The deal aims to introduce automated patch clamping into ion channel drug discovery, as well as safety screening, which will make the preclinical process much more effective, ultimately providing better quality drugs faster.
"Since the QPatch has now been installed at most big pharma companies and a broad range of other companies in the USA and Europe, we are happy to increase our focus on the promising Japanese market for automated patch clamping together with Physio-Tech," said Dr Torsten Freltoft, CEO of Sophion.
It is estimated that the total market for this kind of measuring system and consumables will grow to an annual market in the range of $100 million(€85 million).
QPatch16 is the first automated patch clamp system providing real giga seal patch clamp data on an industrial basis.
The system has integrated cell preparation and QPlate exchange facilities enabling several hours of unattended operation.
The unique microfluidic flow channels in the consumable QPlates enables liquid exchange around the cell in less than 100 ms and provides the option to test multiple compounds or concentrations on the same cell.
Under the terms of the agreement, Physio-Tech will make installations and provide technical support for QPatch systems, while first hand application support will be provided in a non-profit collaboration with Drug Safety Testing Centre (DSTC) located in Saitama near Tokyo.
"The Japanese drug discovery companies are excited about the features of this 2nd generation automated patch clamp system - especially the 4 hour walk-away capability. So we have high expectations for our collaboration with Sophion," said Hiroyuki Yamaho, sales manager of Physio-Tech.
"Since the installation of the first QPatch system in Japan this summer at DSTC we have been able to increase our contract patch clamp capacity dramatically," said Dr. Yuji Tsurubuchi, director of DSTC.
While the classical patch-clamp technique is the standard for ion channel investigations, it is a labour-intensive method performed only by skilled scientists.
It hence fails to meet the requirements of pharmaceutical drug testing in regards to cost and time employed per data point.
However, the new enabling technology of automated patch clamp systems is driving the market for patch clamp/ion channel screening.
Since its advent, the interest in ion channels as drug targets has tremendously increased, revolutionising the way ion channel screening is carried out in the industry.
Ion channels play an important role in cell signalling, electrical excitability and fluid transport, and are drug targets themselves in a number of indications, including heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and migraine.
Small molecules that block or open ion channels are considered to be promising drug candidates. In addition, some ion channels on heart muscle cells are associated with toxicology problems, and candidate's drugs are routinely screened against them.
Current manufacturers, which produce patch-clamp technologies, include Sweden's Cellectricon, Nanion, microcomponent manufacturer, thinXXS, and Molecular Devices.