(Stuttgart) – BioRegio STERN Management GmbH (http://www.bioregio-stern.de/en) is the coordinator of the new joint APRONA project launched in September 2017. A “flexible robot-based platform for automated production of nanoparticles” is to be developed within the next two and a half years. The project is receiving funding of around EUR 1.6 million as part of the initiative by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to promote SME-focused, strategic R&D partnerships in networks and clusters (KMU-NetC).

The Greek word “nános” means “dwarf”, and yet the expectations placed on nanoparticles are enormous. These tiny particles are now found not only in a multitude of everyday products – for example, to extend shelf life – but are also used in countless applications in medicine, medical technology and the pharmaceutical industry. Nanotechnology is designed to help diagnose diseases earlier, deliver active ingredients faster to the target location in the body and improve implant tolerance. However, hardly any automation solutions are currently available that are suitable for the complex manufacturing processes. For instance, if nanoparticles are to be used in personalised medicine, reproducible product characteristics need to be ensured and regulatory requirements met. A “flexible robot-based platform for automated production of nanoparticles” – APRONA – is to be developed to close the gaps. The joint project is part of the BMBF initiative to promote SME-focused, strategic R&D partnerships in networks and clusters (KMU-NetC) and was launched in September 2017 with BioRegio STERN Management GmbH as the coordinator.

For ten years, BioRegio STERN Management GmbH has been working successfully on strategies to initiate industry links between the medtech and biotech sectors. APRONA is now the next step in cluster development, following on from the ELSA – Engineering Life Sciences Automation – project, which drove forward collaboration between the life sciences and engineer-driven industries. Three small and medium-sized businesses from the STERN BioRegion offer automation and life science expertise in the joint project.

Goldfuss engineering GmbH, based in Balingen, specialises in special-purpose mechanical and systems engineering, with its “Lab automation” division designing complex solutions for fully automatic processes for sectors such as the life sciences.
Tübingen-based Biametrics GmbH develops and produces analytical devices for molecular interaction analysis. Its SCORE (single color reflectometry) detection method can be used to detect any molecular interaction, for example in chemosensor technology to identify nanoparticles in consumer goods.
BioTeSys GmbH, from Esslingen, specialises in analysing and evaluating the impact of bioactive substances – in other words, examining a substance’s functional properties and its effects and effectiveness. The Fraunhofer Translation Centre for Regenerative Therapies in Würzburg forms a link between these project partners from the engineering and material science and biotech industries. The centre is part of the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC and brings together expertise from a wide range of scientific disciplines such as materials research and regenerative medicine for application in a clinical setting.

As part of the APRONA project, these four project partners will be initiating automated production of nanoparticles for application in diagnostics and treatment. The particles can be used for drug delivery systems and for the transfer of active ingredients to the part of the body where they are needed. The aim of the joint research and development project, which will run for two and a half years, is to create a versatile, interactive robot technology to produce nanoparticles. The plan is to implement the automation process using a two-arm robot that interacts with other devices. To achieve this, all the equipment and components in the system need to be developed and combined in such a way that all the necessary motion sequences, speeds, positioning movements, and signal and measurement parameters ensure the production workflow is sufficiently precise and reproducible. All devices must therefore be compatible with each other and capable of being combined.

“Ultimately, everyone involved will benefit from the innovation network and together achieve the goal of a reliable and automated production method for nanoparticles in life sciences,” says project coordinator Dr. Verena Grimm from BioRegio STERN Management GmbH.