Governmental Vision

Biotechnology is the engine that will make North Rhine-Westphalia Germany's most innovative state.

Opinion By Minister President Jürgen Rüttgers

As Federal Research Minister, I introduced Germany as a potential biotechnology location at the BIO fair in New York in 1998. I had every reason to be pleased with the enthusiasm of the American media. "Germany is back!" they wrote. Back home, I was awarded the title "Entrepreneur of the Year," a distinction that made me particularly proud. After all, it is not the kind of award a politician receives often. And now, as minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, I can say that biotechnology is still one of my major concerns.

The region intersected by the rivers Rhine...

We have developed a strategy for the future of our state. It hinges on the mobilization of all the creative forces available. We want the best brains operating at the interfaces between science and research, technology and craftsmanship, trade, services, and industry to join forces and work together constructively. The point is that our future lies not in the mass production of straightforward products, but in the development of sophisticated, innovative solutions. By pursuing this course with open minds for new approaches and our traditional inventive skills we can create more wealth and enhance the quality of life.

Our goal is to make North Rhine-Westphalia knowledge-based and cosmopolitan. In doing so, we will be renewing the successful model of a social market economy, a model that has its origins here in our state. Social market economics has always focused on individuals, their abilities, and their needs. And this is what we intend to do in present-day North Rhine-Westphalia. Human creativity, ingenuity, and an inquiring approach to research are wellsprings that will never run dry. They are our crucial resources, all we have to do is make use of them.

My aim is to make this former stronghold of heavy industry into an internationally renowned high-technology location

Success in biotechnology takes time; stamina and staying-power are essential. At present we are reaping the rewards of the Bioregio competition that dates back to the mid 1990s, when I was Germany's research minister. Altogether, North Rhine-Westphalia is home to 170 biotechnology companies. And research on biotechnology and the life sciences is taking place at 11 universities, six universities of applied sciences, seven Max Planck Institutes, and the Center of Advanced European Studies and Research.

Proud as we are of the success story of biotechnology in North Rhine-Westphalia so far, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Although a great deal has been achieved, the region is still something of a "hidden champion" in the biotechnology sector. We have to do something to ensure that this champion becomes more visible and can develop further.

BIO.NRW, the state government's biotechnological innovation campaign, has started the ball rolling with a number of systematic measures. For example, the Cluster for Industrial Biotechnology harnesses the potential marshaled by big industrial outfits, small and medium-sized companies and science. In future, basic innovations in molecular biotechnology will pervade almost all branches of the economy to produce a knowledge-based bio-economy. North Rhine-Westphalia intends to step up its efforts to promote this development in selected fields, for example bio-energy.

In addition, we have a number of new projects in the pipeline. One is the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging in Cologne, now under construction and state-funded to the tune of €30 million. At the University of Bochum, a new European protein research center called PURE (Protein Research Unit Ruhr within Europe) will be exploiting the opportunities provided by protein research for early diagnosis of disease and molecular therapy. And to cite one final example, the new German Center for Research on Neurodegenerative Diseases is to be located in Bonn.

Developments so far indicate one thing very clearly. Biotechnological research opens up an abundance of new options. We have acted upon this insight and are now taking measures to ensure that they can be cultivated in the future as well.

Jürgen Rüttgers is the Prime Minister of the state of North Rhine- Westphalia. He was appointed in 2005. From 1994 to 1998, he was Federal Research Minister of Germany.

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?