Yearbook 2020: Max Planck Innovation - the technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society

The very rare genetic disease “primary hyperoxaluria type 1” can be treated with Oxlumo®. © Alnylam

Max Planck Innovation evaluates an average of 125 inventions each year, around half of which lead to a patent application. Since 1979 around 4,580 inventions have been accompanied and around 2,770 exploitation agreements have been concluded. Since the beginning of the 1990s, 159 spin-offs have emerged from the Max Planck Society (MPG), the vast majority of which have been actively supported by Max Planck Innovation. Since then, around 6,500 jobs have been created in these spin-offs. Since 1979 a total turnover including the sale of company shares of around 509 million euros has been achieved.

In 2020, 135 inventions were reported to Max Planck Innovation. 80 patents were registered and 82 contracts were concluded, 66 of which were exploitation contracts. The exploitation proceeds are expected to be around 20 million euros. The final figures for the 2020 financial year will not be available until mid-2021 due to the subsequent billing of various licensees.

In 2020, three companies based on MPG technologies were spun off, which were accompanied by Max Planck Innovation in different phases of their company foundation. So far, the MPG has acquired new shares in two of these spin-offs. Participation in the third spin-off is sought and is under negotiation. In 2020, it was also possible to enter into two further revenue shares with existing or previously founded companies and further strengthen the investment portfolio. In addition, spin-offs with MPG participation or revenue sharing have raised a total investment amount of almost 80 million euros in 2020.

Oxlumo® receives approval in the USA and Europe

With Oxlumo® (active ingredient Lumasiran) a third RNAi drug has now been approved by the authorities. RNAi (RNA interference) is a natural cellular process of gene silencing and has been used in both biological research and drug development for more than 15 years. Thomas Tuschl and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry were able to show in 2000 that this previously discovered mechanism for switching off genes also works in mammals and thus also in humans. The MPG submitted fundamental patents for these groundbreaking findings, which enabled the development of a completely new class of drugs. The rights of use for these so-called "Tuschl patents" were licensed to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge (USA) and form the basis of the RNAi active ingredient portfolio of the MPG spin-off, which today has around 2,000 employees and a market value of 14.7 billion US dollars (as of 01/07/2021).

15 years after the company was founded, the world's first RNAi-based drug was approved in 2018. Onpattro® (Patisiran) makes it possible for the first time to treat a rare, fatal disease, hATTR amyloidosis, which leads, among other things, to a serious polyneuropathy. The second RNAi drug Givlaari® (Givosiran) was approved in the USA for the treatment of acute hepatic porphyria (AHP) back in 2019. AHP is an extremely rare genetic disease that causes severe abdominal pain, neurological failures, and liver problems.

The third RNAi drug was approved in November 2020. The very rare genetic disease “primary hyperoxaluria type 1” can be treated with Oxlumo®. Increased oxalate production can lead to life-threatening kidney disease. Oxlumo® is the first drug approved for the treatment of this disease. The findings on RNAi and the three successful drugs Onpattro®, Givlaari® and Oxlumo® are proof of how the basic research of the MPG repeatedly leads to groundbreaking inventions for the benefit of patients.

License agreements

In 2020, 66 exploitation agreements were concluded. In this way, inventions with in some cases considerable market potential were licensed to industry for further development.

Until a single effective drug is found, sometimes hundreds of thousands of active ingredients have to be tested in large, fully automated experiments. In order to maintain the most physiological conditions possible in the laboratory, many researchers use iPS cell technology to create three-dimensional, organ-like tissue aggregates (organoids). A process by the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine now makes it possible to use human cells to produce midbrain organoids in a fully automated manner, which can be generated, cultivated and analyzed in detail in a high-throughput process. Max Planck Innovation licensed this process to the American biotech company StemoniX in 2020. StemoniX develops iPS cell-based 3D microOrgan® tissue constructs, disease models and advanced analytical methods to ensure that only the safest and most effective compounds are further developed through the research pipelines of their biopharmaceutical partners. By combining the processes licensed by the Max Planck Institute for the automated production and analysis of extremely homogeneous organoids of the human midbrain, StemoniX extends its microBrain® platform to the human midbrain.

A technology for automated, sterile and dead volume-free sampling from bio-reactors was developed at the Max Planck Institute for the Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems and licensed exclusively to the Berlin-based company bbi biotech GmbH. Based on the licensed technology, the licensee has developed a sampling system consisting of a sampling probe, control device, autosampler, refrigerated storage and connection to various analysis devices. The licensed products have already been successfully placed on the international market.

A new technology called MINFLUX comes from the department of Nobel Prize winner Stefan Hell at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. It is based on the STED microscopy and significantly improves superresolution microscopy. It allows 3D resolution of single molecules (1 to 3 nanometers / 100x sharper than confocal microscopes) and extremely fast exposure sequences (every 100 μs / 100x faster than conventional cameras). abberior instruments GmbH, a spin-off of the MPI, is licensee of this technology. Together with the MPI, the methodology was further developed within the framework of a research cooperation funded by the BMBF and turned into a marketable product. The highly competitive MINFLUX microscopes have been available since the end of 2020 and have already been successfully sold to various research institutions.

The company STREM Chemicals has licensed a new class of catalysts from the MPI für Kohlenforschung. The stable nickel complexes are very easy to handle and suitable for use in nickel catalysis. The use of nickel as a catalyst for the formation of chemical bonds is of great importance for the chemical industry - the benefits range from the production of fine chemicals to the synthesis of drugs, insecticides and pesticides. For many decades, industry has been using nickel-cyclooctadiene Ni(COD)2, a component that was discovered around 60 years ago at the MPI für Kohlenforschung, to produce nickel complexes. Ni(COD)2 has long been shown to be a useful source, but it requires extremely complex handling. The now licensed nickel complexes are more air and temperature stable and represent a simple, practical and versatile substitute for Ni(COD)2 and the application in the laboratory, which enables an abundance of catalytic transformations.


QLi 5 Therapeutics GmbH was founded in 2020 based on research results from the MPI for Biochemistry on immune proteasome inhibitors. The proteasome plays an important role in cell regulation by breaking down proteins. It is clinically well established as a target structure for the treatment of liquid tumors, especially in multiple myeloma. The inhibitors of the immune proteasome have unique binding properties and represent a completely new and promising chemical and mechanistic approach to the treatment of cancer, inflammation and autoimmune diseases. QLi5 aims to advance the proteasome inhibitors into preclinical and clinical testing through targeted further development.

VicuTech Biologicals GmbH was spun off in 2020 from the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry. The aim is to open up a preclinical and clinical development path for an excellently neutralizing VHH (alpaca) SARS-CoV2 antibody that was generated in the early phase of the corona pandemic. The alpaca antibody is highly potent and offers specific mechanistic and production engineering advantages over conventionally generated antibodies (human monoclonal antibodies). The platform used for this purpose for the rapid generation of such anti-infectious antibodies shall also be embedded in a commercial environment for future threats ("pandemic prophylaxis") and other already existing infectious diseases such as malaria or tuberculosis.

Several spin-offs were able to raise funds, including Quench Bio Inc. The biotech company is using new knowledge about gasdermins and the innate immune system to develop new drugs to treat serious inflammatory diseases. The lead substances of Quench inhibit the pore-forming protein Gasdermin D, which was identified as a promising target structure in a cooperation between the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology in Dortmund and the LDC. Gasdermin D plays a central role in pyropoptosis and NETosis and leads to the release of cytokines, alarmins, DNA and NETs. Quench Bio closed a $ 50 million financing in January 2020.

The Swedish bioprinting company Cellink has acquired Scienion AG, a spin-off from the MPI for Molecular Genetics. The purchase price was 80 million euros. The MPG received significant proceeds from the sale of its shares. Cellink aims to use the acquisition to drive future growth in industrial and clinical applications. Scienion AG, founded in 2001, is a successful specialist in the field of dispensing liquids in the nano and picoliter range. With the help of the Scienion dispensing systems, similar to an ink printer, customers can transfer DNA, peptides, antibodies and proteins to carrier media and thus produce pregnancy tests, allergy tests, cancer diagnosis tools or biosensors for glucose measurement. Scienion will continue to exist as an independent company.


A few years ago Max Planck Innovation set up various incubators to validate inventions and know-how in an industry-compatible manner and to generate additional data in order to bring them closer to industry and the market.

In addition to the successful financing round for Quench Bio (see spin-offs), in which the MPG and the Lead Discovery Center (LDC) are also involved, further projects were successfully advanced at the LDC. In May 2020, a project financed by the KHAN-I Fund started to develop a technology that should allow vaccination without a needle. A so-called “Langerhans Cell Target Delivery System” is used, whereby vaccines can be applied directly to the skin or injected with microneedles. The system is also to be adapted to the administration of SARS-CoV2 vaccines and is based on the work of the MPI for Colloids and Interfaces. In June, the company Qurient, which has licensed several technologies originating from the MPG and cooperates with the LDC, received an IND (investigational new drug application) for Q702 from the FDA in the USA. This is the prerequisite for the start of clinical phase I. Q702 is an orally available, immuno-oncologically active small molecule that inhibits three tyrosine kinases (Axl, Mer, CSF1R) and is intended to be used for the treatment of advanced solid tumors. The partnership between LDC and MPG was thus continued very successfully in the twelfth year. The LDC currently employs over 80 people.

The Life Science Inkubator (LSI) was able to set up another company, SmartNanotubes Technologies GmbH. The start-up is developing the world's first odor sensor chip for the mass market. The Smell iX16, based on nanotechnology, is to be used in quality assurance, food control, hazard prevention and in the health sector. VesselSens GmbH was also newly founded. It develops and sells the first implantable sensor system for the efficient telemedical diagnosis of renewed blood vessel constriction after a stent implantation. The overall evaluation of the spin-off companies of the LSI amounts to a total of 38.3 million euros at the end of 2020. The companies employed a total of 38 people.

In 2020 two companies were successfully founded after incubation at the IT Inkubator. InFit health companion GmbH develops a solution for the individual improvement of the fitness level based on molecular measurements at miRNA level. InFit is a data-driven personal fitness trainer designed to ensure long-term well-being and prevent cardiovascular diseases. Another start-up is 2log GmbH. 2log is a system that is intended to prevent unauthorized access to machines in the company. It consists of an adapter that is inserted between the power plug and socket of machines, which is wirelessly connected to the so-called 2log-Dot. The dot centrally manages the access authorizations for machines and devices and only releases the power supply for the devices after identification with an ID. The Elexir and PosterLab projects were able to acquire further follow-up funding.

About Max Planck Innovation

As the technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society, Max Planck Innovation is the link between industry and basic research. With our interdisciplinary team, we advise and support scientists at the Max Planck Institutes in evaluating inventions, filing patents and starting businesses. We offer industry central access to the innovations of the Max Planck Institutes. We are therefore fulfilling an important task: The transfer of results from basic research into commercially and socially useful products.

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