Ion Channel Screening with High Throughput – from University Bench to Global Player

(f.l.t.r.) Dr. rer. nat. Niels Fertig, Dr. rer. nat. Andrea Brüggemann, Dipl. Phys. Michael George

Dr. rer. nat. Niels Fertig (Spokesperson)
Dr. rer. nat. Andrea Brüggemann
Dipl. Phys. Michael George

Nanion Technologies GmbH, Munich

The development of new drugs is a long and costly process. How can it be stepped up and made more cost-effective?

Dr. Niels Fertig, Dr. Andrea Brüggemann, physicist Michael George, and their team developed an innovative system that automates and considerably simplifies the detection of medical active ingredients: the "SyncroPatch 384/768PE" robotic platform. The system is used to test numerous ingredient candidates at the same time and simultaneously on hundreds of cells. This is a major breakthrough in the industrial search for new drugs. Niels Fertig founded Nanion Technologies GmbH in 2002 as a spin-off of the Center for NanoScience at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) Munich and is the company's Chief Executive Officer. Andrea Brüggemann is Chief Scientific Officer and Michael George is Chief Technology Officer at Nanion.

In the past, the development of a new drug from basic research to market readiness took up to twelve years and cost on average around € 800m. One of the reasons was the expensive and time-consuming analysis of millions of substances considered as potential active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Every active ingredient is aimed at a specific point of the body, its target, where it settles and has its therapeutic effect. Especially important targets are ion channels. Ion channels are special proteins in cell membranes that act as minute "gates" and direct the flow of charged ions through the membrane. In the case of certain diseases, such as diabetes, pain, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, and cardiac arrhythmias, ion channel function is disturbed. Certain active ingredients, however, can correct this defect. In order to find suitable substances capable of doing so, pharmaceutical research scientists need to test countless substances on different cells. This is generally done using a patch-clamp technology that measures the flow of electrical current through the cell membrane. Researchers at the University of Munich and at Nanion specifically modified the conventional patch-clamp method in the late 1990's. They used biochips with integrated sensors no larger than a micrometer that were capable of performing rapid and automatic analyses. Niels Fertig and Andrea Brüggemann together with physiologist Prof. Dr. Jan C. Behrends were already nominated for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis in 2007 for this first stage of development.

Patch-clamping with microchips has long since established itself as the standard procedure used in the search for active ingredients in a laboratory environment. In an effort to render the system suitable for industrial applications, the three nominated researchers refined the development, creating a general and versatile robotic platform system. They combined hundreds of microreaction chambers with an efficient amplifier system and specially engineered recording and analysis software. It effectively and virtually instantaneously filters the effectiveness of the drugs out of the sophisticated measuring signals. The researchers also designed the system as a modular system. In this way, individual modules each with 384 channels can be combined in larger units - for example, to create a double platform capable of automatic and parallel analyses of active ingredients on 768 cells. One particular advantage of the SynchroPatch system is that it can easily be adapted to existing laboratory facilities. There is no need to install a new infrastructure it uses industry standards. The platform is capable of analyzing potential candidates at a throughput rate of over 20,000 substances per day. Promising substances are thus detected at an early stage, and it is easier to eliminate useless and ineffective candidates. This gives a boost to the search for active ingredients and lowers costs.

Nanion Technologies GmbH holds several patents to the platform technology. The system was introduced to the market in 2013 and is already in use in companies and at university facilities around the world. In its first year alone, total turnover of the highly profitable company increased by € 1.5m. The young company currently has over 50 employees with branches in the USA and China.

The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent upon leading German institutions in science and industry as well as foundations.

The project "Ion channel screening with high throughput – from university bench to global player" was nominated by acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering e.V..


Dr. rer. nat. Niels Fertig

Born in Hamburg
1992 – 1993
Civil Service civil service in the University Hospital Göttingen
1993 – 1995
Studying Physics, Georg-August-University, Göttingen
1995 – 1996
Studies at the University of California, San Diego, United States
focus: artificial neural networks, Nonlinear Dynamics
Researcher at the Scripps Institute, San Diego, United States
1996 – 1999
Studying physics at the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich
Scholarship of the German Academic Foundation
1998 – 1999
Diploma thesis at the Institute of semiconductor physics, Ludwig-Maximilians – University, Munich: "Nanostructured probe for single ion channels in cell membranes"
1999 – 2002
Promotion at the Center for NanoScience, Munich: "Development of biochips for electrophysiological investigations of ion channels"
PhD Scholarship of the German Academic Foundation
Founding of Nanion technologies GmbH, Munich since
CEO of Nanion technologies GmbH, Munich (English)


Genius Biotech Award of Baden-Württemberg
3rd place at Business-Plan-Contest for Microsystems Technology
start2grow (Nordrhein-Westfalen)
iKuh award for applied Nanotechnology
Nanoscience award 2005
Nanion Technologies GmbH: Innovation Award of the Bavarian Volks- and Raiffeisenbanken: SME of the year 2005
Nanion Technologies GmbH: Nominated for the Bavarian Innovation Award,
Recognition-Award for outstanding innovative achievements
Nominated for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis (German Future Prize, Federal President's Award for Technology and Innovation)
Nanion Technologies GmbH: Innovation award of the German economy, finalist in the category of startup
Nanion Technologies: Step Award
Nanion Technologies GmbH: German Founder's prize, winner in the category Newcomer


Dr. rer. nat. Andrea Brüggemann

Born in Hagen
Studying physics at the Ruhr-University Bochum
Start of the Diploma Thesis at the Center for Molecular Neurobiology in Hamburg (ZMNH)
Continuation of the Diploma Thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Göttingen: "Isolation and electrophysiological characterization of the putative potassium channel ether-à-go-go from Drosophila Melanogaster”
Diplom, Ruhr-University Bochum
1994 – 1997
Dissertation at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Göttingen: "Investigation of the voltage-dependent potassium channel rEAG under the influence of the Cell Cycle"
Research stays of several months in Spain
Disputation in physics at the Ruhr-University Bochum
Postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine, Department of Molecular Biology of Neuronal Signals, Göttingen
1993 - 1997
Scholarship of the Max-Planck-Society
Post-doc in the Cardio-Vascular Research Department at Sanofi-Aventis (Hoechst Marion Roussel), Frankfurt
Laboratory head in the Cardio-Vascular Research Department at Sanofi-Aventis Germany, Frankfurt
Head of the Ion Channel Platform at Sanofi-Aventis Germany, Frankfurt
Head of the Biological Department at Cytion SA, Epalinges, Switzerland
since 2003
Managing Director and CSO Nanion Technologies GmbH, Munich


Dipl. Phys. Michael George

Born in Bremerhaven
1989 – 1991
Civil service, Werkstatt Pronova, Munich
1991 – 1998
Studying physics and biophysics, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich
1996 – 1998
Diploma Thesis, Institute for Biophysics, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich
“Investigations for noninvasive membrane potential measurement with the Light addressable potentiometric sensor”
1998 – 2002
Research associate, Center for Nanoscience CeNS, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich
since 2002
CTO, Nanion Technologies GmbH, Munich




Dr. Niels Fertig
Nanion Technologies GmbH
Gabrielenstraße 9
80636 München
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 21 89 97 972


Cecilia Farre
Nanion Technologies GmbH
Gabrielenstraße 9
80636 München
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 21 89 97 971

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