Using genetic research to treat inflammatory diseases - Vienna centre of excellence in biomedicine harnesses basic research

November 26, 2001

Vienna centre of excellence in biomedicine harnesses basic research to quest for new therapies

Austria's first centre of excellence in biomedicine, Vienna based Bio Molecular Therapeutics (BMT), is going from strength to strength. With a workforce of over 60 and an annual budget of more than EUR 3.63 million, BMT is currently working on four major projects. The centre is researching into the genetic causes of chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatism and arteriosclerosis, inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract, and disorders of the immune system.

BMT is a research association -- the only one of its kind in Austria -- that brings together leading university institutes, pharmaceutical companies, and domestic and foreign start-ups in order to achieve rapid transfers of research results from the laboratory to the patient. There is much to be gained, as the present lack of effective treatments for these widespread diseases is to blame for severe disabilities and about half of all fatalities. Although it was founded only two years ago, BMT can already point to palpable success in the form of international publications, patent registrations and promising new therapeutic approaches.

The decoding of the human genome is widely regarded as a milestone in the history of the biosciences. Less well known is the fact that the real purpose of these endeavours is to identify the genetic origins of diseases. BMT -- a line-up of ten commercial and scientific partners with complementary areas of expertise -- is in the forefront of these efforts. The chosen organisational and managerial set-up of the centre is aimed at ensuring that relevant research results are applied, in the interests of patients.

BMT's operational partners are the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna (the Institute of Vascular Biology and Thrombosis Research, the Institute of Immunology, and the Department of Immunodermatology and Infectious Skin Diseases, University Clinic for Dermatology), the Vienna University of Agriculture, Forestry and Renewable Natural Resources (Centre for Ultrastructure Research), well-known pharmaceutical companies (Baxter and the Novartis Research Institute), and dynamic start-up companies (Biomax Informatics, Nanosearch, Polymun Scientific and Technoclone). The joint projects receive financial support from the Austrian Government's Kplus programme, administered by the Technologie Impulse Gesellschaft (TIG), and Vienna City Council which has invested directly in BMT.

"Common structures not only permit the efficient use of research resources but also generate lively exchanges of ideas and expertise," said BMT managing director Gudrun Baumann. "The centre's unique concept fills a much criticised gap in the Austrian research sector. Rapid technology transfers and patent protection ensure that research results quickly find their way into treatments for patients."

In terms of quality of their scientific output, the university institutes that have joined forces to conduct research through BMT are among the Austrian "top five" institutions. "But that by itself does not cure any patient," noted BMT scientific director Professor Bernd R. Binder who heads the Institute of Vascular Biology and Thrombosis Research. "Only research aiming for applicable results can translate breakthroughs in basic research rapidly into effective therapies."

This approach is reflected in the role played by the participating starts-ups with academic origins. These include Munich based Biomax Informatics, the partner that contributes bioinformatics know-how -- an increasingly important factor in genetic research. Biomax CEO Dr. Klaus Heumann said: "The experience of the dynamic biotech environment in Vienna is invaluable to us. For instance, collaborating with BMT's working groups is helping us develop a new chip for therapies of inflammatory disease."

A similar view came from Prof. Hans Peter Schwarz, Vice President Scientific Affairs at Baxter Bioscience, who said: "The large companies, too, are coming out of their ivory towers. Joint research in conjunction with start-ups and academic research institutions has been a rejuvenation cure for Baxter. Together, we can pursue creative approaches and develop innovative new therapies."

BMT is an example of the way in which the public money provided by the Kplus programme, which promotes the creation of centres of excellence, leverages investment by the private sector.
Contact: Gudrun Baumann, BMT, Brunner Strasse 58, A-1230 Vienna Tel. +43-1-867 36 92; fax +43-1-867 36 94; e-mail

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