Experiments in modern cell biological laboratories or the scheduling and task management of rehab clinics – all of this leads to a flood of data, which needs to be organised and analysed. The Freiburg-based start-up company Tikanis GmbH offers innovative and inexpensive software solutions for modellers of dynamic processes, clinical researchers or therapists. The founders of the company, Dr. Thomas Maiwald and Julie Blumberg, are well aware of their clients’ requirements. The products, of which some have been awarded prizes, are, and will be also in the future, the result of the founders’ own scientific experience and working through problems.
Just over a year ago, the physicists Dr. Thomas Maiwald and Julie Blumberg founded Tikanis GmbH in Freiburg. The starting point was a scientific project that was carried out at the University of Freiburg. During his doctoral thesis in 2005, Maiwald developed a software programme for the realistic design of cell models, including all the cellular signalling networks. He wanted to design software that would enable the modelling of processes that are induced by exogenous hormones, for example. "We wanted to develop a tool for biologists that would enable them to use experimental data to model the complex interactions between different signalling molecules in a temporal and quantitative context," said Maiwald. This led to the PottersWheel software programme, which helps scientists to turn their raw data into a realistic model. The software is in a way much like a potter's wheel that is used by clay potters. The software has already been used at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg to analyse important cancer development mechanisms. Maiwald's thesis was awarded the international Reinhart Heinrich Prize for the best doctoral thesis in systems biology in 2008.
"When I was a student, I came up with the idea to set up a company at some time in the future," said the physicist. As students, Maiwald and Julie Blumberg worked at the Freiburg Centre for Data Analysis and Modelling as well as the Neurocentre of the Freiburg University Medical Centre. Blumberg studied physics and medicine and, therefore, is well acquainted with clinical processes and medical research projects. Besides for attending university courses, Maiwald also used his spare time to work for software developing companies wherein he learned to develop software as well as product-oriented thinking. The two scientists came to realise their common interest, which additionally complemented each other's competences rather well. Supported by an EXIST grant from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology as well as a "Young Innovators" grant from the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, Maiwald and Blumberg founded Tikanis GmbH at the beginning of 2008. The company currently employs one biologist and four assistants.
PottersWheel had a head start among university researchers. It is not only about a hundred to one thousand times faster than similar software solutions, Maiwald also designed the software such that it can easily be adapted to the requirements of individual researchers, even when they are not experienced software programmers. The graphical user interfaces make for the simple operation of the most important functions. In addition, advanced users can write their own applications, for example for automating recurrent analyses. A new software version has now been made available. In addition to using the software in systems biology, PottersWheel 2.0 can be used in areas where time-dependent processes play a role, for example in biotechnology, pharmaceutical research, mechanical engineering or aerospace technology.
"It is very exciting for us to see that PottersWheel users are modelling a broad range of data, e.g., brain waves, cellular protein measurements or the time-dependent concentration of a drug in the blood," says Blumberg. The German Federal Office for Materials Research and Testing uses the programme to calculate the elasticity constants of metals under the influence of fire, which is important when determining the stability of support beams in burning buildings. In the future, the programme will also be available free of charge to university scientists. However, certain add-on functions, which might for example be required by pharmaceutical companies, will have to be purchased in order to secure the financial future of the young company. Tikanis wants to produce inexpensive solutions and be able to react quickly in order to always be able to offer its clients the most innovative solutions.
Besides for the scientific programme PottersWheel, Tikanis also has other practical applications on offer. Together with the Tumour Biology Centre in Freiburg, Tikanis also developed the Therapy Planner, which is a resource management software programme that helps coordinate patient treatment plans and employee tasks. It is in this way that the optimal processes in a clinic, with its hundreds of employees and thousands of patients, can be guaranteed. “Since we have developed the Therapy Planner in practice, we were able to take into account two aspects that were important to us,” said Maiwald. “First, the programme is simple to use. This is rather important because it makes the transition from paper and pen planning to computer planning as easy as possible. Second, the basic structure of the programme is very flexible and allows for the quick implementation of the clients’ individual requirements, should these become necessary.” Two rehab clinics have already given the company their positive feedback on the Therapy Planner.The third product is primarily designed for clinical researchers. This is software that helps to programme the so-called personal digital assistants (PDA) and can be used by physicians or psychologists without programming skills for clinical studies wherein outpatients can conduct tests or enter data at home or work. The programme has already been tested in two clinical studies and has shown great reliability. The current version of the software programme is designed for its use on Palm PDAs. If interest in this software remains high enough, then the PDA Designer will also be adapted to other standard devices, such as the Windows Mobile Systems or iPhones.“With our three products, we can cover a broad range of applications,” summarises Maiwald. “These systems can be used by scientists within clinical settings and clinical research.” Now, the Freiburg entrepreneurs are eager to leave the start-up phase behind and are currently working on the acquisition of orders from German, French and American customers. In addition, they are also involved in research projects of the Harvard Medical School and the Freiburg University Medical Centre, which enables them to react directly to the requirements of new scientific developments. This is an important prerequisite for a science-oriented innovative start-up company such as Tikanis GmbH.
Further information: Dr. Thomas Maiwald TIKANIS GmbHRichard-Wagner-Str. 20D-79104 FreiburgTel.: +49 (0)761-594 7373 Fax: +49 (0)761-76 99 86 288E-mail: thomas.maiwald(at)tikanis.com