/ Erfolgsgeschichten, SNI INSight

With a wealth of enthusiasm and expertise – Scientists from the SNI network found “ELDICO Scientific”

In June 2019, four experienced entrepreneurs Dr. Gustavo Santiso-Quinones, Dr. Gunther Steinfeld, Dr. Eric Hovestreydt and Nils Gebhardt founded the company “ELDICO Scientific” with a view to commercializing an instrument that measures electron diffraction. This electron diffractometer can be used to determine the 3D structure of nanoscale materials whose tiny dimensions or properties meant that, until now, they were either impossible or very difficult to analyze. The foundations for establishing ELDICO Scientific were partly laid by the Nano Argovia project A3EDPI.

Three-dimensional structures are needed
For numerous applications, it is vital to know the precise 3D structure of a chemical compound. For example, the development and authorization of active pharmaceutical ingredients relies on a detailed understanding of the drug’s exact spatial configuration. If the substances are present in the form of single, large crystals, they can be analyzed in fine detail using X-ray structural analysis. Often, however, the compounds in question are only available as powders. And crystallization is complex, time-consuming or simply impossible.

In the Nano Argovia project A3EDPI, the project team led by Dr. Tim Grüne (then at PSI, now at the University of Vienna) succeeded in demonstrating that the diffraction patterns of electron beams are ideally suited to determining the 3D structure of tiny organic nanocrystals in powder form. Given the small crystal size, X-rays or synchrotron radiation would not have produced satisfactory results with these materials.

A novel combination of existing equipment
For these measurements, the team combined existing commercially available devices and established methods to create a technique that is not only ingenious but also refreshingly simple. Specifically, they used the beam from an electron microscope in conjunction with the best detector that today is used for X ray diffraction in the synchrotron and software designed for X-ray structural analysis. In October 2018, Tim Grüne and his colleagues published the results of their successful analyses in the journal Angewandte Chemie, and so began the budding story of ELDICO Scientific!

Dr. Gustavo Santiso-Quinones and Dr. Gunther Steinfeld of Crystallise! AG were industry partners in the project and co-authored the publication. They were taken aback by the massive response to the paper: “It was through a blog on Science that we first realized the scale of interest worldwide in using electron diffraction for crystallography applications,” the two scientists recall. “Not only have we had inquiries about electron diffractometers from all over the world, but Science also nominated the method as one of the “Breakthroughs of the Year 2018”, and it’s become clear to us that the use of electron-beam diffraction will transform the field of crystallography.”

A well-coordinated team
The two chemists and crystallographers met while working as postdocs in Freiburg im Breisgau in 2006. Five years ago, they plucked up the courage to go it alone and founded Crystallise! AG. Today, they handle the crystallization and X-ray analysis of a range of materials for global pharmaceutical and chemical companies. As a result, they are well aware of how expensive and time-consuming it can be to obtain crystals of sufficient size and quality for 3D structural analysis using X-rays.

Perfectly tailored to electron diffraction
“After these initial results and the positive feedback we received, we realized that we needed to take a more intensive and proactive approach to the topic of electron diffraction,” say Gustavo Santiso-Quinones and Gunther Steinfeld. With this in mind, they came up with the idea of founding a second company to develop and commercialize an electron diffractometer for crystallographic applications.

The plan was to create a device specialized in crystallographic measurements rather than simply combining commercially available components – as was the case in the Nano Argovia project. This allows them to dispense with some of the complex and expensive components of an electron microscope, which are important for high-resolution imaging but less so when it comes to recording an electron diffraction pattern. On the other hand, the diffraction mode of an electron microscope needs to be optimized for use in crystallography. For example, in order to maximize the accuracy of the results, it’s important to have a device that can be used to rotate the sample during the measurement process without moving it out of the electron beam. “In the past, it sometimes took a team of scientists several months to determine the three-dimensional structure of an unknown substance. With our device, an operator will have a reliable result in their hands within a few hours,” say the company’s founders.

Pooled expertise
Gustavo Santiso-Quinones (CEO) and Gunther Steinfeld (CTO) decided to bring Nils Gebhardt and Dr. Eric Hovestreydt on board as co-founders. A few years earlier, Nils Gebhardt helped launch and develop Park Innovaare in the role of managing director. In the process, he also supported the establishment of Crystallise! at Park Innovaare, and so he was already well acquainted with the duo behind Crystallise! AG. With his marketing and business background, Gebhardt is now CFO at ELDICO Scientific and as such is responsible for commercial aspects of the project.

With Eric Hovestreydt in the role of CSO, the team also has an additional crystallographer within its ranks. Hovestreydt has over 30 years’ experience in senior positions at Siemens and Bruker and has etched out a name for himself as an expert in X-ray equipment. “When I heard that Eric was leaving Bruker, I called him straight away to tell him about our plans,” says Gustavo Santiso-Quinones. Eric Hovestreydt was intrigued by the idea: “By elegantly combining two established techniques, it represents a radical simplification with amazing potential.”

Rapid progress
Once the founding team was assembled, everything happened in quick succession: the required patents were applied for, the business plan was written, discussions were held with potential users and customers, and all necessary preparations were made for founding the company. Since June 2019, ELDICO has been a registered joint stock company headquartered at Park Innovaare in Villigen.

As well as their sizable network of potential customers from the worlds of research and business, the four founders bring together the necessary expertise not only to put the science and technology to practical use but also to market the resulting product. In order to actually build the device, they have teamed up with the company AXILON (Cologne, Germany). They presented a model of the electron diffractometer at the European Crystallographic Meeting in Vienna this August, and by mid-2020 the first beta testers will be able to put the new devices through their paces at their own laboratories.

Huge commercial potential
“We’ve received inquiries from about 30 potential customers so far,” says Nils Gebhardt. For now, the interest has primarily come from international research groups and customers in the pharmaceutical industry. “Particularly for pharmaceutical companies, using electron diffraction for structural elucidation would save huge amounts of time and money,” he adds.

Looking to the future, the founders of ELDICO also have other applications in mind for the technology. For example, they are confident that electron diffraction could be used for the quick and cost-effective detection of forgeries. It would also allow relatively easy analysis of nanomaterials such as metal-organic framework structures.

Enthusiastic chemists
When the paper on determining structures by electron diffraction was published last year, Nature responded with an article entitled “Why didn’t we think to do this earlier? Chemists thrilled by speedy atomic structures.”

The founders of ELDICO Scientific are also enthusiastic about the technology and see huge potential for developing and commercializing an electron diffractometer for use in crystallography. The SNI will continue to follow the device’s development eagerly and looks forward to accompanying the team on this exciting journey!

Scientific papers and comments that describe the application of electron diffraction for crystallography had their roots in the Nano Argovia project A3EDPI:

Angewandte Chemie
Acta Crystallographica
Nature Communications

More information at: ELDICO Scientific