Knowledge transfer of the scientific results in Pathogen- Combat to European SMEs

Posted: 26 August 2010 | Klaus Hadwiger & Susanne Braun, University of Stuttgart, Institute of Economics and Law | No comments yet

PathogenCombat is an integrated project under the EU 6th Framework Programme which uses a holistic, multidisciplinary approach towards threats from new/emerging pathogens in the entire food chain. The project started on 1 April 2005 and ran until April 2010 with the full title: “Control and prevention of emerging and future pathogens at cellular and molecular level throughout the food chain.”

The unique achievements of all areas in which the team has worked during the time of the project can briefly be described as follows:

PathogenCombat is an integrated project under the EU 6th Framework Programme which uses a holistic, multidisciplinary approach towards threats from new/emerging pathogens in the entire food chain. The project started on 1 April 2005 and ran until April 2010 with the full title: “Control and prevention of emerging and future pathogens at cellular and molecular level throughout the food chain.” The unique achievements of all areas in which the team has worked during the time of the project can briefly be described as follows:

PathogenCombat is an integrated project under the EU 6th Framework Programme which uses a holistic, multidisciplinary approach towards threats from new/emerging pathogens in the entire food chain. The project started on 1 April 2005 and ran until April 2010 with the full title: “Control and prevention of emerging and future pathogens at cellular and molecular level throughout the food chain.”

The unique achievements of all areas in which the team has worked during the time of the project can briefly be described as follows:

I New biotechnological platforms

Novel methods have been developed to analyse the interactions at cellular and molecular level between pathogens and food and feed matrices and contact surfaces in the food chain, including the intestinal tract of farm animals. Also, we worked out the mechanisms by which pathogens enter, adapt, persist and express virulence in the food chain. The focus has been on Fluorescence Ration Imaging Microscopy, atomic force microscopy, functional genomics and functional mammalian cell models.

II Novel molecular approaches to understand and to combat emerging pathogens

For the pathogens included, main attention was given to the detection methods and virulence expression.

III Rapid and meaningful detection methods are important

Therefore molecular biology cultureindependent techniques have been developed for pathogens included in the project. The methods will not only report numbers, but include a new approach to estimate viability and virulence of pathogens throughout the food chain.

IV Virulence expression in food matrices

A novel strategy for food formulation, food preservation and quantitative risk assessment was established.

V Methods for breaking the transmission of pathogens along the food chain

The objective was to prevent cross contamination by hygienic design to close the present gap between technology and hygiene and development of cleaning and disinfection procedures to remove biofilms in the food chain. In addition, the inactivation of pathogens by mild processing techniques (e.g. organic acids, intense UV light pulses and hydrostatic pressure) was an overall aim. Also, new protective and probiotic cultures for control or elimination of pathogens, including viruses, in the food chain have been identified.

VI Mammalian functional cell models

Cell models have been developed for pigs, chicken and ruminants and applied in host-pathogen interactions and a selection of protective and probiotic cultures to inactivate pathogens, including viruses. This is a new opportunity for determinations of doseresponse and risk assessment.

VII Food Safety Management

Diagnostic instruments and tools have been developed for Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME’s) for identification of tech – nological and managerial interventions which can improve food safety management systems (FSMS) and lead to integration of the new knowledge and methods developed in PathogenCombat. A concept of web-based FSMS support systems has been developed.

VIII Interaction with food-producing SMEs

Transfer to the food industry of knowledge, methods and tools as well as the validation and testing of the applicability of new methods and tools developed is currently in progress at SME’s.

IX Consumers, the food industry and the regulatory bodies in Europe

The consumer’s understanding of key food safety issues has been evaluated and effective ways of communicating results are being assessed. A strategy for interaction and exchange of information with the food industry and regulatory agencies has been established, using a comprehensive network as basis for dissemination and knowledge transfer.

Knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer is defined as the problem of transferring knowledge between different organisations or from one part of an organisation to another part of the same organisation. In other words, knowledge transfer is the gateway for the transfer of knowledge between donating and receiving entities. In most cases, the donor is a public organisation, like a university or research institute, while the receiving entity, which often has interest in commercialising the knowledge, is a company. Furthermore, knowledge transfer can be seen as a more general term, describing the distribution of knowledge through human beings. This approach focuses on characteristics of communication between experts and the person that receives the knowledge. Despite the different views, knowledge transfer is often hindered by a variety of issues. Nowadays, removal of these barriers and the improvement of knowledge transfer are seen as a main driver of economic growth.

Companies are classified as SMEs by the European Union if the number of their employees does not exceed 250 and if they are independent from large companies. In addition, their annual turnover may not be beyond EUR 50 million, or their annual balance sheet beyond EUR 43 million. SMEs are divided into three subcategories: micro-enterprises with 10 or less employees, small enterprises with 10 to 49 employees and medium enterprises with 50 to 249 employees. The importance of tech – nology transfer is obvious when one takes into account that 98.8 per cent of all European enterprises are in fact SMEs and they provide 67 per cent of all jobs in the private sector. Moreover, 91.5 per cent of SMEs are in fact micro-enterprises with less than 10 employees.

The different industrial branches depend on this external knowledge on a varying degree. The food industry in the European Union, which consists mainly of SMEs with 10 or less employees, is heavily dependent on this knowledge due to a lack of resources to carry out any research and development activity. It is estimated that 70 per cent of all SMEs of the food sector do not carry out any kind of research activity. In addition to that, this industry has to deal with the demand for safer products and higher quality, as well as a high competition. To cope with these challenges, new technologies have to be introduced. In this context, the distribution of knowledge transfer has become an important subject of scientific research, as well as in economic and public policy.

Obstacles in knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer is hampered in a variety of ways. Both donors and receiving entities of knowledge can be the reason for stopping the transfer and implementation of knowledge and technology.

Firstly, the knowledge donor should have the willingness to share his knowledge with a third party. Knowledge, as a property of some worth, is nothing to give away easily because it is often perceived as earned by hard work and years of research. A scientist who publishes his findings in scientific papers will clearly receive a reward in form of reputation. In the process of technology transfer, the benefits can be less evident. Whichever form of cooperation is chosen, important research results have to be given away, often before publishing. As a consequence, it is very important to provide an appropriate reward for sharing knowledge. It has to be very clear that the receiving entity and the knowledge donor will equally benefit from this process. It is important that both partners build up their relationship based on trust.

Research results will not find their way to the enterprises that may need them; especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that cannot afford to conduct research on their own. The reason for this is the barrier between entrepreneur and specialists. The food sector, for example, consists mainly of SMEs of five to ten employees. Most entrepreneurs and managers in these SMEs do not have an academic degree and most of them would not have the knowledge on how to obtain scientific information. Even if they know how to obtain new scientific findings, by either scientific articles or personal communication, it is unlikely that a non-specialist can understand and digest this information – partly due to the fact that scientific language is very hard to comprehend without appropriate training. In addition, to comprehend a scientific article, good background knowledge is required that only a specialist in this field of activity can have.

While many large enterprises have dedicated structures that deal with knowledge transfer, like scientific trained employees or research departments, most SMEs lack employees who have an understanding of the process of knowledge transfer, as well as knowledge processing. In fact, enterprises relying mostly on external knowledge have many problems receiving and processing it. This disadvantage can be counteracted by choosing the right presentation form. Here, the only possibility is the knowledge transfer through extensive workshops and intensive assistance to the receiving partner.

An additional problem is the language barrier, which often represents the main barrier of knowledge transfer. Currently, English is the language for science and business, and most scientific articles, workshops or meetings are either written or held in English. The English language is widespread across the world; however, notably in small food producing companies, there are people who do not have the language skills to read and fluently communicate in English on the required level. The first and most obvious step to ease and stimulate the knowledge transfer process would be the translation of the English works into the local language. This would give the possibility for many SMEs with employees of lower educational backgrounds to obtain critical knowledge.

Communicated in the local language, new techniques and methodologies can be transferred more thoroughly and can be successful on different levels, as a consultancy approach on the company level (micro) and as a sector approach on the association level (macro). The micro approach uses one-to-one communication, where specialists (preferably mediators, who know both sides) personally train the employees or owners of a given company in new methods and go along with the company until a specific innovation is accomplished. The macro approach focuses on reaching as many companies as possible, which is best achieved through training workshops for sector specific associations who then pass the knowledge gained via their established networks onto their member companies.

Both approaches have pros and cons, and it is depending on funding and focus, which one will be favoured. Table 1 summarises the relations.

In other words, the consultancy approach is very effective but less efficient, whereas the sector approach is very cost efficient but less effective in turning scientific results into measurable innovations within a given company.

In PathogenCombat, both strategies have been investigated and realised. The next section describes examples of knowledge transfer activities in PathogenCombat which have proven to be especially successful.

The contribution of PathogenCombat to European knowledge transfer

The implementation and transfer of new scientific findings during the project has been a priority task from the beginning. The distribution of knowledge on the macro level was accomplished through different approaches:


A widespread network of contacts throughout the European Union was established, consisting of SMEs, industry, research institutions, government agencies and associations related to the food sector. A database with several thousands of addresses is created, maintained and constantly extended during the course of the project.

The PathogenCombat Newsflash was created and published throughout the Network as a source of up-to-date information for the food industry. This includes results of state of the art research, current national and Pan-European developments and upcoming events like workshops and meetings.

In addition, a web portal was established as contact point for SMEs. The webpage offers a wide range of useful information.


Workshops organised by PathogenCombat contribute greatly to the process of knowledge transfer. These are open to SMEs, scientists and organisations interested in the topics of food safety, food quality and food processing. They allow for personal contact and communication between knowledge donors and receiving entities.

Special attention was paid to the problem of the language barrier and the specific requirements of SMEs in the food sector. The collaboration with local partners and associations provided valuable insight in the ‘hot’ topics for the local SMEs and their expectations. Workshops held entirely in the local language added to a successful transfer of research.

One example was our workshop ‘Microbiologie et Hygiène: des nouveautés pour les PME françaises’. The workshop took place in Paris, France in cooperation with our partner AFSSA, and the French SME associations CERVIA and ACTIA. We regard this common action with the involved French associations as a central factor for the success of this event. Besides their financial contributions, the knowledge about the local markets and the special requirements of the French food industry contributed significantly to the choice of the right topics and thus to the overall success of the event. The workshop was held entirely in French and the topics were selected according to a survey made by our partner associations.

Another example is a workshop with the title ‘How to improve the food safety of my products’ which was held at the University of Burgos, Spain in June 2009. It was organised in cooperation with EHEDG (European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group) and several national and regional Spanish food associations. It was held in English and Spanish, with simultaneous translation provided.

The inclusion of national and regional associations and networks has proven to be a very successful means of knowledge transfer. This became evident with a much higher attendance of SMEs at these workshops, compared to ‘only’ scientific conferences. The contribution and inclusion of associations is most valuable since they deliver sector specific information and also assist in advertising of the event.

To include other EU funded projects and networks in our dissemination activities, Mediator Training in March 2010 in Brussels, Belgium was implemented. We focused on the transfer of novel research results from PathogenCombat to the Techno Scientific Mediators (TSM) from the FP6 EU project TRUEFOOD. This transfer included the exchange of Best Practices in knowledge transfer with discussions about future actions. The workshop was finished with agreements on further cooperation between the two projects, especially in the field of science transfer and dissemination.



Baardseth, P., Dalen, GA., Tandberg, A., 1999; Innovation/technology transfer to food SMEs; Trends in food science & technology 10, 234-238

Debackere, K., Veugelers, R., 2005, The role of academic technology transfer organizations in improving industry science links; Research Policy, 34 (3), 321-342

European Commission, 2008; SME Success Stories in the area of Food Agriculture and Fisheries and Biotechnology (EUR 23612EN), 14-15

Feller, I., 1990; Universities as engines of R&D based economic growth: they think they can, Research Policy 19, 349–355

Kaufmann, A., Tödling,F., Science–industry interaction in the process of innovation: the importance of boundary-crossing between systems; Research Policy, 30, 791–804

Kingsley, G., Bozeman, B., Coker, K., 1996, Technology transfer and absorption: an R&D value mapping approach; Research Policy 25, 967–995

Mansfield, E. and Lee, J.Y., 1996; The modern university: contributor to industrial innovation and recipient of industrial R&D support; Research Policy 25, 1047–1058

Mansfield., 1991, Academic research and industrial innovations, Research Policy 26, 773–776

Meyer-Krahmer, F. and Schmoch, U., 1998. Science-based technologies: university–industry interactions in four fields; Research Policy 27, 835–851

Mowery, D.C., Sampat, B.N., 2005, Universities in national innovation systems, The Oxford Handbook of Innovation, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 209–239

Paula E. Stephan, 2001, Educational Implications of University–Industry Technology Transfer; The Journal of Technology Transfer 26 (3), 199-205

Rothwell, R., 1992, Successful industrial innovation – Critical factors for the 1990s, R&D Management 22, 221–239

Santoro and Chakrabarti, 2002, Firm size and technology centrality in industry–university interactions, Research Policy 31, 1163–1180

Traill, W., Meulenberg, M., 2002, Innovation in the food industry; Agribusiness 18 (1), 1 – 21

Von Hippel, E., 1988; The Sources of Innovation; Oxford University Press, Oxford

About the authors

Klaus Hadwiger

Klaus Hadwiger has a Masters degree in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Stuttgart, Germany, and is specialised in risk sociology and European research policy. He has been active in several scientific projects at his University. Klaus Hadwiger also has a degree in export trade management and worked in the food industry for several years. Currently, he is active in two work packages in the FP6 project PathogenCombat. He is a member of EFFoST and active in the Special Interest Group (SIG) SME.

Susanne Braun

Susanne Braun has a broad knowledge of the food sector, based on an academic degree in food tech nology (MSc/University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim) and a second academic education in economy and European politics (MBA/Europe-Institute at the University of Saarbrucken/Germany). In addition, she has several years of practical experience in different high level positions in the international food industry (inside and outside of Europe). Her work included management and consulting activities within companies in different countries. She is experienced in working in research projects in international contexts. She is currently leading two work packages in the large-scale FP6 project PathogenCombat. She is a member of various European food networks and associations (CommNet, EFFoST and IUFoST). Susanne Braun is a member of the CTTT (Communication, Training and Technology Transfer) group in the European Technology Platform (ETP) ‘Food for Life’.