SaxoCell is one of the seven clusters located across Germany awarded in the first round of the Clusters4Future competition hosted by the German Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF). Each of the seven clusters will receive up to €15 million in three-year funding periods for up to nine years.
BMBF created Clusters4Future to accelerate the transfer of excellent research to everyday life and to strengthen local economies. The initiative aims to create new interdisciplinary industries in niches that have the most impact for the future of society. This vision is built upon funding sustainable regional networks that combine academic and industry partners.
SaxoCell is led by TU Dresden, where scientists have made and patented discoveries in gene editing, chimeric antigen receptors, and novel therapeutic cell sources. SaxoCell’s strength lies in teaming up TU Dresden’s excellence in science and medicine with that of the Leipzig University and the technical and manufacturing innovation at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (Fraunhofer IZI) in Leipzig. The cooperation across the state with additional contribution from Chemnitz, Europe’s 2025 Capital for Culture, and the strong endorsement of SaxoCell by the Saxonian government, creates an extremely attractive environment for local start-ups, national and international industry to step into. “I like to use the term ‘effervescent’ when describing SaxoCell’s melting pot,” says Martin Bornhäuser, clinician, co-speaker for SaxoCell at TU Dresden.
SaxoCell focusses on the revolutionary discoveries in gene editing that allowed for development of gene edited cells, in particular immune cells that when engineered with specific receptors can eradicate tumor and other disease-causing cells.
Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs) are key in making living drugs in the SaxoCell vision. CARs can redirect the immune system to almost any target and together with genetic engineering of either the patient’s own cells or cells that can be used for all patients, it is theoretically possible to correct any disease.
So far, CARs have been used in T lymphocytes to treat certain types of lymphoma. SaxoCell will increase the flexibility of CAR-based therapies by expanding the use of CAR technology to other cell types such as NK cells, macrophages and regulatory T cells. At the moment, genetic engineering is only used to correct very rare diseases. Above all, SaxoCell wants to make gene edited cell therapies affordable so that it becomes a standard therapeutic option. To do this, it is developing novel, less expensive methods to introduce genetic changes to cells and investing into the automation and industrialisation of the manufacturing processes.
Ultimately, SaxoCell wants to create a sustainable living medicine industry in Saxony for Germany and Europe. An industry producing tailor-made cells that are engineered with a variety of molecular tools to fight incurable diseases. Living medicine is not just a path to curative medicine, but also an industry with a lucrative future. The BMBF has given SaxoCell a mandate to be one of the European Hubs for the science and technology of Living Medicine so that Saxony will be part of this future.
Ezio Bonifacio is the speaker for the SaxoCell cluster and is at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TU Dresden.