Meet TP’s Residents and Associates: “Patients aren’t helped when ideas remain in the drawer”

To all intents and purposes, Dr. Hilmar Bading is a regular German neurology professor. The scientist heads the Interdisciplinary Center for Neurosciences (IZN) at the University of Heidelberg and, together with his team, carries out research into therapies aimed at combatting neuro-degenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and strokes. Now the Heidelberg professor is becoming an entrepreneur as well and, just like every startup, is seeking funding – in his case, to commercialize a remarkable nasal spray

“Protector of nerve cells” is how he was described in a 2009 article. Professor Bading can look back on an international academic career: in the 1990s, the qualified physician focused on molecular biology at the University of Cambridge and molecular genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin. Before that, he completed his post-doctoral studies at Harvard Medical School in Boston.  At the age of 56, Bading has changed sides—at least to a certain extent— and will simultaneously be an entrepreneur. On May 12, he founded FundaMental Pharma GmbH in Heidelberg. “In Germany, it is still very rare for professors to also have their own companies.  In the US, academia embraces the commercial aspect,” Bading comments. 

Together with the molecular biologist Thomas Schulze, whom Bading has known since his Berlin days, and Daniela Mauceri, a junior professor who completed her post-doctoral studies under him, Bading wants to get a nasal spray aimed at combatting degenerative diseases of the nervous system onto the market.  FundaMental CEO Schulze is a man with a head for business and “good connections in Big Pharma,” according to Bading.  For his part, he takes care of the scientific side, along with his colleague Mauceri. Several years ago at IZN, they discovered a protein that stabilizes the tree-like dendrites (neuronal branches) and can reduce the effects of a stroke or dementia. At the moment, the small team has enough space at IZN.  If they were to need larger premises and wished to take part in exchanges, they could always make use of the Technology Park, Bading notes with an eye to the future.  “The fact that it has existed alongside the university for more than 30 years testifies to an entrepreneurial spirit in Heidelberg that is very valuable indeed.” 

FundaMental Pharma now wants to focus on the treatment of a niche disease: the nasal spray is intended to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This form of the motor neurone disease, from which Stephen Hawking suffers, progresses to complete paralysis and remains incurable to this day. Bading and his colleagues are already working in cooperation with the University of Ulm in this field.  While invasive methods are otherwise used, the nasal spray developed by Bading and his team appears a winner with its potential for many different applications. It reaches those parts where it needs to have an effect and is, moreover, patient-friendly. It is not least for this reason that Professor Bading won the 2016 Innovation Prize of the German Bioregions. The prize has generated the first wave of attention. “Now we have to find funders that have faith in us,” Bading says. The young company FundaMental Pharma needs an estimated 500,000 to 1 million euros to clear the first hurdles to being ready for the market:  employing researchers, developing a model to simulate the disease, testing for side-effects and toxicology, and optimizing the substance.  If Bading has his way, the data will yield results within a year on the basis of which a decision can be made about commercialization (that’s the best-case scenario anyway).  “Expenditure during the stability-test phase is relatively manageable.  For well-heeled investors, it’s peanuts—for us, the first 1 million euros symbolize ‘heaven’.”  The team has had its ideas patented and is currently seeking alternative sources of funding— having failed to obtain support from the public purse. “The academic research establishment pours large sums of money into basic research but not enough into so-called ‘translational research’. Unfortunately, patients are not helped when our ideas remain in the drawer. We have to get them into clinical practice,” Bading is convinced. 

12.05.2016 - 08:00