Proteins for the Medications of Tomorrow - Wacker Chemie AG


Proteins for the Medications of Tomorrow

Small team, large responsibility The project management team at Wacker Biotech GmbH in Jena consists of just four people. None of them work in the lab. All four of them contribute to turning research into good medicines.

The project management team (from left to right): Susanne Dilsen, Ilona Koebsch, Julia Schümann and Thomas Schüler.

It is not an easy matter to develop a new drug – and it’s even more complicated to manufacture active ingredients for such medication in large quantities while ensuring outstanding quality and an acceptable price. This is precisely the task of Jena-based Wacker Biotech GmbH. “We are a contract manufacturer for biopharmaceutical products,” says project manager Dr. Julia Schümann.

Contract manufacturing means that the customer, usually a pharmaceutical company, asks WACKER to manufacture a particular protein intended as the active ingredient for a new drug. “We then test whether our special technology can be used for the case in question,” explains Julia Schümann. “If so, we develop a manufacturing process to deliver the protein in solution.” Vital aids in this process are E. coli bacteria, which WACKER uses in its ESETEC® technology.

Although Julia Schümann and the three other project managers all have a doctorate, they don’t play an active role in developing the tailor-made pharmaceutical proteins. “Instead we are the interface between the customers, our colleagues in the lab and the production facility,” says Schümann. “Communication goes via us; we ensure that deadlines are observed, decisions are made, problems are solved and the customers’ wishes are implemented. Sometimes we pester people.” And the 33-year-old adds with a chuckle: “That’s why we are called the Bavarian equivalent of 'pest' by our colleagues.”

What Julia Schümann finds particularly interesting about the project management team’s work is their many contacts: “We get an insight into all the areas involved in the manufacture of active ingredients like these. In addition, we work together with customers from all over the world, and we encounter many different mind-sets and corporate cultures.”

Among the most rewarding successes is a strain of bacteria that a total of 85 employees in Jena developed for the manufacturing of a cancer drug. Julia Schümann: “The next step will be to devise a production method that allows full-scale manufacture and satisfies all the quality requirements for a drug. If everything goes well and the clinical studies are successful, we could make an important contribution to fighting cancer.

Given the significance of biopharmaceuticals in medication of the future, Wacker Biotech GmbH took over a Halle-based biotech company specializing in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical proteins at the beginning of 2014. “Of course we will be involving Scil Proteins Production GmbH in our activities,” relates Julia Schümann. “On January 1, 2014, two new colleagues from Halle joined the team.”