Cellbox Solutions GmbH

“We just had to bring it to the market!”

A global need in the medical field — and an innovative solution: That’s what has made Cellbox Solutions GmbH so successful.

Prof. Kathin Adlkofer
© Lars Wehrmann/Cellbox Solutions, istockphoto
The joy of innovation: Startup founder Prof. Kathin Adlkofer

No longer needing to freeze cells – that’s the future”, says molecular biologist Prof. Kath­rin Adlkofer. She is not talking about steaks in the fridge freezer here, although those do also contain biological cells. In­stead, her focus is on cell systems as used by researchers in the area of biotechnol­ogy. There are a whole range of applica­tions for these cell systems. For instance, organoid systems, i.e. cell structures that resemble a human organ extremely close­ly, can be used to significantly reduce the number of animals using for medical testing. Or, to give another example, if doctors could take blood cells from can­cer patients, have them geneti­cally modified and then inject them back into the patients, over time they could create a powerful weapon against tu­mors. However, transporting such biological material, be it from biotechnology company to pharmaceutical company or from hospital to laboratory, has been a problem up until now. In a lab, cells are cultivated and stored under constant temperatures, CO2 lev­els and humidity in incubators, but for transport, they always had to be frozen in liquid nitrogen, a process known as cryo­preservation. This places the tissue under stress and the cells undergo physiological change. Transporting structures that are too sensitive for this procedure has simply been impossible.

An incubator “to go”


With her startup Cellbox Solutions GmbH, Prof. Adlkofer has come up with the an­swer. “Now, with our Cellbox, it’s possible to transport living biological material – in excellent quality and internationally too,” enthuses the entrepreneur, who is also a lecturer at the Universität zu Lübeck. “In the area of regenerative medicine, it’s a huge advantage for researchers and pa­tients alike.” The idea of the team behind the spin-off was to make the incubator por­table. For transport by car, train or truck, the incubator maintains the required CO2 levels using CO2cartridges, while on a plane, it uses dry ice as a CO2 source. The key concept was developed at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Marine Biotechnology and Cell Technology EMB. “Having already set up various companies in the health sector, I allowed Prof. Charli Kruse, director of Fraunhofer EMB, to talk me into heading up the cell technology department,” recalls Prof. Adlkofer. There, she was given responsibility for developing a early-stage construct of the Cellbox. “The more we worked on it, the clearer it became to me that we just had to bring it to the market.” In her spare time, Prof. Adlkofer is a sailor, and here too, she has proven to pack a punch. She has participated in the Olympic Games twice, and has also won the 470 World Championships twice. Together with Prof. Kruse, she decided to pursue the spin-off route.


While Prof. Adlkofer had startup expe­rience, there are many things that she would do differently if she could do it again. “Bringing a technology or product to the market is different to marketing an app or licensing antibodies. Developing a robust pipeline right through to batch production was a massive challenge. That’s why it’s essential to get the right people on board,” says Prof. Adlkofer. She searched for a company partner with experience in inter­national distribution, and found what she was looking for in Wolfgang Kintzel. What was it about working in a startup that attracted Kintzel, now CEO of the company? He starts by mention­ing the young, international team, adding, “We have the extremely appealing combina­tion of product sales, consum­ables and the area of complex biological structures.”

“Fraunhofer was with us from day one”

While pursuing the idea of a product suitable for batch production, the team received a lot of support from Fraunhofer EMB and Fraunhofer Venture. “Fraunhofer was with us from day one, and is now an active partner that provides us with know-how, international experi­ence and financial support.” The 15-strong team of employees now sells the portable cell incubators worldwide, and has cus­tomers from Germany, Europe, the USA and Asia, where China is a particular fo­cus. “I’m really proud that we have been able to gain an international foothold in such a short space of time,” says Kintzel. A few weeks ago, Cellbox Solutions GmbH even set up a subsidiary on the east coast of the USA, meaning they can now provide safe transport for biological materials on the other side of the Atlantic too.

“The lockdown made us far stronger”

3x3 questions to Wolfgang Kintzel, Cellbox Solutions GmbH

Did you lose sleep at any stage?

The first lockdown coincided with the marketing phase for our technology — so of course we were wondering how this would affect our investors’ willingness to invest. Would they have faith that an innovative technology could be brought to market at such a time? But it was clear that the investors still believed in our product, and we were able to use this period of time to develop new product lines — this time actually made us far stronger.

What advice has helped you?

The ultimate piece of advice I received was that inno­vation wins the day on the market. When scientific excellence is combined with market know-how, then it will work on the international level too.

What are you proud of?

We have been able to serve markets in Europe, Asia and America in a relatively short space of time using Ger­man technology — for a German company, that’s note­worthy. I’m also proud that we are the first company to make it possible to transport biological material in excellent quality internationally.