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EXPERTISE AND FORESIGHT – 15 SUCCESSFUL YEARS IN OPHTHALMOLOGY

Steinbeis experts mark anniversary at Tübingen University

In October, the department of ophthalmology at Tübingen University Hospital celebrated a “biological cell division.” eyetrial, the Steinbeis Transfer Center at the department of ophthalmology headed up by Prof. Dr. med. Barbara Wilhelm and Dr. med. Tobias Peters, joined comrades and other companions to look back on 15 highly successful years of knowledge transfer.

In a very personal video, Prof. Dr. med. Eberhart Zrenner ran through the success story of the Steinbeis center. Fifteen years ago, setting up the organization was not a simple formality. It took a lot of courage from everyone involved. So how did it all start? In 1998, the eye clinic in Tübingen and one of its employees, Eberhart Zrenner, faced a number of challenges. There was a growing corpus of studies on ophthalmology, new regulations that had to be respected, and everyone expected ultimate quality. But what is the best way to organize and coordinate work when interacting with pharmaceutical companies as part of the everyday activities of a university hospital? How should finances be secured? And how does one deliver value for science and business at the same time? To take on these challenges, Zrenner banked on a variety of useful insights he had gained at his Steinbeis Transfer Center for Biomedical Technology and Function Testing, which he had learned to use as the ideal bridge between the world of academia and the world of business.

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The success of a transfer center depends strongly on the capabilities of its staff, but Zrenner had a lucky break and soon got to know Barbara Wilhelm. Zrenner first carried out an ophthalmology study at a company in 1999 and within a couple of years, the field had become so successful that the next step had to be to set up an independent Steinbeis Enterprise – the former center for “autonomous nervous systems” under the management of Wilhelm. The experts were accompanied on their new journey by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Sylvia Rohr, who played an important role in backing and supporting the new enterprise as a member of Steinbeis management. In 2004, Wilhelm started working with Tobias Peters and before long, the duo acted as joint managers in extending the reach of the company. In 2009, the center was renamed and became the current Steinbeis Transfer Center eyetrial, under the department of ophthalmology. At the same time, it has grown into a highly respected study center for ophthalmology in Germany.

Today, the center is responsible for the entire department of ophthalmology at Tübingen with a heavy focus on conducting clinical studies. Translational aspects of studies also play an important role. The center currently employs 15 people, and their competence and commitment have turned the center into a successful business enterprise. It’s win-win for everyone: The Steinbeis Transfer Center offers the full gamut of entrepreneurial transfer options and is self-funding; aside from benefiting from the expertise offered by its people, the Department of Ophthalmology benefits from the acquired third-party funding. Hospital director Prof. Dr. med. Karl Ulrich Bartz-Schmidt and Prof. Dr. Marius Ueffing, director of the research institute, were keen to express their gratitude that the study center was set up, plus the important translational role played by the eyetrial Steinbeis Transfer Center in applying new therapeutic developments to patient practice.

The competence held by the team is now well known beyond Tübingen University. The German Ophthalmological Society has now transferred the chair of the working group for clinical study centers to Barbara Wilhelm, and thus also the remit of fostering greater consistency within the ophthalmic study culture in Germany.

In 2015, the Steinbeis Foundation also honored the outstanding success of project work at the center with the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award. This award was bestowed for the LUVIS project, which was carried out in collaboration with Visus GmbH and resulted in standardized conditions for contrast sensitivity testing.

At a get-together organized to mark the anniversary, a large number of guests were in attendance to offer congratulations and look backward and forward with Wilhelm and Peters. They also used the occasion to celebrate 15 – or more like 20 – years of success with Steinbeis. Both of the Steinbeis directors joined Zrenner in underscoring their gratitude for the courage and commitment of everyone in making a success out of the center: The university hospital and the department afforded the center a high degree of freedom and trust, Steinbeis gave its support to the formation of a completely new kind of business model, and – last but not least – all employees at the center struck exactly the right balance between thinking and acting simultaneously as scientists and entrepreneurs – ideal prerequisites for the next 15 years (at least). The way ahead is already known. On November 1, Peters became the sole director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center and Wilhelm will continue to support the work of the center as his deputy.