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The anti-coronavirus cluster

The pharmaceutical industry in Germany has responded successfully to the coronavirus pandemic. One network in particular has distinguished itself.

Martin Orth, 26.07.2021
Biontech production in Marburg
Biontech production in Marburg © picture alliance/dpa

Never before has a vaccine been developed as swiftly as that against the coronavirus. This is thanks to the Mainz-based pharmaceutical company Biontech in cooperation with the US company Pfizer. They developed a highly effective and safe vaccine in less than a year and together put it on the market. In the past, that would have taken years, if not decades. The success story would probably not have been possible without two factors.

The cluster in the Rhine-Main area

Just as important as the rapid development of the vaccine is the fastest possible production and delivery for the vaccine. For this, the FrankfurtRhineMain metropolitan region furnishes the best prerequisites. The Darmstadt-based pharmaceutical company Merck supplies Biontech with the urgently needed lipids with which the mRNA active ingredient is safely conveyed into body cells after injection. The Mainz special glass manufacturer Schott produces the bottles made of borosilicate glass necessary for transport. The glass is very chemical and temperature-resistant and protects against interactions between medication and bottle. Frankfurt airport is in turn the largest in Europe in the air freight sector and one of the main hubs for international vaccine supplies worldwide.

Behring factory in Marburg (around 1930)
Behring factory in Marburg (around 1930) © picture-alliance/ dpa

The “pharmacy of the world”

The foundations for the success of the cluster can be found in history. At the beginning of the 20th century, Frankfurt was already known as the “pharmacy of the world”. The later Hoechst AG, based in what is now the Höchst district, produced the synthetic fever and pain-reliever Antipyrin as early as 1883. And with the first chemotherapeutic agent, Salvarsan, syphilis lost its horror. Paul Ehrlich cooperated with Hoechst and discovered the arsenic compound that killed the pathogen. Robert Koch, the discoverer of the tuberculosis pathogen, also had drugs produced on the Main. Emil Behring, the first Nobel Prize laureate for medicine in 1901, produced his healing serums against the infectious diseases diphtheria and tetanus in his own factories in Marburg, 80 kilometres north of Frankfurt. Today Biontech manufactures its new mRNA vaccine there, in the former Behring factory.


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