Cells in Focus

Interview with Dr. Roman Zantl, Managing Director of ibidi GmbH

ibidi Perfusion System
A perfusion system that allows cells to be observed under stress conditions

Live cell microscopy is often used in medical diagnostics and research, as it helps in the early detection of diseases and observation of treatment reactions. The pharmaceutical industry frequently uses it to evaluate the effects of potential drugs on cells. With 25 years of experience in this field, ibidi GmbH is an internationally sought-after partner in science and the pharmaceutical industry.

Economic Forum: Mr. Dr. Zantl, you focus on live cell microscopy. What exactly is this segment about?

Dr. Roman Zantl: We are concerned with cellular systems for therapy and diagnostics. Fundamental research generates crucial ideas that lead to disruptive successes in the field of cancer therapy. For instance, about 40 years ago, immunotherapies were discovered by academic researchers. Since then, they have been continuously improved, providing outstanding medical services today and opening up billion-dollar markets for pharmaceutical companies. In my view, the essential significance of basic research on society is partly underestimated. Live cell microscopy is still a niche in the market but is steadily growing.

Dr. Roman Zantl, Managing Director of ibidi GmbH
Dr. Roman Zantl, Managing Director of ibidi GmbH

Economic Forum: Please give us some examples of products.

Dr. Roman Zantl: For instance, we have developed chambers that simulate an environment as close to the human body as possible. We simulate temperature, gas, humidity, and even blood vessels. Cells are then inserted and their development is observed. With our chambers, we are market leaders.

Economic Forum: Are there any current product innovations?

Dr. Roman Zantl: We have further developed our product range to include perfusion systems, which allow observation of cells under stress conditions, such as cuts, redness, or swelling. Blood vessels grow into the wound area, enriching it with immune cells. In addition, we aim to address new areas in the near future. For example, we will launch a new analysis device, an integrative solution for all microscopy chambers. Moreover, we are currently experiencing an increasing demand for a fully automated, AI-supported data analysis. Currently, the quality of the images depends heavily on the user. Therefore, we are also developing an automated microscope that, equipped with a timelapse imager, automatically takes pictures.

ibidi Systems for 3-D Cell Cultures
The company also develops systems for 3-D cell cultures
ibidi Research and Development
Research and development is of great importance at ibidi; the company employs more than 25 developers in total

Economic Forum: Into which new areas do you want to develop with ibidi?

Dr. Roman Zantl: In the future, it will no longer be about individual monocultures, but rather approaching the organism as a whole. We are noticing a trend towards 3-D cell cultures. For example, in a petri dish, a kidney substructure is simulated. We plan to launch a perfusion system and special chambers for so-called bio-reactors in which such 3-D cell cultures can be used.

Economic Forum: Who are your customers and from which countries do they come?

Dr. Roman Zantl: Around 90% of our customers come from academic research. But we also count companies from the pharmaceutical industry among our clientele. With our new focus on 3D cell culture methods and the efficiency measurement of immunotherapeutics, we will increasingly enter the pharmaceutical market. Our biggest market is the USA. Besides, Germany is important for us. In Europe, we focus on industrialized countries like England, France, and Switzerland. Overseas, we are well-positioned in Japan and South Korea and are in the process of gaining a stronger foothold in India and China.

Economic Forum: How has the COVID crisis affected your company?

Dr. Roman Zantl: We are a supplier to biotechnology, but we do not do diagnostics or medical devices. These were areas that profited around COVID. We develop tools for biochemical research. Here the problem was that many laboratories, both in science and in the pharmaceutical industry, were closed. However, since research funds are planned long-term, we were able to partially recover the temporary loss in sales after the COVID restrictions. While the pandemic massively affected the supply chains, my business partner Dr. Valentin Kahl immediately grasped the situation and proactively secured our ability to deliver. An advantage was that we produce everything in the vicinity. Ultimately, this led to us being awarded the Bavarian Export Prize.

ibidi Microscopy Chambers
In the field of microscopy chambers, ibidi is the market leader

Economic Forum: What are your topics for the year 2024?

Dr. Roman Zantl: We will expand our perfusion system for applications in 3-D cell culture. This is about fluid exchange and the automation of search processes in academic cell laboratories, keyword bioreactor. In two to three years, we plan to launch a microscope for new market segments.

Economic Forum: What long-term goal do you have for ibidi? Is there a vision?

Dr. Roman Zantl: Our goal is to simplify and improve live cell analysis, make science more reproducible, and create a transition from the lab to the patient. This involves building relevant cell environments in which cells behave similarly to how they do in the human body, not like in the lab. ibidi contributes to this with its product innovations, helping to broadly restrict animal testing. With our solutions, we can improve the predictive power of drug development.

Economic Forum: For growth, personnel is needed. Is there a shortage of skilled workers for you?

Dr. Roman Zantl: We are closely connected to the chairs at universities and benefit from recommendations. Currently, we are looking for electrical engineers and IT staff. We are cosmopolitan, act on the basis of values, and have good topics and projects. Our business has a real benefit for people. Last but not least, our company atmosphere is very friendly and collegial.