February 7, 2023
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Owl Biomedical bought by German firm


Less than two years after it was founded, Santa Barbara-based Owl Biomedical has been acquired by a German firm.

Bergisch Gladbach-based Miltenyi Biotec said April 23 that it had purchased Owl for an undisclosed sum.

The heart of Owl is a chip that can sort millions of cells per minute with help from lasers and nano-scale valves. The chips themselves are disposable and easy to use, making it faster, simpler and cheaper for researchers to develop cell-based therapies for cancer and other illnesses.

With help from Owl’s machine, scientists could one day sort out the very tiny fraction of a patient’s cells that are effective at fighting a cancer, grow a large number of those cells and then re-inject them into the patient.

“We immediately recognized the intrinsic value of Owl’s microchip-based technology for cell processing and its complement to our existing cell enrichment product portfolio,” Stefan Miltenyi, founder and president of Miltenyi Biotec, said in a statement.

Cell sorting itself is commonplace. Researchers dose cells with a fluorescent chemical that responds to certain color of laser light. When the laser hits the cell sample, the sought-after cells light up and are separated from the rest.

Owl’s key invention was a super-fast electronically activated valve that opens nearly instantly to isolate the glowing cells one at a time. The device is faster than the valves on a Ferrari engine.

“As far as we know, that valve is the fastest in the world. It moves from one position to another in 15 millionths of a second,” Foster told the Business Times back in 2012. “With this ultra-high-speed valve, we can pick off one cell at a time. In a way, it’s the mechanical engineering way of doing biology. It’s how a bunch of mechanical engineers would attack this problem.”

Owl can bring down the cost of each chip because they are made similar to microchips, where 3,200 of them can fit on each 150-millimeter silicon wafer. “In this facility I’m sitting in right here in Santa Barbara, we could make 100 million chips a year without even breathing hard,” Foster told the Business Times in 2012.

In a news release, Foster said the acquisition of Owl will combine it’s technology with “Miltenyi Biotec’s strength in commercial design, manufacturing and marketing. This combination provides assurance that our technology will get to market in a timely manner with the highest quality engineering.”