Two Plant and Environmental Science researchers awarded annual Business Prizes at UCPH SCIENCE – University of Copenhagen

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07 November 2018

Two Plant and Environmental Science researchers awarded annual Business Prizes at UCPH SCIENCE

Business Prizes:

The Faculty of Science’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PLEN) has landed both of SCIENCE Business Prizes for 2018. The awards are presented to researchers with a knack for translating research into commercial collaboration or forging start-ups that generate employment and benefit society.

From left: Head of Department, PLEN, Svend Christensen, Associate Dean for Education Grete Bertelsen, Associate Dean for Research Morten Pejrup, Associate Dean for Private and Public Sector Services Erik Bisgaard Madsen, award winner professor Christian Kapel, Vicepresident Anna Skriver from Chr. Hansen and award winner postdoc Nethaji Gallage. Foto: Ali Roshanzamir.  

Besides their research and teaching, it is important for researchers to consider commercial pathways and private sector collaboration as opportunities arise. At their best, research results can be woven into collaborative alliances with businesses, government entities or start-ups that contribute to solving major social challenges while creating new jobs.

This is precisely what was achieved by this year's Business Prize recipients, both who are researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PLEN). In addition to their solid research and teaching, they have demonstrated great talent as private sector entrepreneurs.  

The two researchers are: Professor Christian Kapel, recipient of the SCIENCE Business Prize 2018, and Postdoc Nethaji Gallage, recipient of the SCIENCE Business Prize for Young Researchers 2018. Each prize comes with 75. 000 Danish kroner (ca. EUR 10 000).

According to Anne Skriver, Vice President of Global Application Food Cultures & Enzymes at Christian Hansen, entrepreneurial researchers at the University of Copenhagen and other higher education institutions are greatly needed. Skriver presented the 2018 Business Prizes at SCIENCE’s annual Employer Panel meeting.

"Basic and commercially applicable research both have a role at universities. This is what we in the business community need, and what we in Denmark need – to generate knowledge, economic growth and employment. It is important for there to be interplay between the best of both worlds," stated Chr. Hansen’s Anne Skriver in her address to the two prize winners.

When the immune system gets out of control
Professor Christian Kapel was awarded the SCIENCE Business Prize 2018 for founding the spin-out company, ParaTech A/S, in an exceptional teamwork that lead up to it. The company has developed ä biopharmaceutical, based upon the hypothesis that microorganisms can prevent autoimmune diseases. (when a body's immune system attacks the body, cells, causing serius illness). The research has led ParaTech to raise 23 million kroner for clinical phase 2 trial of a biological drug for the treatment of ulcerative cilitis (bleeding intestinal inflammation).

About the prize, Professor Christian Kapel says:

"The prize wonderfully reflects that UCPH’s fully supports in carrying research from hypothesis over experimental testing to final application. And, that starting a business can go hand-in-hand with being an active researcher and teacher. The prize and purse will be used to develop model systems to study how microorganisms can bring balance to the intestine."

The assessment Committee, consisting of external collaborators Anne Skriver of Chr. Hansen, Carsten Gomard, CEO of Netcompany, and Senior R&D Manager at Arla Foods Henrik Jørgen Andersen, underscored that Christian Kapel received the prize, because he is a good role model for others at The Faculty of SCIENCE , brought important knowledge into play beyond the university and because he has been an active communicator, through his teaching and in the media.

Inspiration for younger researchers
The second prize - the SCIENCE Business Prize for Young Researchers 2018 – was awarded to Postdoc Nethaji Gallage, also of UCPH’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PLEN).

Gallage received the award for founding Octarine Bio. The start-up works with skin products based on synthetic biology and fermentation. In addition to her Postdoc employment at PLEN, she works part-time at River Stone Biotech - a company that she also helped found.   

 

Regarding her acceptance of the prize, Nethaji Gallage says:

"I am both overwhelmed and very proud to receive the prize. Ever since having a student job as a research assistant at Novozymes, I have been inspired by how science can be translated into usefulness in "the real world". Commercializing research appeals to me, which I have been able to do via my start-up, Octarine Bio. I hope that the prize will brighten the spotlight on bridge-building between the worlds of academia and entrepreneurship and serve as a great source of inspiration for younger scholars to follow in my footsteps."

The assessment committee’s statement reads: "In addition to launching a start-up, she has also demonstrated how excellent research can be commercialized and thereby overcome the difficult steps from the laboratory to product. Finally, Nethaji teaches bio-entrepreneurship to young researchers. Through her work at PLEN, Nethaji has also been involved with making the sustainable vanillin production possible. Vanillin is used in ice cream and chocolate cream and 99 percent of the substances currently in use are by-products of a highly polluting petrochemicals industry".  

Good collaboration is the way forward
SCIENCE’s Business Prize has been awarded in both categories since 2014. This year, nineteen researchers from nine separate departments were nominated for the prize. PLEN earned both.

The two Business Prizes were presented alongside a joint meeting of SCIENCE’s employer panels.  

Associate Dean for Private and Public Sector Services, Erik Bisgaard Madsen, had this to say:

"An important part of UCPH’s strategy 'Talent and Collaboration', is that we espouse a day-to-day focus on commercial collaboration and innovation. UCPH activities deliver great value to society, and the university needs to get even better at demonstrating the value of research and innovation, through corporate partnerships and spin-outs.