of Veterinary Medicine
Today began with a visit to Riemser Arzneimittel AG, a mid-sized pharmaceutical company near the Riems Island. From 1910-1990, the company was the commercial portion of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute Riems Island and has been its own entity since then. The company was originally founded to produce the foot and mouth disease vaccine that had been developed on the island. Now, the foot and mouth vaccine is produced and stored on the island itself, and Riemser has shifted its focus to other products.
We began with a tour of the facilities. Our guide was Helmut Pick who is part of the Riemser management team. When considering the ingredients in a vaccine, what do you think is often overlooked? The water in the bottle! We began in the water purification room and learned that European vaccines required both reverse osmosis and distillation of the water that is used. We also learned about the different classes of clean rooms used in their vaccine production and the procedures they use.
Riemser only produces a vaccine for one virus at a time. They clean everything when switching to a new vaccine, and they typically work on one vaccine for 8 weeks before switching to another. Their production is based on demand and it takes 3 to 4 months for an order to be completed. Production of a brand new vaccine can take between 1 and 10 years once the vaccine has been developed in a lab. During our tour, we also saw the storage containers for their cell lines and stock viruses. Both are stored in liquid nitrogen at -193oC! After the tour, we watched a video about the Riemser classical swine fever vaccine for wild boars. In Germany, it is illegal to vaccinate domestic swine for classical swine fever but the disease is still a problem in the wild boar population. Riemser produces a bait vaccine that wild boars can eat. However, only 5% of the company’s profit is from their animal health division. Dr. Guth (CFO) explained that the majority of Riemser’s profit is derived from their human pharmaceuticals. The profitability of animal-use pharmaceuticals is an important issue in veterinary medicine and pharmaceutical production in the United States as well and is responsible for the limited development of drugs intended for animal (especially livestock) use. Dr. Guth also introduced us to the concept of a “middelstand” company. This term refers to small to middle-sized family owned businesses and this business model is much more prevalent in Germany than it is in the United States. We also got to visit the veterinary history museum that Riemser has established. They have many pieces of old equipment from Riems Island that had been used for research as well as a desk that Loeffler used. The museum also included a GRD-era (the German Democratic Republic, or Communist government) researcher who provided personal insight into the government’s role in promoting vaccine production and setting the bar for research and production. While the employees at that time were not necessarily “free” to speak their honest opinions about the government or society, we garnered the impression that there was quite the spark of independence and innovation that almost seemed antithesis to the Communist movement yet fundamental to a scientist. As we left Riemser, we took a group picture in front of their guinea pig memorial. Why a memorial to guinea pigs? Apparently, they were used as the small animal model for foot and mouth disease experiments. Riemser built a memorial to commemorate their contribution to the development of the FMD vaccine. Though it might sound strange, I think it’s great to remember the contributions of laboratory animals to our scientific advances.
After Riemser, we headed to a nearby beach town to touch the Baltic Sea and grab some ice cream to prepare for our drive back to Berlin.
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