Background and History

Challenges in Translational Medicine

Translating scientific concepts into clinical applications is a major contemporary challenge in medical health care. Expiring patents, empty pipelines of pharmaceutical companies and the increasing complexity of product development in the era of individualized medicine mean that even large pharmaceutical companies cannot address these challenges alone. At the same time, increasing regulatory requirements and costs have seen public research organizations virtually suspend the clinical translation of new scientific insight. Here in Mainz, we are convinced that mastering these challenges is possible through cooperation between our first-rate research institute and private companies specializing in innovative product development.

The future of drug development lies in combining basic and clinical research with commercial development. Interweaving the interests and competencies of diverse stakeholders expedites development and maximizes the bidirectional flow of insight. Although managing the interface between scientific and technological innovation and traditional product development is complex and multi-layered, it is also one of the key requirements for the success of such public-private partnerships.

 

Founding of TRON

TRON was founded in 2010 as a non-profit limited liability company to address these challenges. Co-founders Ugur Sahin, Christoph Huber and Özlem Türeci’s vision for TRON is to facilitate clinical translation of innovative science by interfacing between public and private stakeholders and bridging the gap between research insight and mature product development.  Further stakeholders are the state Rhineland-Palatinate, the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, and the University Medical Center Mainz. In July 2011, Michael Föhlings took the responsibility for Finance and Administration and became, besides Ugur Sahin, a member of the Management Team. Ugur Sahin served as Managing Director (Scientific Management Director) from 2010 to 2019 and now guides TRON as a scientific adviser.  Christoph Huber, with his passion for cancer immunotherapy and effective transdisciplinary collaboration, continues to guide TRON as an adviser of the management and the Supervisory Board.

Prof. Ugur Sahin, M.D.

Ugur is a doctor of medicine, immunologist and cancer researcher. His key focus is translating groundbreaking novel scientific ideas into medical innovations that help individual patients, an interest that was originally prompted by his experiences as a physician. His key contributions in cancer immunotherapy cover various fields, including the discovery of tumor-associated antigens, the development of Zolbetuximab and similar novel “ideal” monoclonal antibodies (IMABs) for the treatment of solid cancers, and diverse classes of RNA-based immunotherapies. Together with his team, he pioneered the concept of individualized cancer immunotherapies and in particular the development of mRNA-based vaccines that are tailored to each patient´s cancer mutation profile. Ugur is a Professor at the University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU) Mainz, and co-founder and shareholder of TRON. He was TRON´s scientific managing director from 2010 until September 2019. With like-minded partners, he co-founded successful spin-offs from JGU, such as Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG and BioNTech SE, the latter of which he is CEO, and co-initiated Cluster for Individualized Immune Intervention (Ci-3).  Ugur is also Chair of the Scientific Directorate of the Helmholtz Institute HI-TRON Mainz. Ugur closely supports TRON as a strategic and scientific advisor as well as supervisor and mentor for TRON’s PhD students.

Özlem Türeci, M.D.

 

Özlem is a physician with more than 25 years of experience in cancer research and immunology as well as the development of new therapeutic concepts. She is a pioneer in targeted approaches to cancer immunotherapy and the author of numerous scientific publications and patents. Among her groundbreaking contributions to translational research, the concept of “ideal antibodies” (IMABs) and the development of Zolbetuximab attracted particular attention. Together with Ugur Sahin, she was awarded 4th place among translational researchers in Nature Biotechnology’s Top20 in 2015. Özlem is co-founder of TRON and was founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG, now a subsidiary of Astellas Pharma Inc. She was also central in the founding of BioNTech SE, where she now serves as chairperson of the scientific and clinical advisory board and Chief Medical Officer. In addition, she currently serves as President of the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy CIMT e. V., the largest European association for cancer immunotherapy, and chairperson of Ci-3, Germany’s Cluster of excellence for Individualized Immune Intervention.

Prof. emeritus Christoph Huber, M.D.

For three decades, Christoph has been an internationally renowned clinical scientist in the field of cancer immunotherapy. At a very early stage in the 1980s, he recognized the immense potential of immunological cancer research, translating his clinical training on bone marrow transplantation at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center into the founding of the first European stem cell transplantation facility in Innsbruck. As director of the III. Medical Clinic and Polyclinic with a focus on hematology and oncology at the Johannes Gutenberg-University, Christoph laid the foundation for the development of Mainz as a leading center of excellence for cancer immunotherapy. Since 1995, Christoph has been the spokesperson for the DFG Collaborative Research Centre 432 “Tumor Defence and its Therapeutic Influence”, the DFG Clinical Research Group “Lymphocyte Therapy”, the Immunology Center of Excellence ICE and the international Cancer Immunotherapy Network CIMT.  He was integrally involved with the founding of innovative and successful spin-offs from the Johannes Gutenberg-University, such as Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG and BioNTech SE, and is a board member of the German excellence Cluster for Individualized Immune Intervention (Ci-3).  His groundbreaking ideas played a central role in the founding and development of TRON as a cutting-edge scientific research institute. His pioneering spirit and immense enthusiasm have flowed, via his unwavering guidance and support as a previous member and now permanent guest of the Supervisory Board and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board, into the research carried out at TRON.

Translational Network

Over the past decade, local innovations have led to a number of new spin-off companies located in the Mainz Immuno Hub, several of which now count among Germany’s leading biotech start-ups. The initiative was boosted by the cluster of excellence CI-3 CLUSTER OF INDIVIDUALIZED IMMUNOINTERVENTION, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. Moreover, the ASSOCIATION FOR CANCER IMMUNOTHERAPY (CIMT), an internationally leading research communication platform based, promotes national and international networking via its Annual Meetings, Europe’s original cancer immunotherapy conference, which facilitates exchange between cancer researchers, regulatory experts and academic and private enterprise decision-makers.