds, new and existing spin-offs with MPG participation or revenue shares under the law of obligations were able to raise a record investment sum in excess of 100 million euros. The respective investment amounts vary from a few hundred thousand euros to over 50 million euros. In addition, divestments generated total proceeds of around 0.1 million euros.

Second RNAi drug receives approval in USA

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals received approval for its drug Givlaari (Givosiran) in 2019. The drug, which is based on RNA interference (RNAi), is therefore the second drug after Onpattro (patisiran) to be approved by the US FDA. The drug is based on research results patented by the Max Planck Society, amongst others. RNAi is a natural cellular process of gene silencing and is currently one of the most promising fields of research in biology and drug development. Thomas Tuschl and his colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry were able to prove that the mechanism discovered in 2006 is also effective in mammals and, consequently in humans. Alnylam is a spin-off of the Max Planck Society (MPG) and is now the first licensee to receive approval for two drugs based on an MPG technology. Today, Alnylam employs more than 1,000 people at 16 locations worldwide and has a market value of 12.8 billion US dollars (as of 1/8/2020). The newly approved active agent Givosiran is used in the treatment of acute hepatic porphyria (AHP). AHP is an extremely rare genetic disease characterized by highly restrictive, potentially life-threatening attacks, for example. Particularly in the event of chronic manifestation, it has a considerable adverse effect on patients' ability to cope with everyday life and on their quality of life. Onpattro and Givlaari are further proof that the basic research conducted by MPG time and again leads to groundbreaking inventions that benefit patients. A further ten drugs for treating various diseases are currently in clinical development at Alnylam, some of which are at an advanced stage.

License agreements

In 2019, a technology developed at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Neurobiology and the MPI for Medical Research was licensed to a leading global company in the precision mechanics and optics industry based in Germany. The novel method for electron microscopy scans the surface of tissue samples. An ultra-thin tissue slice is then cut off automatically. This allows the underlying tissue layers to be recorded cut by cut. In the final step, special software reassembles all the images on the computer to form the original three-dimensional structure. Various biological processes can be deciphered in biomedical research in this way.

MAGIC telescopes (Major Atmospheric Gamma-Ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes) are used in astrophysics to detect active galactic nuclei, supernova remnants, or gamma-ray bursts. They feature an active mirror surface which focuses the radiation for this purpose. An Italian-based company in the field of precision optics and optical systems has licensed a technology from the MPI for Physics. This technology improves cleaning and reduces downtime. The "Sandwich Mirror" has a special glass film that prevents soiling of the mirror arrays – some of which are over 200 m2 in size – and can be easily cleaned. This reduces costs and extends the useful life of the microscope.

A technology developed at the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry called FLASH 2 has been licensed to various research institutions and clinics across the globe. FLASH (Fast Low Angle Shot) is a technology that has been used for many years in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This technology shortened the recording time by at least a factor of 100 and consequently helped MRI to achieve a breakthrough in medical diagnostics. FLASH 2 accelerates MRI images significantly, making it possible for real-time films to be recorded from inside the body for the first time and, for example, to observe a beating heart "live". The new technology opens up completely new diagnostic possibilities in medical research.

An English company that develops and produces recombinant antibodies for research and diagnostics has licensed a technology for producing secondary nanobodies. This technology was developed at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. These are used for the detection of primary antibodies, each of which is directed against specific proteins, and are a very good substitute for secondary antibodies used in research, diagnostics and therapy, e.g. to diagnose pregnancy or disease. In contrast to secondary antibodies produced in livestock, these new nanobodies can be propagated in bacteria. This could make it possible to eliminate the use of animals completely.

Alpacas at the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry. After gently immunizing two of the animals, the Göttingen researchers were able to obtain the blueprints for secondary nanobodies from a small blood sample. With such blueprints, bacteria can be programmed to produce nanobodies in large quantities – without any further involvement of animals. © MPI for Biophysical Chemistry/ I. Böttcher-Gajewski

A technology for the detection of trisomy was licensed by an American life science diagnostics company. Trisomy is a chromosomal disorder that can lead to developmental disorders or miscarriages in humans. A trisomy cell line model developed at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry serves as the basis for a new diagnostic tool. The resulting genomic DNA is suitable as a molecular reference standard (molecular marker) for examining body fluids in research applications or with clinical diagnostic assays. The company now plans to develop a DNA standard from the cell lines for corresponding prenatal tests and early, reliable trisomy predictions.

The Racetrack memory is a new memory concept. On the basis of a cooperation license agreement, the MPI for Microstructure Physics is now further developing the technology in collaboration with a worldwide leading electronics group from South Korea. A racetrack memory stores data in nanowires, which are made of ultra-thin layers of ferro- and/or ferrimagnetic materials atomically. This data consist of nanoscopic magnetic domains of different chirality, which are moved in the nanowires by current pulses of spin-polarized electrons. This enables memory densities that are up to 100 times higher than those of silicon-based memories and flash memories.

In future, a German biotech start-up wishes to use green chemistry to combat malaria. This start-up has acquired an exclusive license for a new production process to manufacture the active ingredient artemisinin and pharmaceutically important derivatives. Scientists at the MPI for Colloids and Interfaces and the MPI for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems have developed a new process that uses substances from plants to produce artemisinin. Artemisinin is the most important agent for combating malaria. This could now be made accessible to millions of infected people worldwide thanks to significantly more efficient and environmentally friendly production on an industrial scale.

Modag GmbH is further developing active agents for Parkinson's and multisystem atrophy patients. The company has now acquired an exclusive license for new chemically modified drug candidates developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in collaboration with the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.


A new spin-off of the MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences named Jymmin GmbH is developing rehabilitation and fitness equipment. Such equipment facilitates a new type of highly efficient weight training with musical feedback. This is intended to increase training success and develop a commitment to rehabilitation programs.

With Jymmin, fitness equipment is modified in such a way that the different strong movements of the abdominal muscle trainer, pull bar or stepper produce a large variety of sounds. © MPI CBS

Ivortec GmbH, a spin-off of the MPI for Solid State Research, is developing a process for producing artificial ivory. The synthetic mixture of gelatine and various minerals has the same properties as ivory and can be used as an equivalent substitute for natural ivory, for example for piano keyboards.

Tacalyx GmbH was spun off from the MPI for Colloid and Interface Research in 2019. This foundation is based on highly tumor-specific carbohydrate targets for the field of immune oncology. In July, financing of 7 million euros was successfully concluded with a renowned consortium of investors. In addition to developing the company, this money will also be used to advance the further development of antibody programs.

MODAG GmbH was able to raise an investment sum of up to 12 million euros in one financing round. The money will be used to conduct a clinical phase I study for the lead compound anle138b for treating multisystem atrophy (MSA), for example.

ThermoSome GmbH, a spin-off of the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry, is developing thermosensitive carrier systems which enable the release of active agents enclosed in liposomes in a targeted manner by heating the tissue at the desired site of action. ThermoSome was able to complete follow-up financing for further development work in 2019.

Dewpoint Therapeutics Inc. is based on technologies developed at the MPI for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, among other factors. Dewpoint's goal is to develop small-molecule drugs that bind to previously unexplored regions of proteins and can therefore change the behavior of proteins. To this end, the company was able to secure a financing round of up to 60 million US dollars (around 53 million euros) in 2019.

Bionauts Labs Ltd. is based on technologies of the MPI for Intelligent Systems. Based on this technology, it should be possible to transport drugs to a specific site in the human body. After 2017, further significant financing was able to be secured in 2019.


Several years ago, Max Planck Innovation set up various incubators to validate inventions and know-how in an industry-compatible manner and to generate supplementary data as a means of bringing them closer to industry and the market.

The Lead Discovery Center (LDC) is drawing on early research findings from basic research and developing lead structures. In recent years, investor interest in LDC projects has primarily increased. This led to the finalization of the technology transfer fund "KHAN-I" in 2019. In the first round, the European Investment Fund (EIF, Luxembourg), Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (AWS, Vienna) and the Max Planck Foundation (MPF, Munich) committed a total of 60 million euros for KHAN-I to finance early drug discovery projects over a period of five plus two years. KHAN-I also has a co-investment agreement with the Max Planck Society (MPG). Accordingly, Germany's largest basic research organization will provide a further 18 million euros in co-financing for projects resulting from excellent basic biomedical research at Max Planck Institutes. In addition to MPG as the main partner, the projects originate mainly from other academic institutes in Germany and Austria. The focus will be on innovative therapies for which there is an especially high need. KHAN-I will invest either in projects for which a cooperation agreement with the LDC exists or in start-ups.

The VesselSens research group is the first start-up team at the Life Science Incubator (LSI) to receive funding in 2019 under the BMWi's EXIST Research Transfer funding program. VesselSens develops novel sensor technologies that allow the early, non-invasive detection of renewed vessel constriction in a stent (restenosis). The VesselSens team will receive 984,000 euros over the next one and a half years for further preclinical research and development work. During the EXIST funding period, the medical technology company VesselSens will also be established. In 2019, the Clickmer Systems project was also newly accepted for incubation at LSI. Clickmer Systems is developing Clickmere, a synthetic alternative to antibodies.

ChronoFair GmbH, which emerged from the incubation in IT-Inkubator GmbH, was set up in June 2019 and was able to obtain follow-up financing of 450,000 euros from Saarländisches Wagnisfinanzierungsgesellschaft mbh (SWG). In addition, a further incubation, CLT Creative Learning Technologies GmbH, was successfully spun off. This team has also received support from follow-up financing from the Saarländisches Wagnisfinanzierungsgesellschaft mbh. Another project (2log) is currently in the incubation phase.

About Max Planck Innovation

Max Planck Innovation (MI) is responsible for the technology transfer of the Max Planck Society and, as such, the link between industry and basic research. With an interdisciplinary, team MI advises and supports scientists at Max Planck Institutes in evaluating their inventions, filing patents and founding companies. MI offers industry unique access to the innovations of the Max Planck Institutes. Thus, MI performs an important task: the transfer of basic research results into products that contribute to economic and social progress.

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