Rebecca Matthes

Five questions for Rebecca Matthes

Mainz is a thriving life science hub thanks to young, ambitious scientists who come to develop their ideas and visions and realize them in cutting-edge projects. Dr. Rebecca Matthes is one of these scientists. Together with Dr. Philip Dreier and Prof. Holger Frey, she aims to make the Advylop project in Mainz a success. We asked Dr. Matthes to describe her experiences and goals.

How important do you think the life science and biotechnology sector is for Mainz?

MATTHES: There are few places in Germany that have a similar breadth of medical, pharmaceutical and chemical expertise as Mainz. The city is also in the heart of the Rhine-Main area, an economically strong industrial region that has a long tradition of producing leading chemical and pharmaceutical companies. These location advantages mean that Mainz offers ideal conditions for making a real difference to society, just like BioNTech recently did with its groundbreaking coronavirus vaccine. It goes without saying that investment in the life science and biotechnology sector also generates significant financial returns for Mainz — and will continue to do so in future.

What part can Advylop play in all this?

MATTHES: You could say we are a Mainz project through and through, because we take advantage of the full breadth of expertise that the location has to offer. Dr. Philip Dreier and I wrote our bachelor’s and master’s theses and earned our doctorate at the university here. We had the privilege of benefiting from outstanding training, which was rounded out by international experience from studying abroad. Under the supervision of Prof. Holger Frey, who came to Mainz in 2001 and became a professor at the city’s Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU) in 2002, our team at JGU were able to patent an innovative pharmaceutical polymer concept. 
Our goal is to show young scientists that they too can take the journey from studying to bringing their own idea to market in Mainz.

What makes the location so attractive to start-ups and businesses?

MATTHES: Both the industrial and academic landscapes in the Rhine-Main area provide an optimum environment for the chemical sector in general, and for biotechnology in particular. With many global companies in the region and excellent university and university hospital infrastructure, as well as the Max Planck and Fraunhofer Institutes, the location is ideal for turning research into results. The large student population also gives employers outstanding access to highly qualified graduates. 
However, one criticism I have is that the city of Mainz and the state of Rhineland-Palatinate needs to do much more to improve conditions here for research-based start-ups. For example, there is currently not enough laboratory space outside of the university, and JGU should have more capacity to provide strategic advice to young teams of people looking to start businesses. Other German states are already well ahead of us in other areas too, such as providing entrepreneurs with financial assistance in the form of grants or similar subsidies.

Along with the hard location factors, people always mention the “Mainzvibes,” the special feeling of living in Mainz, as one of the city’s USPs. What does this mean to you?

MATTHES: I have found Mainz to be a very lively and young city, and have felt very at home here for many years. Criteria such as these are crucial for start-ups in particular, because they want to attract and retain good employees. Especially in the start-up environment, I think factors like the working atmosphere, team spirit, and an attractive location count for more than just pay. Mainz is the kind of location that makes it easy for start-ups to convey this particular feeling to potential applicants.

Where do you see Mainz as a life science and biotechnology hub in ten years?

MATTHES: We hope that Mainz can leverage and build on BioNTech’s huge success and establish itself as a life science hub in the long term. The city is in a great position at the moment, but needs to move fast in the right direction. That is why we are delighted to see how things are currently developing. If Mainz has managed in ten years’ time to become a magnet for young teams of start-ups, as well as for medium-sized life science companies in the Rhine-Main area, we will be able to say that the efforts being made right now were successful. The city faces fierce competition from the metropolitan region spanning Heidelberg, Ludwigshafen and Mannheim, which has a similarly high level of expertise in natural and life sciences, as well as globally renowned establishments such as the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University. The steps taken there almost two decades ago to promote start-up projects in these sectors could serve as inspiration for us.