Innovationspreis Thüringen: Leibniz-HKI researchers nominated

Finalists can also win the KPMG Audience Award 2022

Microscopic image of fruiting bodies
The amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum forms fruiting bodies when food is scarce. Source: Falk Hillmann/Leibniz-HKI

The Leibniz-HKI entry "Amoebae as biotechnological chassis for the production of pharmaceutical compounds" by researchers Christin Reimer, Johann Kufs, Vito Valiante, Lars Regestein and Falk Hillmann made it on the shortlist of the "Innovationspreis Thüringen 2022".

Active ingredients from cannabis are on the verge of therapeutic use worldwide with a broad range of indications. Plant source material is disadvantageous to unsuitable for active pharmaceutical ingredients due to variations in yield and purity.

The Leibniz-HKI team of scientists has developed a groundbreaking biotechnological production platform that allows active ingredients of plant origin to be produced in the bioreactor with the quality and high yield required by pharmaceutical legislation. They use the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum as a production organism to produce olivetolic acid as a precursor of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol using an innovative process. Using genetically engineered amoebae as a production platform, the team has broken completely new ground.

Amoebae naturally have biosynthetic pathways similar to those of plants. Using molecular biology tools tailored for amoebae and specially developed by Falk Hillmann and Vito Valiante, the team succeeded in expressing a functional hybrid enzyme that realizes two catalytic steps in a single protein. This made it possible to produce olivetolic acid as an immediate and essential precursor of cannabinoids. With the biotechnological expertise of Lars Regestein, the process was transferred from laboratory scale to the bioreactor. The patented process opens up the possibility for the economic production of medicinal cannabinoids.

Every year, the Thuringia Innovation Award recognizes outstanding products, processes and services from Thuringia. The prize is awarded jointly by the Thuringian Ministry of Economics, Business and Digital Society, the Thuringian Foundation for Technology, Innovation and Research (STIFT), TÜV Thüringen e.V. and the Ernst Abbe Foundation. The award ceremony will take place on November 30, 2022 in the Weimarhalle in Weimar.

Finalists can also win the KPMG Audience Award. Everybody is welcome to participate and vote for their favorite entry by November 25.


Falk Hillmann
Johann Kufs
Lars Regestein
Christin Reimer
Vito Valiante