ibidi GmbH puts cells in focus
From TUM spin-off to world market leader in living cell analysis
Understanding the complex behavior of cells is important for studying autoimmune diseases or cancer. ibidi GmbH, a company based at the Innovation and Start-up Center for Biotechnology (IZB), is a worldwide leading provider of functional, cell-based assays and products for cell microscopy. The company was founded in 2001 by the biophysicists Dr. Valentin Kahl, Dr. Roman Zantl, Dr. Ulf Rädler and Prof. Dr. med. Joachim Rädler as a spin-off from the TU Munich and the LMU (CeNS – Center for NanoScience). ibidi’s microscope slides, by simulating an environment as in the human body, create an organic environment for research. The knowledge gained from such live cell analysis enables the company to analyze the efficiency of medications and improve therapies. The technology development at ibidi is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In addition, ibidi was a participant in the Bavarian Technology Promotion Program (BayTP).
ibidi moved into to the Innovation and Start-up Center for Biotechnology in 2006. Already by 2010, the company Deloitte voted ibidi fourth place among the 50 fastest growing companies in Germany. In 2013, the start-up received the German Business Innovation Award in the category “medium-sized enterprises” for its cell biochips made out of high-performance polymers. “Our motivation is to contribute to the more efficient development of cancer drugs using improved tools,” explained the managing directors of ibidi GmbH, Valentin Kahl and Roman Zantl. Susanne Simon and Rainer Rutz interviewed the two pioneers of cell analysis for “IZB in Dialog”.
Dr. Valentin Kahl, Dr. Roman Zantl, Managing Directors, ibidi GmbH (v.l.n.r.)
In dialog: How did you come up with the idea of developing microscope slides for analyzing living cells?
Ibidi: In 2001 we thought that the whole world researches with living cells. But this was not the case; 99 percent of scientists in those days worked with fixed preparations, in other words dead cells. So at that time, you only got a momentary snapshot. However, our goal was to analyze the behavior of living cells.
In dialog: For which research areas is living cell microscopy important?
Ibidi: Bioengineering was then, as today, a central issue. How do you get the desired gene into the cell? And what is the efficiency of this transfection? With our products, customers can analyze complicated biological processes more easily and more reproducibly. These results can be viewed directly in the living cell and are therefore more relevant.
In dialog: You were the first to develop plastic slides. Why?
Ibidi: Slides made of high-performance plastic instead of glass are easier to process, consist of a single piece, do not break like glass, and thus pose less risk of injury. For example, if working with hepatitis or herpes viruses in the lab this is a great advantage.
“Analogous to a space capsule, our slides provide the same conditions as in the human body“
In dialog: Do the cells on their slides behave similarly to cells in humans?
Ibidi: Analogous to a space capsule, our slides provide the same conditions as in the human body. We simulate the temperature and corresponding CO2 and oxygen levels. Although it does not mimic in vivo conditions 100 percent, but nevertheless very close. When you add drugs to selected cells on a microscope slide from ibidi, you can record a video of how they develop under typical body conditions.
In dialog: How big is your company today and what production capacities do you have?
Ibidi: So far, we have sold over five million slides and have 31 patent families. We currently produce 40,000 slides per month. We are proud to look back on 15,000 articles on ibidi in specialist journals.
ibidi Slides and Dishes are used in cell-based assays and high resolution cell microscopy world-wide
Combining high resolution with high throughput
In dialog: Immunotherapy is seen as a great option against cancer. Are your products also used here?
Ibidi: Yes, we also produce relevant tools for immuno-oncology. These enable one to obtain quantifiable results on the reproducibility and validity of an immunotherapy and incorporate these into improving the therapy.
In dialog: You will enter the market for this research with a new product. What is so special about it?
Ibidi: ibidi is currently developing a microscope slide where every single tumor cell is strictly arranged in a grid. In contrast to conventional cell culture, where the cells are completely disordered, this makes it easier to carry out automated microscopy and analysis of the samples. One can then very closely observe under the microscope how many T cells are necessary to kill a tumor cell. Our goal is to accelerate the development of immuno-oncology.
In dialog: What other new developments are planned at ibidi?
Ibidi: We want to evolve from a product supplier into a leading system provider in the field of live-cell analysis. All processes, from the provision of device interfaces, the cells used and the workflow, to the analysis and data interpretation with software from ibidi, are to be offered in one device. The goal is standardization and simplification of the processes. This means that hypotheses must be tested quantitatively, and all significant results must be reproducible within a specified accuracy range. The concept of the experimental system is designed in such a way that results obtained meet all the requirements of a scientific research method.
The new ibidi Time Lapse Reader standardizes all processes from the cells used and the workflow to the data analysis in one device.
In dialog: What does your customer structure look like?
Ibidi: ibidi’s customers work in scientific institutions, in the pharmaceutical industry and in biotechnology. The products are sold to customers worldwide.
In dialog: To what extent has the chosen location at the IZB influenced the company’s success?
Ibidi: We cannot imagine a better location. In the US, Martinsried is perceived as a brand, similar to Harvard or Cambridge. We cooperate with many companies here at the IZB and with the institutes on the campus. The close contact with the Max Planck Institutes and the Ludwig Maximilian University provides us with outstanding employees. We obtained excellent project funding through the biotech cluster BioM. With his infrastructure measures, Dr. Zobel, Managing Director of the IZB, moves the campus forward and is always a partner at our side. Especially through the representative rooms of the Faculty Club, we score points with foreign cooperation partners, and gain a trust advantage through this professional environment.