Cytocentric's patch clamp robot. Image courtesy Cytocentric.
Cytocentric's patch clamp robot. Image courtesy Cytocentric.

Cytocentrics, a German biotech and robotics company that is transforming laboratory testing of how pharmaceutical agents interact with human cells, is moving to San Antonio with plans to establish manufacturing operations here and create 300 high wage jobs over the next five years. The company’s move could serve as a gateway for San Antonio to develop new economic and cultural ties with Germany, a world leader in technology, engineering and manufacturing.

The company was recruited here by Targeted Technology, a San Antonio early stage investor group, working with the City of San Antonio. Targeted Technology, through its two portfolio companies, Fund I and Fund II, is an early stage investor in more than 20 medical and life science companies that have developed disruptive technologies. Cytocentrics is in the Fund II portfolio. Targeted Technology’s Senior Managing Partner Dr. Paul Castella could not be reached for comment.

If approved by City Council, the City will pay a $1 million incentive to Cytocentrics in return for the company investing at least $15 million over the next five years to establish its headquarters and manufacturing facilities here and create at least 300 high wage jobs. Cytocentrics, in turn, will donate two of its proprietary patch clamp robots to local entities. One will go to the Center for Innovation of Drug Discovery (CIDD), a joint venture between UT Health Science Center in San Antonio and UTSA, and the others to Alamo Colleges, which will establish a workforce development program to train future Cytocentrics lab technicians.

Approval of the $1 million incentive is currently listed for presentation and a vote on the City Council’s Thursday meeting agendaA press conference to make the formal announcement is scheduled for Thursday, 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, and is expected to include Cytocentrics and Targeted Technology representatives as well as City, UTHSCSA, UTSA and Alamo College officials.

“Cytocentrics has developed a robotic medical device that evaluates how drugs interact with human cells to determine whether the drug is effective or possibly toxic, and that testing process is called patch clamping,” said Rene Dominguez, the City’s director of economic development. “Right now, that kind of testing is currently being done manually in more than 7,000 laboratories worldwide, and the equipment this company has developed and will manufacture here automates the process, so the possibilities are enormous. The City has provided an incentive to relocate their headquarters from Rostock to San Antonio.”

The predecessor company to Cytocentrics was founded in 2001 in Reutlingen, Germany by Dr. Thomas Knott and Dr. Alfred Stett, and the company’s board of directors includes Dr. Erwin Neher, co-winner with fellow researcher Bert Sakmann of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the function of single ion channels in cells.”

The company is currently located in Rostock, in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern near the Baltic Sea, home to the University of Rostock, one of the world’s oldest universities founded in 1419 and today a center for medical research.

Cytocentrics’ website cites the company’s “ion channel expertise, supplying our customers with cutting edge automated patch clamp systems, ion channel cell lines, patch clamp reagents and in-house patch clamp screening services. … We are an independent micro and nano technology provider that offers foundry service, design, development, prototyping and low volume production of micro-electro-mechanical systems and micro-system technology products for OEM clients in the life science, medical instrumentation and diagnostics industry.”

Cytocentrics will initially establish its offices in Stone Oak where Targeted Technology offices are located, but no permanent headquarters or manufacturing site has been identified yet.

Dominguez said the technology being shared with the Center for Innovation of Drug Discovery “will be a first. There is no other U.S. center or university that has this technology or the ability to conduct cell analysis in this manner. This is truly a biotech initiative that deepens our abilities at the university level.”

“As part of our city’s investment strategies, we identified Germany as a next-target country, and set out to establish closer relations on the economic and cultural side, and we’ve been working with EDF for a year on that,” Dominguez said. “EDF and City staff went to Germany last year and conducted some evaluation work. As of last year there were 28 German companies with some kind of presence here.”

He cited aerospace, automotive, technology and biotech as areas where San Antonio could pursue future German investment here.

“This adds an international corporate headquarters here, and long-term at UTSA and the UTHSCSA, this certainly helps them obtain more grant opportunities and helps UTSA on its Tier One path,” Dominguez said. “This certainly enhances San Antonio’s profile as leader in biotech research. The work we are doing with the Alamo Colleges elevates our workforce development efforts, too.”

*Top image: Cytocentric’s patch clamp robot. Image courtesy Cytocentric.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.