BioWorld International Correspondent

BORNHEIM, Germany Phenion GmbH & Co. KG started operations last week in Frankfurt with the goal of transferring expertise in molecular physiology from basic research into products.

The company entered a five-year, EUR12.5 million (US$11.2 million) deal with the Henkel group, of Düsseldorf, a specialist in detergents, cosmetics and adhesives, with 46,000 employees worldwide.

Henkel holds about two-thirds of Phenion’s shares. Other shareholders are the University of Frankfurt and six of its professors.

“Phenion aims at exploring academic basic research for commercial technologies and products,” Phenion Managing Director Thomas Gassenmeier told BioWorld International.

Phenion’s strategy is a win-win model for both Henkel and the academic shareholders, Gassenmeier said. “It gives university research access to industry, and Henkel as the major shareholder stands to gain from Phenion’s findings, since it can use discoveries in its own research.”

One of Phenion focuses is on tissue engineering and accelerating the growth of skin grafts. One of the scientific founders, Roland Kaufmann, developed a method to stretch skin grafts while growing. Phenion expects to grow grafts ready for transplantation in two weeks instead of four as are currently needed, explained Gassenmeier.

In an additional project Phenion is investigating how stresses affect skin. Co-founder Dieter Steinhilber discovered a signal cascade of enzymes that is triggered by stress, caused, for example, by ultraviolet radiation and exposure to chemicals, Gassenmeier said. Phenion plans to search for compounds that affect the cascade, thus counteracting the stress.

Further projects focus on research in biosensors and new targets for anti-infective drugs.

Henkel during the next five years has the first right of refusal concerning Phenion’s results. Intellectual property not of interest to Henkel is expected to be partnered out, Gassenmeier said.

“We expect Phenion to become a stand-alone company in less than five years,” Gassenmeier said.

Phenion was founded in July and employs a staff of four. Staff count is expected to grow up to 20 by the end of this year. Phenion’s laboratories are situated at a Frankfurt University campus, in the same building as the laboratories of most of the academic founders.