Insilico Biotechnology AG from Stuttgart designs and optimises biotechnological processes for the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industries. “We make predictions on the behaviour of cells and organisms. This knowledge enables us to reduce the time required for the development or optimisation of biotechnological processes involving the production of drugs, for example,” said Klaus Mauch, CEO of Insilico. The company owns a worldwide unique systems biology platform that integrates proprietary databases, cell models and computer-assisted analysis methods. Insilico offers new solutions based on the integration and analysis of experimental data using genome-wide network models for the production of biochemicals and biopharmaceuticals as well as for the validation of active substances. Customers include large industrial companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma GmbH & Co. KG headquartered in the Baden-Württemberg city of Biberach.
Since its foundation in Stuttgart in 2001, Insilico Biotechnology AG has grown considerably. Its current workforce of around 20 people is focussed on the simulation of biochemical processes in living cells. “We are good in finding solutions to technically challenging problems,” said Mauch. “And we are particularly proud of the cost-effective implementation of our solutions in cooperation with leading industrial partners.”In December 2011, Insilico Biotechnology AG relocated to new premises in the Stuttgart Engineering Park (STEP) where the company has access to a completely new technical infrastructure that enables it to provide its customers with comprehensive computing resources. “We own a medium-sized computing cluster, but we also have use of the High Performance Computing Center (HLRS) at the University of Stuttgart, which gives us access to clusters with more than 100,000 computing cores.”
The development of expertise in the field of software development and the decision to turn the company from a pure service provider into a provider of software and services is a major milestone in Insilico’s corporate development.
“Software development creates space for innovation. In 2013, we launched an innovative software solution for the automated analysis of bioprocesses,” said Mauch. The new enterprise software Insilico Inspector™ supports the time-resolved quantitative analysis and the graphics-supported comparison of the performance of fermentation processes, strains and cell lines. The software helps engineers, scientists and project managers with the otherwise time-consuming process of screening and processing data. The comparison and selection of optimal strains, clones and process conditions provides the teams with a comprehensible basis for making decisions.
“Another example that nicely illustrates our expertise in software development is our technology platform for virtual organs which we also developed in 2013 and which we have based on results obtained in research projects,” Mauch said going on to add, “we now have an in silico liver model that also includes the circulation of the blood. The goal is to make predictions on the efficacy, adverse effects and toxic characteristics of drugs based on computer simulations. The platform is of particular interest to our clients from the pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetics industries as it enables them to carry out computer-based toxicity tests.” In the long term, the model has the potential to reduce the number of animal experiments required for such tests. This is also of major importance with regard to the European Union REACH regulation that governs the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances. REACH requires manufacturers and import companies to investigate the potential impacts of chemical substances on both human health and the environment.
A significant reduction in computing time significantly contributes to reducing drugs’ time to market in various development processes. Insilico performs simulations and optimisations with a degree of complexicity that requires computing capacities that are far higher than the capacity of standard PCs. Mauch explains: “At present, our technology is up to 50,000 times faster than a standard home PC. HLRS are about to start operating a new super computer, to which we will have access. In the final expansion stage, this super computer will have the computing power of around 200,000 home PCs.”
With access to Europe’s fastest civilian computer CRAY XE6 “Hermit”, Insilico has entered the dimension of petaflop computing which enables over a quadrillion computing operations to be performed per second. This is highly useful for the design of innovative whole-body models. “This infrastructure enabled Insilico to develop a unique selling position,” said Mauch. “However, there are numerous technical challenges that we need to solve. We have not yet found out how to deal with the huge complexity of whole-body models. A lot of research is still needed in order to improve this situation. On the other hand, the field of diagnostics is not yet able to come up with the input values which we require. But I am sure that significant progress will be made in this field within the next five to ten years.”
Numerous academic partners, including the Institute of Biochemical Engineering (Prof. Ralf Takors) at the University of Stuttgart, the Institute of Clinical Pharmacology in Stuttgart (Prof. Matthias Schwab) and the Department of Applied Sciences at the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences (Prof. Richard Biener), carry out experimental investigations, including fermentations, metabolite and protein determinations as well as in vitro tests that enable Insilico to validate and further develop the Insilico technology platform. In return, Insilico gives these institutions access to the technology platform and/or simulation results that are turned into publications or patents. “Here, I would like to mention that Insilico Biotechnology not only attaches great importance to working with regional partners, but also with partners from other countries and in other sectors. In modern biotechnology, the necessary dynamic cannot be achieved with parish-pump politics,” said Klaus Mauch, casting a critical eye on the situation.
Insilico is not affected by a shortage of skilled workers. In fact, the company believes that it is up to companies to create the foundations that attract suitable people. “The education and training possibilities are very good and Stuttgart is a highly attractive city with an excellent infrastructure, which plays a decisive role for a company that is looking for new employees. And the combination of engineering and life sciences in the region offers a know-how transfer from which all companies can benefit,” said Mauch.
Insilico Biotechnology AGDr. Bettina StahnkeBusiness DevelopmentMeitnerstr. 8D-70563 Stuttgart Tel.: +49 711 460 594-30Fax: +49 711 460 594-10E-mail: bettina.stahnke(at)insilico-biotechnology.comWeb: www.insilico-biotechnology.com