How do you find out if someone is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Up until now, the police had to visually inspect and assess test strips in order to convict a drunken or doped driver. Lörrach-based Protzek – Gesellschaft für Biomedizinische Technik mbH have improved this situation with the development of a mobile system that uses objective criteria to quantitatively analyse drugs and medications on site. Protzek GmbH’s system helps reduce costs in that subjectively assessed urine and saliva samples have frequently been sent unnecessarily to laboratories for further analysis. PIA systems (PIA stands for Protzek instrumental analytics) are now also used in hospitals and drug therapy institutions. Protzek GmbH has recently been awarded the Baden-Württemberg state Special Innovation Prize for the development of the company’s proprietary PIA system.
The misuse of drugs and medications on the roads or in the workplace is a huge safety risk for society as a whole. Courts, police, customs, hospitals, therapy institutions, doctor's practices and emergency healthcare centres alike often require rapid and simple tests that reveal illegal substances in blood, urine or saliva. The PIA mobile miniature laboratory developed by Lörrach-based Protzek Gesellschaft für Biomedizinische Technik mbH enables a rapid determination of the concentrations of several compounds such as drugs or medications, in a reliable and objective way. The system analyses and evaluates different sample materials such as urine, blood/serum, saliva and sweat in a single step. "Imagine a policeman who is getting on in years and needs to wear glasses. It must be difficult for him to interpret a line on a standard visual test strip at night," said Christoph Protzek. He might even see totally non-existent lines; the sample will then have to be sent to a laboratory for further analysis. If the laboratory comes up with a negative result, hence proving the suspected driver's innocence, the police are liable for any costs arising from the error.
The systems offered by the experts from the Lörrach-based company are relatively small in size and they are real marvels of microsystems technology and analytics. The test strips, made of special materials, contain antibodies that react to different compounds, such as cocaine for example. Urine, sweat, blood or saliva are added to the test strip with a pipette, and subsequently chromatographically separated at the same time as passing past a number of antibodies that react to different drugs or medications. The measurement values (ng/ml) can be read directly from the display, thereby eliminating potential erroneous interpretations such as those that arose with previous qualitative rapid tests which only enabled a user’s subjective yes/no assessment. The consistent documentation and electronic processing of the measurement values obtained on site provides the basis for deciding whether blood needs to be withdrawn and further analysed using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, a method that generates forensic evidence, but is quite expensive. Protzek, a biomedical engineer, had comprehensive experience from 28 years’ work for several big international companies before establishing Protzek GmbH in 2001. “Thanks to my previous work history, I realised that there were quite a few opportunities in the field of medication and drug analytics,” said Protzek who started his entrepreneurial activities by selling products made by contract manufacturers before starting to develop proprietary products in 2004. Protzek’s company came up with its first own product in 2006 and has since set up headquarters in Lörrach and two sales offices in Switzerland and France. The company’s staff of 24 includes four life scientists who are mainly focused on laboratory work and the further development of new ideas. “Our strategic alliances with the universities of Heidelberg and Freiburg are extremely important in terms of new developments,” said Protzek. In order to create its state-of-the-art PIA systems, the company had to develop new production methods to produce systems that were precise enough to enable rapid antibody tests to be carried out reliably.
Protzek believes that drug and medication analytics has huge market potential. He cites "bedside medicine" as an example. The rapid test systems are easy to use and can be used to analyse samples quickly and with high accuracy without the need to send them to remote laboratories. "We believe that bedside medicine offers us great market opportunities," said the company's managing director who also sees great market potential in other areas. "Once the techniques and know-how are available, then our systems can in principle be used when- and wherever rapid and reliable tests are required, for example in threshold countries, doping controls and to detect biological warfare agents."
Protzek is not afraid of competition. "We have developed a specific production method and own the mathematics behind the analysis software used by PIA. This makes it quite difficult for potential competitors to catch up with us," said Protzek who has plans to expand his company's services to the Eastern European, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese markets, secure in the knowledge that there are many car drivers in these countries as well as other opportunities to use his technology.
Further information:Christoph ProtzekProtzek Gesellschaft für Biomedizinische Technik mbHTüllinger Str. 3679541 LörrachTel.: +49 (0)7621 5789517 Fax: +49 (0)7621 5789520