Photo: Dmitry Lebedev / Kommersant
It is difficult to overestimate potential for biotechnology development, however, there are few private investments in this market — investors are deterred by high risks and much time needed for testing of potentially breakthrough products. However, the Accelerator GenerationS partners in the bio- and agro-technologies tracks are sure that exactly these developments will make it possible to look into the future, and exactly these developments could become the basis for fundamentally new lines of business development.
Developments in the field of biotechnology remain one of the most resource-intensive — due to the long process of testing a new product, complexity of certification, high costs of equipment and involvement of highly qualified personnel, investments in such projects at an early stage are accompanied by high risks. While there is, on the contrary, a fierce competition between the largest producers for technology and products with proven effect. Cooperation with large corporations should speed up the process of turning promising technology into a finished product.
Search for start-ups in the field of medicine in the accelerator takes place within the LifeScience track, which unites developers of new pharmaceutical drugs, diagnostic systems, and digital medicine. The Biopharmaceutical cluster Severniy on the basis of the Moscow Physicotechnical Institute (MIPT), uniting several dozens of pharmaceutical companies, foundations in the field of biotechnology, medical institutions and research organizations became an industrial partner of this track.
Neurotechnology, telemedicine and biotech are among the most promising segments of the market in the cluster. According to the executive director of the cluster Oleg Korzinov, one of the main trends in the market are drugs of biotechnological origin: these are monoclonal antibodies, which are widely used for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases. Promising direction in diagnostics is a genetic direction, in particular genome editing technology, in the segment of small molecules a priority direction is neuro-direction — large international pharmaceutical companies are fighting for leadership in the development in this field, noted Oleg Korzinov.
In the meantime, a significant part of venture investments on the Russian market is carried out with the participation of funds with the RVC capital. Most of the projects in which joint funds have invested are at the stage of clinical trials. Among them, the drug Myrcludex B developed by Gepatera, this is the only drug that effectively treats the most severe forms of viral hepatitis B and D, as well as a non-invasive glucose meter based on its own patented technology for bloodless spectroscopic measurement of blood sugar, the "RTM Diagnosis" project, which makes it possible to diagnose the presence of malignant formations at early stages. For the development of projects in the field of neuro-technology, a separate roadmap of the National Technological Initiative (NTI) was also launched, out of the eleven projects approved by the NTI, five projects originate from the NeuroNet direction. In particular, the program includes developments for the treatment of diseases that affect the central nervous system and currently do not have any pharmacological solutions.
In total, ten teams took part in the direction of biomedical technologies of GenerationS, among them developers of new drugs, diagnostic systems, medical products, and technologies related to human health monitoring. The project for the creation of a portable skin analysis system ScanDerm PRO was designated the winner, the second and third places were shared by the medical identifier QRepublik and the project to create a bracelet for the storage and transport of PillBand tablets, developers of wireless pacemakers with the function of long-term cardio-monitoring were designated winners as well.
"Perspectiveness of technology is determined primarily by the market needs which vary depending on the horizons of planning. These are traditional segments in the form of any solutions for the direction of equipment, pharmaceutical developments, and neuro-technologies, which may not have specific application points at the moment, but will be in demand in the distant future," explains Kirill Volynchik, Development Director at CSI Ventures LLC, the operator of LifeScience track and participant of the BiofarmCluster Severniy selection of the winner. According to him, the results of participation in the accelerator work fully met expectations as the cluster received the greatest possible access to projects in the biomedical industry. "We are well familiar with the GenerationS format — we participated earlier as experts in the biomedical direction, and also invested in one of the companies of the semi-finalists of the last year," Kirill Volynchik said.
A separate track — AgroBioTech & Food was launched last year for Agrotechnology projects within GenerationS, which collected products that could improve the efficiency of agriculture, projects in the field of genetic engineering of microorganisms, the creation of "new food" and bioconversion (changing the chemical properties of substances, for example, waste processing with the help of living organisms). The largest oil and fat holding company — EFKO Group of companies and its innovation centre Biryuch-NT, a specialized R&D division of the group became the main partner of this track.
"The agroindustrial sector, especially agriculture and processing industry in Russia needs a sharp increase in efficiency, but the production of food and development of technologies for agriculture are not the most popular topic in the start-up movement, there are only few projects in this direction," says the director of the Biryuch -NT Centre Tatyana Sanina. However, the same factor, she says, creates an increased demand for new developments. "If there is an idea and technological innovation in the project, it gives a powerful potential for the creation of a product, after which there will be lines of people eager to get it," adds the head of the centre. "Innovations in agriculture mean multi-million and even multi-billion markets, and in Russia this is even more fertile soil as the market is almost empty or occupied mainly with imports, which is currently too expensive for domestic players."
On the global market, the largest players do the same and invest not only in their own R & D projects: the chemical giant BASF with annual budget for research projects in the agricultural sector worth $ 460 million, spends from 50 to 70% of its funds for outside support of projects — in cooperation with universities and other companies. Agrobiotek, according to the vice-president of the company Arno Krotsky, exceeds the volume of the pharmaceutical market and is one of the most promising directions for introducing innovations.
Apart from an increase in the productivity of agricultural crops and their resistance to adverse weather conditions, manufacturers are mostly interested in technologies that allow reducing the use of chemicals by replacing or supplementing them with biological products — this also applies to the protection of plants from pests and feed additives in livestock.
Angela Asaturova’s project from Krasnodar "Green Technology Manufactory" was designated the winner of the agrotrack in GenerationS aimed at creating safe organic biologics based on strains of bacteria for plant protection. The second and third places came to the EcoMix Mixer-Encrustator (makes it possible to reduce damage to seeds during their treatment by means of protection against harmful bacteria and viruses for plants) and a project for the development of a DNA test system for the food industry (start-up technology determines microbiological contamination and makes it possible to promptly check food products for the content of pathogenic microorganisms through a DNA analysis).
Entering the final of the track does not mean automatically attracting investments from a partner — not all promising projects can be easily integrated into current production processes, whereas launching a new product often involves large-scale investments. Thus, according to Tatyana Sanina, the company has empirically come to the conclusion that the minor investments in the projects do not make sense — "if we do not participate in the management and do not have the right to vote, we get the corresponding result," explains the head of Biryuch-NT".
The company maintains different models of cooperation with start-ups: some are invited to become part of the team, others are provided with material and non-material assistance — mentoring and counselling. "This allows start-ups to "warm up" the project to a commercial product, therefore at an early stage, such communication support from a large corporation may be even more important than investments," said Tatiana Sanina. Launch of production in the field of biotechnology requires huge investments, and the entry threshold here is quite high. According to her, options for buying the company are also being considered, although more interesting are the options for purchasing technology or licensing copyright for an intellectual property object, but launching production in the field of biotechnology requires huge investments and the entrance threshold here is quite high.
According to Kirill Volynchik, in some cases cooperation agreements concluded with the finalists of the track imply a simple use of the infrastructure capabilities and competencies of the companies participating in the cluster, but for a number of projects the possibility of investing the Seed Fund in the field of living systems is being considered. Severniy is not a traditional corporation with a clearly defined structural and functional structure, and this determines both the breadth and specifics of possible options for cooperation," explains Kirill Volynchik.
However, in the work with start-ups, partners hope not so much for the short-term effect and the return on the support of each individual project, but rather for the possibility of strategic business development. "Any company that ceases to innovate, gradually begins to lose ground, stops in development and sooner or later dies, so it is important to constantly be in search of new ideas and talents that can implement these ideas," appeals Tatiana Sanina. Over time, according to her plans, new directions of company’s activities will grow from these ideas.
By: Tatiana Edovina.