BioWorld International Correspondent

MUNICH, Germany - The German Ministry of Education and Research is supporting six new biotech companies with grants of approximately €1 million (US$950,000) each. The investment is part of the BioChance program, which has delivered more than €50 million to 52 biotech start-ups since the program's start in 1999.

BioChance is designed to aid new, innovative biotechnology companies that are undertaking research-intensive and financially risky tasks. The program aims to improve the German biotech industry as a whole and to strengthen its position among tough international competition.

The six companies most recently supported by the BioChance initiative are G2M Cancer Drugs AG, of Frankfurt, for antimetastasizing therapies; Conbinature Biopharm AG, of Berlin, for production of recombinant enzymes in microorganisms; Planton GmbH, of Kiel, in north Germany, for a broad-spectrum plant antibiotic; Ribopharma AG, of Kulmbach, near Nuremberg, for therapies based on double-stranded RNA; Sloning Bio Technologie GmbH, of Puchheim, a suburb of Munich, for an innovative gene synthesis process; and Vectron therapeutics AG, of Marburg, north of Frankfurt, for using virus-like particles as a drug delivery vector.

The support "is a sign that our technology is considered a potential major breakthrough," Octavian Schatz, CEO of Sloning Bio Technologie, told BioWorld International. "With our approach to automating the synthesis of complete chains, there are no theoretical limitations on the sequence that you construct. Over the medium term, it could conceivably replace cloning as such."

The grants are awarded on a competitive basis and generally do not exceed more than half of the research and development costs of the project being supported. Only firms based in Germany and founded within the past five years are eligible. Companies spun off from larger corporations are not eligible.

Schatz added that being one of the few companies selected from a pool of 72 applicants "was a boost for Sloning's credibility and international exposure. It was very reassuring."

The government funding of approximately €600,000 accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent of the company's capitalization at this point, Schatz said. He expects Sloning to close a second round of financing this year. The stamp of approval from BioChance would likely have a positive effect.

BioChance is one of several programs from the German federal government that support the biotechnology industry. Others include the BioRegio competition, which profiled developing biotech clusters, and the BioFuture program, which supports individual researchers and projects. BioRegio channeled approximately €25 million in financing each to the Rhineland, Rhine-Neckar (Heidelberg) Triangle and Munich regions. Private investment matched public investment in each of the three regions, giving substantial boosts to the emerging clusters.

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