HAMBURG, Germany - German biotechnology company BioTuL Bio Instruments GmbH, of Munich, this week invited researchers and business experts to the First Conference on Kinomics: Molecular Recognition in Life Sciences. Speakers will discuss new technologies and instruments to recognize molecular interactions and measure biomolecular kinetics. During the conference, BioTuL will announce the winners of its Young Scientist Award for the most innovative research projects using the company's biosensor, kinetic instrument 1 (KI1).

BioTuL, a scientific instrumentation company, was spun off in February 1997 from the Munich Institute for Nanotechnology. It is developing optically based sensor chips and relies on two platform technologies: biosensors to characterize the binding behavior of biomolecules in an automated, real-time fashion; and a proprietary technology for the coating of surfaces that prevent non-specific interaction between molecules.

Both technologies have been combined to an affinity sensor instrument to measure interactions of molecules in real time. KI1 includes a microprocessor-controlled liquid sample handling system and a specially coated biochip which permits the coupling of sample proteins or nucleic acids to their surfaces. The sensor is based on surface plasmon resonance technology, which analyzes molecular interactions via laser diodes that may be tuned.

Samples are sent by pipette from conventional 96-well microtiter plates; the necessary sample volume is 20 microliters. The device operates within a temperature range of 4 to 40 degrees Celsius, and has eight independent measurement cells so that eight different protocols can be processed in parallel.

“With our technique, labs will be able to carry out very time-intensive tests automatically, practically overnight,“ said Gunnar Brink, physicist and managing director of BioTuL. “They get more differentiated results than they would with conventional equipment, yet our product costs three times less.“

Brink founded BioTuL - a name derived from the phrase “tools and tunable laser instruments for the biosciences“ - as a typical basement laboratory five years ago. With Henning Groll, now head of production, he performed surface analysis for large-scale industries using atomic force microscopy.

Second Financing Round In The Works

“It went pretty well as long as it was a spin-off from the Munich technical university, but when we moved out and started up on our own, we almost went bust in the first year,“ Brink said. A breakthrough came in 1996, when Brink filed for a patent on his biosensor and successfully applied for an ECU45,000 (US$50,243) research grant from the European Union.

Meanwhile, the results of this project led to more than 20 patent applications and a research program worth ECU1 million, which BioTuL - with four European research partners - won against 80 competitors last year. About one-third of the money goes to BioTuL.

Apart from this grant, Brink managed to persuade investors in very short time. “We got in touch with our investors through a venture capital get-together in Munich where a few entrepreneurs have just one minute to present their business ideas. Sixty seconds, and I had the business card I needed,“ he said.

Wellington Finanzberatung GmbH, a Munich-based venture capital company, provided DM3 million (US$1.69 million) in seed capital as lead investor; further money was provided via the silent partnership of Technologiebeteiligungsgesellschaft tbg, of Bonn.

It took BioTuL one year to develop KI1, and the first one recently was sold to Brazil. The instrument costs about US$50,000, which is one-fifth the price charged by Biacore, of Uppsala, Sweden, for a comparable device. Biacore is the current market leader in the affinity sensor market. Market analysis studies forecast an annual sales volume of about 200 units worldwide. BioTuL wants to generate early revenues through sales of its instruments and its coated, nanoscale biochips. These “Hydrocoat“ chips can be loaded by customers with proteins or other biomolecules.

BioTuL aims to establish close and long-term relationships with its customers in academia and the pharmaceutical industry. Emerging markets such as South America and Asia are regarded as highly as the established U.S. and European markets. In addition, the company will license out its platform technology and establish commercial development partnerships to open up a wide range of collaborative opportunities. The company entered into a collaboration with Hewlett-Packard recently.

BioTuL currently is preparing a second financing round and wants to be quoted on the stock market over the medium term.

Brink said he has learned his lesson from the basement lab and cited three pillars for success: technical innovation, a strictly international orientation and cost-conscious thinking. “My forecast,“ he said, “is that in the field of biosensors BioTuL will have gained second place worldwide behind the current market leader in five years, and that it will be quoted with a turnover of more than DM50 million.“ *

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