Like on a production line

The Stuttgart-based company Innocyte GmbH is automating the production of biological cells
23.07.2013 | 

There are around 40,000 laboratories worldwide that produce cells for biological and medical research, for example to develop medicines, to replace animal testing or to manufacture artificial tissue. All of these laboratories have so far been facing the same problem: the cells either have to be reproduced laboriously by hand, or large investments in complicated robot technology are needed. Thanks to a young technology company from Stuttgart, both of these will soon be a thing of the past.

Innocyte GmbH, a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, has found a solution based on pressure differences and has developed a device called “Split.It” that fits on every laboratory table. “It is well priced, works precisely, is virtually maintenance-free and will make working with cells easier, or even completely revolutionise it,” predicts molecular biologist Dr Michael Fritsche, who is responsible for product development at Innocyte. This is because the procedure developed by Innocyte costs just one-sixth of the cost of the robot method. Not only is it cheaper than the manual process, it is also better. The reason for this is that only the automated production process guarantees constant quality and the exact reproducibility of the cell cultures. It also minimises the risk of contamination. This allows the laboratories to work faster and more efficiently.

Innocyte has developed at an extremely fast pace. Since the company was founded in the summer of 2011, the team, which revolves around founder and managing director Roland Huchler, has built a laboratory sample, applied for a patent, prepared a business plan, introduced the device at numerous trade fairs and won several competitions. Split.It is to be brought to market in series production before the end of the year. After that, the Stuttgart-based founders want to develop further devices relating to automated cell culture, resulting in the creation of an entire product family.

The start-up has so far received funding from several venture capital providers. The first financing round saw six-figure funding come from Germany’s High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF), MBG Mittelständische Beteiligungsgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg via the Seedfonds BW seed fund and Fraunhofer Venture.