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Can pandemics be predicted? How does smart­-phone glucose monitoring work? Where will our meat come from in the future? How can we better connect researchers with each other? If you want to actively shape the future, you need to ask the right questions.

The needle-free

Biolinq, a portfolio company of our corporate venture capital arm M Ventures, is on the edge of a breakthrough that could not only significantly improve the lives of people suffering from diabetes, but medical diagnostics as a whole.

Would you prick yourself with a needle 100 times to maintain your own health? And what about 1,000 times? Or tens of thousands of times? That’s a lifetime’s number of needle pricks for many ofthe 380 million people suffering from diabetes. Yet the concentration of blood sugar, or glucose, must be monitored regularly in order to minimize the long-term complications of diabetes, such as increased atherosclerosis and nerve disorders. And so far, monitoring requires a drop of blood – every single time. So most patients prick themselves several times a day, their entire lives. Over time, this is not only extremely bothersome; it also has a negative effect on their quality of life.

„Biolinq is on the verge of improving and simplifying the lives of millions of people living with diabetes with just a small patch.“

EDWARD KLIPHUISInvestment Director of M Ventures and Biolinq Board Member

So the new development from Biolinq – a U.S.-based company backed by M Ventures, our corporate venture capital arm – could improve the lives of many people. Nectar, the name of this revolutionary product, looks like a patch the size of a euro 50-cent coin. It contains tiny sensors that, when applied to the skin, analyze what is known as the interstitial fluid directly beneath the top layer of the skin. This fluid is not within skin cells or other cells, but in the space be­t­ween cells. The sensors currently measure glucose, but in the future could measure a number of things, such as lactate and ketone levels. Studies have shown that measuring glucose in the interstitial fluid leads to even more precise results than inter­stitial fluid from the subcutaneous tissue, where traditional Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs) operate.

Moreover, Nectar is not only affordable, it is also easy to use. It is completely pain-free, can remain on the skin for more than seven days, and sends the data wirelessly to a smartphone. The app that goes along with it is also easy to use. “Biolinq ison the verge of improving and simplifying the lives of millions of people living with diabetes with just a small patch,” explains Edward Kliphuis, Biolinq Board Member and Investment Director of M Ventures.

Another major advantage of Nectar over the traditional method of analyzing blood sugar levels with a drop of blood is that it measures continuously. There are other alternatives (traditional CGMs) that enable continuous measuring, such as sensors implanted under the skin, but in contrast to Nectar, those methods always involve a foreign body under the skin, and that can cause problems. Nectar is currently being validated and optimized in clinical trials with patients and is expected to be approved and launched commercially in the coming years. Kliphuis says the results so far are impressive.

Diabetes is, however, not the only field of application for Biolinq’s tiny sophisticated sensors. Because the sensors can potentially also detect ketone and lactate levels in the future, they can also be used to analyze the influence of nutrition and physical activity on health. As a result, Biolinq can also contribute to weight loss and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. And that is just the beginning. Each Nectar patch contains dozens of sensors that allow for each patch to analyze several biomarkers.

M Venture’s investment in Biolinq is more than just a strategic move to help us gain a foothold in the growing field of what is known as biosensoring; in the medium term, a paradigm shift in medicine initiated by Biolinq could well be on the horizon – a shift toward needle-free blood monitoring.

Liquid biopsy

Sometimes, a needle prick can also make everything easier.

As noted, daily needle pricks can be a burden for a diabetic. But there are other patients for whom a blood sample can bring genuine relief – in particular when so much information can be derived from the blood drawn that complex diagnostic pro­­­cedures and therapeutic failures can be avoided. For example, within the concept of personalized medicine, many types of cancers are now treated with highly specialized therapeutics. But that requires precise knowledge of the characteristics of the tumor cells and their genetic basis. In some types of cancer, the tumor is positioned in such a way that a needle biopsy is risky. One way to get around this is a liquid biopsy, in which traces of mutated genetic material of cancer cells are detected in the blood.

That is precisely the focus of the research collaboration we began in 2016 with Biocartis, a Belgian mole-cular diagno­s­tics company. This collaboration is already seeing results: In No­vember 2017, Biocartis and we were proud to announce the CE-IVD marking for their first two fluid biopsy tests, the Idylla™ ctKRAS Mutation Assay and the Idylla™ ctNRAS-BRAF Mutation Assay. Together, they detect 44 mutations of colorectal cancer tumor cells that are relevant for choosing the appropriate treatment. “With these tests, we can help patients with colorectal cancer around the world,” explains Erwin Sablon, Head of Research and Development at Biocartis.

„With these tests, we can help patients with colorectal cancer around the world“

Erwin SablonHead of Research and Development at Biocartis

The tests are based on Biocartis’ Idylla platform, a fully automated molecular diagnostics system. It integrates all the sample preparation steps and pro-vides doctors with sameday results of the desired test. This enables quicker access to the right treatment for patients – and as such they can benefit from further progress in personalized medicine.

A plat­form for the
fight against cancer

As announced by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and the U.S. company Palantir Technologies, their Syntropy joint venture seeks to network research data around the world and enable scientists to collaborate more effectively.

How does cancer develop? How can it be prevented? And which treatment is particularly effective in which patients and for which kind of cancer? Despite significant scientific gains in recent years, there are still few answers to these critical questions. Advances in medical research have generated a tremendous amount of knowledge about diseases, their development and the treatments for them, but the full potential of this knowledge has not yet been tapped.

Research institutions around the world produce huge amounts of biomedical data, but much of it is trapped in silos within and between institutions. For example, data may be stored in central cancer center registries, collected in research projects, or produced as a result of clinical trials. This critical data is often inaccessible to the scientists and clinicians who need it to advance their own work as well. En-abling the global scientific community to integrate, analyze and collaborate on this data could help us develop a more accurate picture of the human body and its diseases. Finding simil­arities, parallels or differences in vari-ous genes and disease variants could unlock valuable discoveries.

Data across the globe is packaged differently

A wealth of knowledge thus lies untapped in this data, and it can’t be examined and analyzed or col-lectively leveraged in part because the data isn’t uniform. This is a re-sult of common research practices: One scientist enters findings in an Excel table, while another researcher collects data using a specialized software program. Sometimes it’s not even possible to integrate data within a single large institution. For instance, one department in a cancer registry may have developed a computer program to record all the parameters of its work, while another department stores everything on the Internet in a central database. In addition, scientific journals currently contain the most transparent publication of scientific discoveries and the methods used to obtain them, but they reveal mainly only the findings; the data itself is usually not accessible.

„We are committed to tailoring Syntropy to meet the precise needs of cancer researchers and clinical doctors.“

Stefan OschmannChairman of the Executive Board

Syntropy aims to address this challenge in two steps. First, Syntropy will help standardize data within organi­zations, breaking down internal silos and uniting disparate datasets in one place. Second, Syntropy users will have the option of engaging in secure, transparent data exchanges, enabling oppor-tunities for collaboration. Syntropy users will be able to collaborate worldwide in a structured form – and could be the source of a great knowledge and developmental boost in modern medicine.

Syntropy is expected to take research to a new level

The foundation of Syntropy is its platform, based on Palantir Foundry, which integrates different types of data from across organizations and makes it uniform. Syntropy’s purpose is not to market the data – ownership re-mains with the users, generally re-searchers and scientists. Instead, Syntropy’s business model consists of selling software while fostering an environment for collaboration through the creation of a data ecosystem to further scientific discovery. The idea is that the platform expands on its own once the scientific community re-alizes how effective the tool is for its work. “With Syntropy, we intend to unlock the value of untapped data and to enable the world’s leading ex-perts to collaborate in the fight against cancer and other diseases,” says Stefan Oschmann, Chairman of the Executive Board. Syntropy could become not just a data eco-system, but also a new “place to be” for researchers: a place to meet and support one another – prompted by the exchange of data. Increased networking among the scientific community would take the quality of research and collaboration between researchers to a new level.

„Syntropy aims to help researchers collaborate securely to realize the value of scientific data, driving discoveries that will deliver better treatments to patients faster.“

Alexander KarpPalantir Technologies co-founder and CEO

External and in-house data will be aggregated

The fact that Syntropy may simplify this exchange of information creates immense opportunities – if only be-cause of the sheer amount of data that exists. Genetic material is a good ex-ample: At the turn of the millennium, hundreds of scientists worked to-gether for years on the Human Genome Project to sequence the first human genome. Today, machines can comple­tely sequence a human genome for less than $1,000 in three days. The information obtained this way is increasingly being used to guide decisions about treatment. For in-stance, a tumor disease has between 1,000 and 10,000 gene changes. If the critical points are known, medications can be chosen that are particularly effective. This breakthrough would not be possible without collaborative efforts within the scientific community, and while we can’t predict what the future outcomes created from Syntropy will be, we are optimistic about the possibilities.

Syntropy will drive the creation of new knowledge and accelerate scientific discovery.

Real meat with­out the side ef­fects

Meat consumption around the world continues to rise, with negative consequences for animals, the earth’s climate, and the environment. Should meat be banned? That’s unrealistic. A better solution is to develop meat for which no animals have to be slaughtered. Mosa Meat is working on that. It won’t be long before the Dutch company introduces the first cultured hamburger to the market. Delicious, affordable – and “clean”.

Burger with patty made by Mosa Meat

When Mark Post eats a juicy prototype hamburger from his own manufacture, it’s not just because it tastes good: he also sinks his teeth in for scientific reasons. For nearly 13 years, Post, who is Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Maastricht, has been conducting research on meat for which no animal has to die. This was the idea behind the company Mosa Meat, which Post founded in 2015 and in which our corporate venture capital fund M Ventures has an equity stake. And the idea is now on the verge of a breakthrough: In 2021, Post is aiming for the market launch of his ground beef made from cultured meat. Al­­-though there are still challenges to overcome, Mark Post is optimistic: “We intend to fulfill our mission of making meat more sustainable, healthy, and animal-friendly.”

But how can you produce real meat without slaughtering animals? There are two key steps: First, researchers take animal muscle cells which have the function of creating new muscle tissue when the muscle is injured, and cultivate them in a bioreactor, allowing them to proliferate until there are trillions of cells. Second, when researchers stop feeding the cells, they naturally merge to form myofibers. Under specific conditions, these primary myofibers increasingly put on bulk and lengthen, until these strands of muscle tissue naturally – without genetic tricks – form the shape of what we intend to produce: meat. This process is not automated yet, so the price of the cultured ground beef is still expensive. Furthermore, fetal bovine serum is traditionally used to feed the cells, and the process to extract it is not in line with stan­-dards of the developers at Mosa Meat. For this reason, Mosa Meat is re­sear­ch­ing sustainable solutions that would eliminate animal products from the production process. In light of this, the M Ventures investment could also lead to a strategic partnership: We have immense expertise in cultivating cells and developing bioreactors, and could help Mosa Meat master these challenges.

Alexander Hoffmann is a member of the New Businesses Team at M Ventures and a member of the Mosa Meat Board of Directors since we in­vested in the company. He believes strongly in the great significance of Post’s innovation: “It is clear that our global hunger for meat is leading to increasingly greater problems,” he says. In addition to the issue of animal welfare, the demand for meat requires grazing land for large-scale livestock farming, wastes water, drives climate change, and worsens global injustice. “The solution is not to ban the con-sump­­tion of meat, but to promote al-ter­natives,” Hoffmann explains. He be­lieves Mosa Meat burgers offer ex-actly that: a promising way to overcome the meat dilemma.

Mark PostMark Post (61) is the founder of Mosa Meat. He and his team have big plans. In the following four short scenarios, he looks at a future with “clean” hamburger meat.

If, in the near future, we do not ensure that a greater share of the world’s meat is produced without large-scale livestock farming …

… then the overheated production of meat will have a major negative impact on climate change and the food security of the soon-to-be ten billion people on this planet. This in turn will make meat a rare, expensive, and thus exclusive product for those who can still afford it.

If, in ten years’ time, the aim is for 100 million people all around the world to eat Mosa Meat’s ground beef …

… then we have to ensure that our ground beef doesn’t cost any more than products that are still produced with meat from slaughtered animals. It is also important to us that our production processes use resources sparingly and respect the environment. What we also need is sales staff who know how our ground beef is made and understand the philosophy behind the process.

If, as a developer of “clean” meat, you could make one wish …

… then I’d wish that everyone who is interested in our hamburgers already had the opportunity to sink their teeth into one. We could then demonstrate even more convincingly that our concept works.

If, one day, there is a clear global demand for “clean” meat that does not require killing animals …

… then we will be able to see a positive impact very quickly. We anticipate that “clean” meat production will require 90% less grazing land and water. Energy consumption for meat will fall by 60% and greenhouse gas emissions will also decrease significantly, as there will be fewer herds of cattle emitting methane, which is very harmful to the global climate.

New Heroes Wanted

The world is facing numerous challenges, not least because the global population is growing rapidly. Greater scientific and tech­-nical progress is more important than ever. So who are the new heroic researchers who are bold enough to tackle big challenges? We want to ­find them – and support them with the Future Insight Prize.

Growth has its price

In the not too distant future, almost ten billion people will share the earth – most likely as soon as the middle of the century. Two-thirds of the population will move to the cities, many of which are already reaching their limits. At the same time, as the climate continues to warm, the effects of climate change may become even worse in some regions of the world. Where will the food and energy for all the people come from? How will healthcare be provided? How can we make better use of limited resources such as land and water?

Solutions for these mammoth challenges require collaboration between many stakeholders from politics, business and industry. But above all, we need clever minds in research who can drive forward progress in science and technology and want to change the future for the better. Precisely this bold and inventive spirit is what we want to support. That’s why we launched the “Future Insight Prize” with an award of up to one million euros annually. We’ll be awarding it for the next 35 years to promote groundbreaking scientific innovations in the categories of health, nutrition and energy.

An opportunity for visionary ideas

We’re starting with a focus on progress in the health category. The prize will be awarded to scientists whose work enables the subsequent development of a pandemic protection system. This “dream product”, which is not yet possible with current technology, is intended to provide faster protection against newly emerging pathogens. The aim of such a “pandemic protector” is to analyze these pathogens in the shortest pos­sible time and identify an active substance for the treatment or prevention of disease to prevent the outbreak of a new global epidemic.

We will announce the winner of this prize in the summer of 2019. Until then, a scouting team will monitor scientific activity worldwide with the aim of selecting potential candidates for the award. Experts in relevant fields are likewise free to propose candidates of their own. The jury comprises distinguished scientists and managers both from our company and from renowned academic reseach institutions and other technology groups. The exciting question is: Whose project will receive this big boost? One thing is already certain: It will help a great idea continue to grow.


Future Insight Prize

We plan to support courageous projects over the next years in the following areas:

Pandemic Protector – Protection against newly emerging pathogens and identification of an active substance for the treatment or prevention of disease (category: health)

Multi-drug resistance breaker – Solving the problem of antibacterial resistance to multiple antibacterials (category: health)

Food generator – Technology to help feed the world’s growing population (category: nutrition)

CO2-to-fuel converter – Generating fuel through photocatalytic conversion of atmospheric CO2 (category: energy)

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