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Mail order service for researchers as a business idea

No. 57 | 08/11/2021 | by Koh

Scientists are obliged to make all the reagents cited in their specialist publications available to their colleagues throughout the world. These include what are known as plasmids – ring-shaped DNA molecules that are vital for molecular biology research. A new company called the European Plasmid Repository GmbH has been set up at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) to allow researchers to deposit their plasmids free of charge. The company ships the plasmids across the globe, for which it charges customers a fee.

© Anspach/DKFZ

Researchers who publish papers in scientific journals are obliged to make their specific research reagents available to colleagues throughout the world upon request. These reagents include cell lines, antibodies, and plasmids, for example. These ring-shaped DNA molecules are a key tool in almost all experiments in the field of molecular biology. Scientists use them to multiply individual genes and to transfer them from one organism to another.

Preparing and shipping these reagents entails costs and effort for the institution sending them – for frozen storage, for the sometimes quite elaborate packaging, and for the necessary forms. In particular, the associated necessary contractual agreements to protect the intellectual property of the DKFZ and its employees involve considerable administrative effort.

Aurelio Teleman, head of a research division at the DKFZ, had the idea of setting up a company together with the DKFZ to do this work for the scientists and research institutions. The plan is for researchers to be able to deposit their plasmids free of charge at the European Plasmid Repository (EPR) GmbH and for the company to forward them upon request in return for a fee.

There are already organizations offering a similar service; the main one is based in the USA. However, Teleman initially hopes to primarily attract researchers from the DKFZ and other research institutions based in Heidelberg. "It is much easier for scientists in Heidelberg to entrust their plasmids to us rather than having to go to the effort of sending them abroad. We meet all the European data protection requirements and also routinely ensure that material transfer agreements (MTAs) are signed governing the rights of use," he explained. By offering this service, the EPR ensures that no materials are released before issues related to intellectual property and hence any financial returns are clarified.

The declared goal is to soon convince other European and international scientists beyond the DKFZ to deposit their plasmids at the ERP. Customers are charged the same amount as they would pay to established non-profit firms. The repository began operating on October 1 and will be using rooms and equipment belong to the DKFZ for a period of two years to test the business model and to grow until it is large enough to leave this "incubation phase" and to become entirely independent in new premises.

Contact European Plasmid Repository (EPR) GmbH: 


The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are 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 all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

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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