Given the constantly aging global population, the importance of regenerative treatment methods is increasing all the time. At Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, Versameb Ltd is carrying out research on an active substance that it is hoped will one day give people better quality of life until an advanced age. In this interview, CEO Professor Friedrich Metzger reveals where things are headed.
Professor Metzger, your company, Versameb, deals with regenerative medicine. What are you working on precisely?
We are developing a medicine aimed at accelerating cell regeneration in muscles, bones, cartilage, tendons and even nerves. At present, if you tear some muscle fibers, for example, you will be out of action for 10 weeks. Our product stimulates the body’s self-healing powers with a view to shortening the recovery time.
A milestone for sports medicine ...
That is one aspect of our approach, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Shorter treatment times also reduce health care costs, not least because the patient will be back at work sooner. But above all, we will create a way of dealing with many injuries that currently cannot be treated by pharmaceutical means. On top of that, consider the consequences of injuries among elderly people. At present, the long and incomplete healing process often leads to irreparable follow-on problems of both a physical and a psychological nature. Just imagine how we could improve senior citizens’ quality of life if falls no longer had such dire consequences.
What is the makeup of your team?
We currently have a core team of four. Our therapeutic approaches are based on my own scientific discoveries and experience. Furthermore, Roger Meier, an experienced business angel, Urs Breitenstein, a finance specialist, and Isabelle Kappeler, a project manager, are also involved. My job as CEO is to make sure that we are making sufficient scientific progress while keeping on top of the processes, planning and organization. More people will be joining our team over the coming months. We also benefit from a huge amount of support from numerous specialists in many different fields. We founded Versameb as a joint-stock company in August 2017, although we have been working on the idea since as far back as 2011. Last fall, we were able to successfully complete a financing round.
Since when have you been a tenant at Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area?
When we were preparing to establish the joint-stock company, we took part in the tender for BaseLaunch, an accelerator program run by BaselArea.swiss, a joint initiative for innovation and location pro-otion. We recognized the advantages of Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area during this tender process and moved into an office there.
So it was primarily because of BaseLaunch that you opted for Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area?
That’s correct, but of course we did look into the various possibilities beforehand. At first, the most important factor for us was the presence of high-quality infrastructure such as meeting rooms, but also quite simple things like an existing IT network. What convinced us in the end, however, was the possibility of dialogue with other researchers that we hope will occur in the course of the BaseLaunch program and as more companies move in. We would like to be on board from the outset and also see it as an opportunity to influence the park’s development. The latter in particular often isn’t an option at institutions of this kind. The atmosphere tends to be anonymous, with people working behind closed doors.
What form is this dialogue at Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area likely to take?
You cannot expect a neighbor to give you a key piece of input that completely changes your approach. But you receive feedback on details, be that an affirmation or information about another research group that has embarked on an alternative path. Besides, scientists always help each other out when it comes to methodological and technological experience, solutions to problems and networks. As new companies are never fully equipped at this stage of their existence, dialogue can help them avoid potential problems and find quicker solutions with the aid of such a network. Of course all participants benefit from this dialogue, which is why this location is attractive to a variety of companies.
Were there ever any doubts about the Basel region as a location?
Not really. For a start, we are all at home in this region, with the result that each of us has already established an extensive network – including major companies and the University of Basel – within the bounds of this powerful life-science cluster. What is more, it is significantly easier to set up a new company in Switzerland than it is in other countries.
What will your next steps be?
On the one hand, we have to set about protecting our intellectual property; in other words, generating relevant data in the laboratory and using it to file patents. On the other, we are still in the preclinical phase, which means we are working toward getting our molecule ready for clinical trials. We are doing everything we can to provide the first proof of concept in a clinical setting.
How can Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area support you with this?
As part of the BaseLaunch evaluation, a laboratory was made available to us at Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area free of charge for one year, for which we are very grateful to the BaseLaunch team. We originally had a purely external solution, but having our own laboratory in the midst of an outstanding infrastructure means we are running fewer risks and have all the processes under control at all times. I don’t mean to say I am against external cooperation agreements – on the contrary, they have a major role to play for us. But with our own laboratory, we have both better control over the generation of patent-critical data and greater flexibility.
The BaseLaunch program also included a one-off consultation with Vossius & Partner, a well-known law firm specializing in patent law. This was definitely helpful, even though we already cooperate closely with the law firm Latscha Schöllhorn Partner and have established a patent strategy. This strategy was fully vindicated at our meeting with Vossius & Partner. In this sense, the support we received did not change anything significant, but it did give us the assurance that we were on the right path.
Finally, what is your company’s vision?
Our vision is that the science we are developing will one day help a great many people significantly improve their body’s own regenerative ability. This will enable them to live not just better but longer lives with as few problems as possible.