The production of the medical product Chitosan began in the form of a sole proprietorship 2005. This was followed by the foundation of the limited company (GmbH) in 2006 and the growth of a company that began in an individual laboratory and now occupies half a storey, all at the Weinberg campus of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. And this means that the company‘s founder, Katja Richter, has been working at the location in Halle for more than 13 years. Together with her team, she produces Chitin, Chitosan and their derivative products, on the one hand in the form of commissioned work for customers, while on the other, Heppe Medical Chitosan also carries out its own research in the area of Chitosan.
Despite having completed her studies in Braunschweig and living in Leipzig, Katja Richter chose Halle as the location for her company. The excellent financial support from the "univations" service for new business start-ups, the opportunities for cooperation and the benefits offered by the compact structures available at the location were all decisive to her decision.
Today, Heppe Medical Chitosan is the world leader for Chitin and Chitosan, it develops and markets the biopolymers, and it refines the raw materials into highly pure structural and bonding materials for a wide variety of products and applications.
Chitosan as an all-purpose product in the field of medicine
The projects that Katja Richter’s completed during her studies in the area of drug delivery systems focusing on "intestinal blood" and the "blood-brain barrier" quickly saw her focusing on the substance group of Chitosan. In the case of medicines which fight tumours for instance , it is important that even the smallest amounts of the medicine act as effectively as possible in the body in order to minimise the associated side effects. Chitosan is absolutely ideal for such purposes, as it helps active substances to be transported better into the body and therefore, the dosage of the medicine is reduced.
Since it was frequently the case that the Chitosan which was on the market at the time did not suit the research, either because it was not pure enough or did not have the perfect molecular composition, Katja Richter began to work on the technology in the interests of producing the ideal, and above all else, the consistently same form of Chitosan. Depending on the way in which Chitosan is configured, it has different properties. The idea of producing a proprietary drug delivery system using Chitosan was eventually abandoned, however, and HMC has specialised on business with customers, acting as a supplier of raw materials to the pharmaceutical industry.
The production of Chitin and its refinement into Chitosan
Chitin is a vegetable poly-saccharide which is derived from the exoskeleton of crab shells, i.e. the waste from the crab fishing industry. After its purification, in which foreign matter is removed from the shell, a chemical group is gleaned from the remaining Chitin so that the Chitosan becomes active.
"In terms of what we do and the extent to which we do it, we are unique on the world market. We have made it our task to be able to produce very specific Chitosan, which means we offer more than 100 varieties of Chitosan for sale. Our competitors usually have 3 to 4. That genuinely makes us unique.”
Heppe Medical Chitosan serves both small and medium-sized companies as well as global corporations: most of its customers are in America and Asia – especially China, Korea, Japan as wholesale markets – but the company from Halle (Saale) is also represented throughout Europe.
The core area of business of Heppe Medical Chitosan is the supply of raw materials. Another specialist field of HMC, however, is the manufacturing of derivatives: on the one hand, as proprietary developments from its own research, and on the other hand, on behalf of companies who approach Katja Richter and her team as they are interested in manufacturing the product. In this respect, HMC has the laboratory capacity for being able to scale up processes under clean room conditions, and to go from a 2g volume to 500g, for example.
The third focus of HMC is on proprietary research in terms of both the production and application of Chitosan. In particular, this relates to fibre materials and coatings with Chitosan in the context of medicine.
"Chitosan is actually a world market product". It is universally usable and therefore of interest for almost every branch of industry. It can be used in cosmetics because it has a skin-nurturing and water-storing effect, and it is easily bacterio-static, which means a lesser amount of preservative is necessary to make a cream durable, for example. In the area of medicine, it stops bleeding and supports tissue repair, which is why Chitosan is already used in dressings and as a fibre in suture materials. The textile industry, agriculture and waste-water technology also offer potential uses for this universal substance. The key area, however, is the field of medicine and pharmaceuticals, since in this area, exacting and precision work is required in order to obtain a Chitosan which is as pure as possible. And it is the many years of expertise surrounding Chitosan that has made Heppe Medical Chitosan the world market leader in this field.
"That's also the motivation for me. To be able to go into a pharmacy and say “I had a part in that product”. And by that I don’t mean that my name has to be on the product. Just that I’ve been able to help people with it.”