Article in SI Style: “You need to think big”

Article about our Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Daniela Marino, in SI Style of November 19, 2020

She preferred reading anatomy books to playing outside, even at the age of eight. Today, Daniela Marino heads the successful biotech startup Cutiss. What is her motivation? What is her superpower? And when was a day successful for her? We asked her 12 questions.

She grew up in Sicily as the daughter of a post office manager and an English teacher and had only one dream: to become a scientist. She studied biotechnology and came to Switzerland 15 years ago to do her PhD at ETH Zurich.

Daniela Marino aspired to an academic career, wanted to become a professor. But a research project changed everything. Today, the 39-year-old heads the life science company Cutiss, which produces personalized skin grafts. The innovative process involves growing new skin from the body’s own tissue. This reduces scarring in people with extensive skin injuries – and improves their quality of life. The University of Zurich spin-off has been showered with awards and funding for its groundbreaking idea. Around 30 employees recently moved into the brand-new headquarters, including a 500-square-meter laboratory, in Schlieren ZH.

Daniela Marino reveals how she went from scientist to founder, what she is particularly proud of and why she prefers to talk to herself in the interview format 12 Women, 12 Questions.

1) What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Becoming an entrepreneur. Business and management science had never interested me before, my world was science, my workplace was the lab. But when I saw the first test results of our invention, it was clear to me that we could really make a difference with it. Finding my role as CEO was a big challenge, not only professionally but also personally. But my motivation remains the same: I want to help people.

2) What are your principles as an entrepreneur?

The world deserves more entrepreneurs who are down-to-earth and honest. Sure, you need a vision, but to get to your goal you have to be very methodical. You always have to stay humble and take it one step at a time. It doesn’t do anyone any good to run headlong into a wall. Scientific thinking helps me to do just that. I’m very proud of my explorer brain. (laughs)

3) What people inspire you?

My idol from a very young age was the Italian Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi-Montalcini. In my childhood room, her poster hung next to Freddie Mercury’s. I think at one point my parents were quite worried because I wasn’t interested in boys like the other teen girls my age, preferring to read anatomy books and stories about knights and fairies all weekend long. My father believes that I inherited this fascination from his mother. She was never able to attend school, became a housewife. But in self-study she was engaged in astronomy and medicine.

4) How do you make difficult decisions?

I don’t wait too long, and I’m lucky in that I use my two brain hemispheres – the rational and the emotional – in a fairly balanced way. That is to say: First, I analyze the situation in detail, weighing the pros and cons of each piece of the puzzle. Then I let my instincts guide me. My head filters the options, my gut makes the decision.

5) When was a day successful for you?

When I’m not frustrated, my husband is not frustrated, our two children are not frustrated, and neither are my employees – in short, when everyone around me is happy. I realize that this can’t be the case every day, but it’s still my aspiration. And I believe that if the people around you see that you’re doing your best, they’ll be more forgiving of you if things don’t go smoothly.

6) What is your superpower?

My multitasking talent. The fact that I can be fully present to this conversation while thinking about what I need to get done this afternoon. That skill is almost essential for survival when you’re a mom and trying to build a company at the same time. Although I have to say that we don’t have a classic division of roles at our house: You rarely see me in the kitchen.

7) Where will your company be in five years?

We have grown very quickly and want to continue to be at the forefront of our field. In five years, we would like to be treating patients in Europe and be ready for the American market. Skin defects due to burns are a problem especially in emerging countries like India or Brazil. So our goal is clearly to be global. Perhaps our “Cutiss House” will become a “Cutiss Tower” in a few years. You have to think big to achieve big things.

8) How do you recharge your batteries?

With absolute peace and quiet. Of course, that’s not available in abundance in our networked world. That’s why I don’t impose clear offline times on myself. I don’t like strict rules, I prefer to find a healthy balance. It’s enough for me if I can take a relaxing bath for 20 minutes after work – no noise, no kids, no text messages. That’s where I can recharge.

9) Who do you call when you have a problem?

Before I call my husband or sister, I talk to myself – out loud and in English. This is not a joke. When I’m angry or have a problem, I talk to myself. I started doing that as a teenager and haven’t stopped until today. That’s why there are so many mirrors at home. (laughs)

10) What moment or person defined your career today?

It was in 2013, when I was invited to a business management course in the south of France as part of an EU funding program. I was able to take my husband and my then one-year-old daughter with me and thought to myself: great, we’ll take a week’s vacation on the beach and in between I’ll take some notes. But it turned out differently: we had a fantastic course instructor who was convinced that I was a natural. I will never forget that week. That was the moment I decided to become an entrepreneur.

11) When was the last time you doubted yourself?

Shortly after starting the company, I realized that I lacked the know-how to take the next step. I needed someone to add the necessary experience in business management to my drive and commitment. It was not easy to admit to myself that I was stuck. But today I’m glad I got the help I needed. It was the starting signal for our current team.

12) What are you most proud of?

Of what we are building as a company. But not in a business sense, but in a human sense. When I was able to hire my first employee, I cried with happiness. Our employees are becoming absolute experts in a field that is very trendy, modern and innovative. The future belongs to them – regardless of what happens to our company.

Even if she can now be found more often in boardrooms: In the lab, Daniela Marino feels completely in her element.

By Marlies Seifert on November 19, 2020

Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch

Panel Discussion “Switzerland’s inventiveness makes the world a better place”

At the Credit Suisse REPLAY Panel three innovative Start-ups are presented. All of them are Spin-offs from the University of Zurich. Three female founders, together with
the Principal of the University of Zurich, Prof. Dr. Michael Schaepmann, talk about “Switzerland’s inventiveness”. Successful projects that could make the world a better place.

CUTISS’ Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch talks about CUTISS’ bio-engineered skin which could become a hopeful treatment for burn victims. Further topics of the panel discussion are the financing, the hurdles and the role of women in leadership positions of young start-up companies.

> Introduction of Dr. Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch starting at minute 07:22 – 13:35

> Panel discussion and Q&A as of minute 27:20

From Research to Start-up: Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch

Interview by Startupdate with Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch – November 12, 2020

“Flexibility is always needed”

We hear far more about men in leadership positions than women, yet female entrepreneurs are just as capable as their male counterparts. That’s why we talked to Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch, co-founder of CUTISS AG. In the interview, she tells us who she would like to meet for lunch, what she would do with a few extra hours a day, and whether she ever doubted her idea.

Do you find it difficult to delegate tasks to others?

FABIENNE HARTMANN-FRITSCH: From academic research, I was used to delegating. Leading a team, however, was a change. For me personally, however, the responsibility to the patients and the authorities weighs much heavier.

How do you set priorities?

FH: I am a very organized person, I work in the classic way with lists, and I like to check off things that have been done. But flexibility is always needed, for example when a new study patient arrives.

Did you ever doubt your idea?

FH: No, the medical need is clearly there worldwide. But the most challenging part is definitely the cost-efficient manufacturing.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

FH: I find Caspar Coppetti’s “Get the sh*t done” wonderfully simple and applicable to us as well.

What would you do if the day had 30 hours instead of 24?

FH: I would volunteer at Zurich Zoo, that would be a great balance for me. As an Antarctic enthusiast, I would prefer to work with the penguins.

FH: Which entrepreneur would you like to meet for lunch?

FH: Cristina Mittermeier, the founder of SeaLegacy, advocates for the world’s oceans with her organization. I would love to chat with her about her challenges in building and running her organization.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

FH: Seeing our skin on a patient for the first time was a moving moment.

What advice would you give yourself at this same time last year?

FH: To set our 2020 annual plan for a pandemic… but I certainly wouldn’t have taken that advice.

Thank you very much for the interview!

Before becoming an entrepreneur, Winterthur native Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch spent a long time in academic circles. In 2013, she completed her doctorate at the University of Zurich in the “Tissue Biology Research” unit, the research group in which the basic research for her skin replacement product “denovoSkin” was done. Since 2017, she is co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer at CUTISS AG.

CUTISS AG is a Swiss life science company that aims to provide patients with large and deep skin defects with the first automated personalized skin tissue therapy, denovoSkin™, a safe, effective and accessible therapy for children and adults.

Contributed photo: Frank Brüderli

TEDx Zurich talk by CEO Daniela Marino

Watch our CEO Daniela Marino talk on stage for TEDx Zurich Women about how much mothers and managers have in common.

Female managers with children have the great chance to train at home how to be better managers and to train at work how to be better mothers. Managers that are also mothers are tired, yes, but not unfocussed, they do not underperform. They do not need to be discouraged or discriminated against. Instead they need full support because being mothers and managers makes them beautiful creatures that have much more to give to society, future generations and the industry. As a scientist, a young entrepreneur and a mother, Daniela’s mission is to foster healthy and sustainable growth of both her family and her business – she believes with creativity, sacrifice, and passion, marvelous things can be achieved. Despite wanting to be a researcher since she was 7 years old, her curiosity, determination and risk tolerance made her leave her scientific career to build a life science start-up, CUTISS AG, with the vision to bring personalized skin tissue therapy to help patients with skin defects. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Coffee with…Daniela Marino

Article in the Swiss Economy Magazine ‘Finanz und Wirtschaft’ (Saturday, 21 March 2020)

Daniela Marino likes her espresso macchiato hot and strong. The company she runs, Cutiss, is also in a hot phase. Due to time constraints, the CEO, who is originally from Italy, usually drinks her coffee at the office, which is located near the University of Zurich. That’s where Cutiss’ human skin production technology was originally developed.

Worldwide, at least fifty million people suffer from large-scale skin injuries every year. The standard treatment today is to take skin from a healthy part of the body and place it on the injured area so that it grows back and closes the wound. Thus, an additional injury is created, which can also leave its scars. This is where the Cutiss procedure is supposed to provide a step forward. Only a small skin biopsy needs to be taken. It is taken apart in the laboratory, the cells obtained from it are reproduced and then combined with a collagen hydrogel to form a new type of skin substitute. Cutiss is thus in a similar category to manufacturers of cell therapies, in which body cells are also removed, manipulated and reintroduced.

In a Phase I study, denovoSkin was successfully tested for safety in ten patients at the Children’s Hospital of the University of Zurich. Swissmedic, the EU’s Medicines Agency (EMA) and its US counterpart, the FDA, have granted denovoSkin orphan drug status. This would mean that the product would enjoy longer market protection and could also be approved more quickly.

First, however, Phase II studies are needed in which the laboratory-produced skin is tested not only for its safety but also for its efficacy. These studies are already underway in Switzerland and the Netherlands. They are expensive and are expected to last until 2022, so Marino is looking for additional funding worth CHF 30 million, she says, adding that some existing shareholders are willing to participate in the capital increase. “But we are also looking for new shareholders, and we especially need a long-term anchor investor who would contribute several million and support our vision,” Marino explains. The 38-year-old studied biotechnology in Milan and completed her doctorate at the ETH. As part of a post-doctorate at the University of Zurich, she then worked with the Tissue Biology Research team on the cultivation and production of personalized skin. After initial studies on humans turned out positive, it made sense in 2017 to found a start-up for further development.

The work in the lab is just the beginning. “The breakthrough for this technology will only come when we succeed in automating the manufacturing process,” Marino is convinced. Her company is thus entering the world of mechanical engineering. To this end, she has brought competent partners on board in the form of the engineering company Zühlke and the Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique.
Innosuisse is supporting the development with just under CHF 1 million. Cutiss has already raised a total of CHF 21 million, including CHF 3 million from the European Union and CHF 5 million from Wyss Zurich, the incubator of the University of Zurich and the ETH founded from a donation by Hansjörg Wyss. Cutiss thus moves between biotech, surgery and process automation. “That doesn’t make it any easier for us to find investors,” Marino admits. But she is confident that she will soon have the necessary funds together. This is despite the fact that the current situation surrounding the coronavirus is also causing investors to be cautious.
If the results of the Phase II trials are good, Cutiss could already submit a marketing authorization application for denovoSkin. The green light from regulators could follow about a year later. Primarily, burn victims would benefit. In addition, reconstructive surgery after other accidents or, for example, reconstructive surgery to remove a large mole would also be important. According to Cutiss’ estimates, this alone would represent a market (Europe and the USA) of CHF 2 billion.

In contrast to existing products, Cutiss’ skin is thicker, consists of the patient’s own cells and contains both a dermal and an epidermal skin layer, allowing it to attach better and wounds to heal better. This also leads to less scarring. This is a factor that should not be underestimated, because many patients suffer psychologically for the rest of their lives from disfigurement caused by their injuries and subsequent treatments.

The greatest challenge for Marino is the upcoming growth spurt of her company, which currently employs twenty people. The company’s own research and development center and a production facility are being built in the Biotechnopark in Schlieren. “We still need at least ten new employees,” says Marino. She has long since finished her espresso macchiato. She looks at her watch and says a friendly goodbye.

Text: Rupen Boyadjian

Her Start-up gets under your Skin
(Schweizer Illustrierte Magazine)

Article in the Swiss Magazine “Schweizer Illustrierte”, March 2020

She gives hope to burn victims: co-founder of Cutiss, Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch grows personalized skin for patients with scars or burns. In particular, children will benefit.

A cup of hot tea can do terrible things to children. “Helping little patients with burn injuries motivated me to join the research team at the Children’s Hospital in Zurich eleven years ago,” says Fabienne Hartmann-Fritsch, 36. Today, the resident of Winterthur is Chief Clinical Officer of Cutiss, a company that develops personalized skin for burn victims.

At first glance, the pink slippery flap doesn’t look like that much. But the small square consists of living skin cells from a patient. Four weeks earlier, a piece of skin the size of a postage stamp was removed from a burn victim in the hospital using a kind of peeler.
Thereafter it was nourished with a kind of broth and attached back together with collagen. “This way we can enlarge the original piece of skin up to 100 times.”

According to biologist Hartmann-Fritsch, approximately 50 million people worldwide suffer severe skin damage from burns, disease or surgery – 30 percent of whom are children. “Although it is possible to transplant skin today, the results are not satisfactory.” The affected affected areas may well heal, but severe scarring often remains. “Because scars do not grow with the patient, children in particular suffer. They have to go to the hospital again and again, need a lot of care and psychological support.” Cutiss’ skin is different. A three-year-old child, for example, received the transplant, he said, and it has grown with him ever since.
Hartmann doesn’t have any children herself, but her co-founder and CEO, biotechnologist Daniela Marino, 38, does. When the two founded the startup Cutiss in 2017, she was heavily pregnant, and their second child was often present in meetings. “At first, we didn’t even notice that women founders were rare,” Hartmann-Fritsch says. It was only at startup conferences – Cutiss wins the Female Innovator of the Year Award, among others – that the two realized how underrepresented their gender is. Today, 50 percent of their 21-person team are women.

The goal of the two is to bring their product, which is currently being tested at the University Hospital, the Kispi and in Holland, to market in three years. For that, however, automation is needed. “It makes us proud that the research that started in Switzerland will probably soon help injured people worldwide.”

Text: Jessica Pfister
Photo (in article): Fred Merz
Photo (above): Geri Born

Le Temps

Interview Daniela Marino “Le Temps” (French only)

«A 7 ans, je voulais déjà être scientifique»

TECHNOLOGIES MÉDICALES En 2019, seulement une société sur quatre était fondée par une femme. A la tête de la start-up zurichoise CUTISS, qui veut révolutionner la greffe pour grands brûlés, Daniela Marino prouve que l’esprit d’entreprise se décline très bien au féminin.

Read full article by following the link below.

Article in Limmattal Newspaper about CUTISS’ R&D

The Limmattaler Newspaper visited Vincent Ronfard, our Chief Innovation Officer in our lab in Schlieren. Read about CUTISS’ Research and Development in the field of skin manufacturing.
(article in German only).

“Die Fragen gehen ihm nie aus:
Vincent Ronfard forscht seit 30 Jahren, heute züchtet er für das Schlieremer Start-up Cutiss Haut für Brandwunden…”

Article NZZ am Sonntag – new hope for burn victims

The Swiss company Cutiss produces new skin for patients with scars or deep burns. The CEO is currently raising money to build up the production. (Article in German only)

“Sie geben Brandopfern Hoffnung: Die Schweizer Firma Cutiss züchtet neue Haut für Patienten mit Narben oder schweren Verbrennungen. Die Chefin sucht jetzt frisches Geld für den Aufbau der Produktion…”

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