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Appreciating the value of science

No. 05 | 21/01/2020 | by Koh

By creating the new position of Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), the German Cancer Research Center is helping to ensure that research results find their way to clinical application – and to commercialization – more often and faster. The position has been filled by Rainer Wessel, an established expert with 25 years of experience as a manager in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector.

Rainer Wessel
© Jung/DKFZ

Today, more than half of all innovative substances no longer come from the laboratories of large pharmaceutical companies; instead, they are initially developed by academic researchers and in biotech firms. This is due to a fundamental change in drug development: Drugs used to be developed to treat a particular disease without looking at differences between people. In future, particularly for cancer patients, highly personalized treatment approaches will increasingly be introduced into clinical practice. That means that drug development is increasingly taking account of the individual variety of tumors and is more and more frequently based on close links between basic research and clinical research.

By creating the new position of Chief Innovation Officer, DKFZ is rising to this challenge and setting the course to ensure that results from its research laboratories find their way to clinical application – and to commercialization – more often and faster. "Our research laboratories create value: The results of cancer research are valuable for the patients and at the same time are very important from an economic point of view. Rainer Wessel has 25 years of experience as a manager in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector and is the ideal candidate to leverage these valuable results," remarked Ursula Weyrich, Administrative Director of DKFZ.

"Our aim is to identify and evaluate projects with translational potential at an early stage across the whole breadth of research at DKFZ. We not only look at drug development, but also at new diagnostic methods and increasingly at cancer prevention methods. For promising projects, we then aim to build sustainable bridges as an effective way of taking them from the world of academic research into new realms of industrial research and development," Rainer Wessel explained, outlining the goals of the Innovation Management division.

Suitable "bridges" include new start-ups in which scientists are involved: Here, highly specialized experts work on translating and commercializing their own research results. In doing so, they are more flexible and less averse to taking risks than the large pharmaceutical companies. DKFZ now aims to provide intensive support for these kinds of spin-offs by offering tailored advice and opening up financing options.

Wessel also plans to increase strategic partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry, similar to the long-standing successful cooperation between DKFZ and Bayer Healthcare.

Rainer Wessel studied biology in Münster and Heidelberg and obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Konstanz with a scholarship from the Boehringer Ingelheim Fund. He subsequently received a two-year scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to study in Osaka and Tokyo. Following international professional experience working at Boehringer Ingelheim and Qiagen in the field of patents and licensing, he became CEO of the biotech companies Axxima and Ganymed, where he was responsible for corporate development and financing. Before joining DKFZ, Rainer Wessel spent five years as director of the Ci3 leading-edge cluster focusing on cancer and infection research in the Rhine-Main region and as managing director of MIM-Deutschland GmbH, where he was responsible for advising technology firms.

A picture of Rainer Wessel is available for download: 

Note on use of images related to press releases
Use is free of charge. The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) permits one-time use in the context of reporting about the topic covered in the press release. Images have to be cited as follows: "Source: Jung/DKFZ".
Distribution of images to third parties is not permitted unless prior consent has been obtained from DKFZ's Press Office (phone: ++49-(0)6221 42 2854, E-mail: Any commercial use is prohibited.


With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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