From fundamental research to new medications

M4 Award: The five winner teams    Image: BioM / Andreas Grasser

M4 Award: The five winner teams Image: BioM / Andreas Grasser

Four research teams from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have received m4 Awards this year. The award will bring them two-year grants from the State of Bavaria to continue their fundamental biomedical research and found new companies. Two of the teams honored work on new therapies to fight cancer, while the other two teams are investigating medications against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The m4 Award supports research teams planning to found companies that will use their findings to develop innovative products, technologies and services for the medicine of the future. The Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy has supported the competition, launched by BioM , the network organization of the biotechnology sector in Munich and Bavaria, since 2011. Each of the winning teams will receive funding of up to 500,000 euros and will benefit from expert support when founding their companies. This year more than 30 research teams from throughout Bavaria entered the contest for the m4 Award. Four of the five winners are from TUM and will be supported by TUM Start-up Advising team. The winning teams are all led or supported by experienced scientists.

In their project FUSIX Biotech, Adjunct Teaching Professor Jennifer Altomonte and Teresa Krabbe are researching the treatment of tumors using oncolytic viruses which grow in the tumor tissue, causing the cancer cells to die. Past attempts have always encountered difficulties: Intravenous application only manages to transport a small amount of the active ingredient to the tumor, while the tissue of some tumors is so dense that the active ingredient cannot penetrate them. Working at the TUM’s university hospital Klinikum rechts der Isar the scientists have now used two viruses which occur in animals to develop an oncolytic virus against liver tumors which overcomes the known obstacles. The new virus does not trigger diseases in humans and humans do not have any antibodies against it. The award winners now plan to examine their product in studies and to scale it. They hope to reach this milestone within the next two years and to found a company with a marketable product.

Antibody-based immunotherapies promise great potential when it comes to treating tumor diseases. They attach themselves to special structures on the surface of the tumor and can for example attract the body’s own immune cells to fight the tumor. Treatment can sometimes lead to an overstimulation of the immune system, resulting in severe side effects. One reason for this is that the target structures are not only present in the tumor, but also in healthy tissue. Now, the LOGIBODY team at the TUM Professorship for Biomolecular Nanotechnology and its mentor Prof. Hendrik Dietz , have developed an "on/off switch" for antibody immunotherapies. The nanoswitch recognizes tumor cells specifically and thus can ensure that immune cells are recruited to the tumor cells. This results in reduced activity in healthy tissue and thus to fewer side-effects. The molecular switch is made up of DNA which here no longer serves as a carrier of genetic information, but rather as a reliable building material for molecular machines on a nanometer scale. LOGIBODY exemplifies the innovation potential of molecular robotics.

Dr. Hannelore Meyer , research group leader at the TUM Institute for Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Hygiene , and her FRABIOTICS team in collaboration with the Helmholtz Zentrum München have identified a fragment (very small ,small molecule’), which blocks bacterial resistance to the most widely used antibiotics. The infections caused by these bacteria include for example certain life-threatening forms of pneumonia and blood poisoning. These fragments have a dual mode of action. Firstly, they shut down the resistance against these antibiotics and thereby protect their efficacy. In addition, they have an antibiotic effect themselves, i.e. they can also fight bacteria without the additional administration of antibiotics. Thanks to this dual mode of action resistance development in the pathogenic bacteria against this treatment is expected to be delayed. The researchers plan to use the m4 Award funding to find the mechanism behind the antibiotic effect of the molecules and optimize it for medicinal application.

In the aBACTER project, Prof. Stephan Sieber , who holds the Chair of Organic Chemistry II at TUM, Dr. Franziska Mandl, Dr. Christian Fetzer, and Dr. Mathias Hackl are developing a novel anti-infective against multiresistant bacteria which often cannot even be treated with reserve antibiotics such as vancomycin; according to estimates, such germs are responsible for several thousands of deaths in Germany each year. The new antibiotic intervenes in several cell processes in the bacteria which are not attacked by currently approved antibiotics. This means that multiresistant bacteria have no defense against this new antibiotic and that it is significantly less probable that bacteria will become resistant against it: They would have to develop simultaneous resistances to the various cell processes addressed. In the long term, the new antibiotic could be used to fight a large number of diseases. The researchers plan to use it first against endocarditis, a dangerous infection of the endocardium for which there are already only a limited number of therapeutic options. The researchers plan to use the funding from m4-Award for decisive preclinical tests in order to make a large step towards entering the first clinical phase.

Every year more than 70 technology companies are established at TUM. TUM and UnternehmerTUM support new companies with programs tailored to the phases of the start-up process - from writing the business model to management training, and from market entry to a possible IPO. Up to 30 teams can use offices in the TUM Incubator to prepare the launch of their companies. TUM accompanies the most promising candidates on a two-week trip to Silicon Valley. With its own UVC venture capital fund , UnternehmerTUM invests in young technology companies that demonstrate high potential, offering them access to MakerSpace , a 1,500 square meter high-tech workshop for building prototypes, and the Bio.Kitchen biotech laboratory. According to the respected "Start-up Radar" survey, this support is unparalleled at Germany’s major universities.

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