LIST’s 10th Spin-Off Tackles Respiratory Sensitisers

From left: Invitrolize CEO Arno Gutleb with Chief Scientific Officer Sabina Burla (Photo © Invitrolize)

Not sure why certain products are making you sneeze? The chances are the manufacturers don’t know either. This LIST spin-off is set to change that. 

The backstory of LIST’s tenth healthtech spinoff, Invitrolize, reads like a glowing endorsement of the institution’s business development officer. 

In late 2019 Arno Gutleb, the Head of Group of environmental Health at LIST was living his best academic life, managing PhD students and teaching at two universities. “I didn’t even think about having a company,” he told Silicon, adding: “Then we got a new business developer.”

One Friday, the development officer came to Gutleb’s office. “I came home Friday evening and said to my wife ‘What about having a company?’” he laughs. 

The business officer underlined the largely untapped market for the unique technology that Gutleb’s team had worked on: recreating an in vitro model of the alveolar, the deepest region of the lungs. 

The model alveolar is exposed to products using a nebuliser, simulating the effects of a product being inhaled. The results are then analysed, enabling experts to identify which products could be respiratory sensitizers or respiratory irritants. 

Gutleb, who is one of three people who own the patent for the process, said that until recently, the industry had no way of knowing whether their products contained respiratory sensitisers or irritants. 

“Industry is flying blind and hoping that the product is safe,” the founder said, adding: “They’re not tested. The only test we have is when consumers or workers are exposed.”

“They’re not tested. The only test we have is when consumers or workers are exposed.”

Arno Gutleb, Invitrolize CEO

However, previous work with potential clients for the technology, showed a growing interest from manufacturers in these kinds of tests. And with only a handful of academic teams working on solutions, the timing was right to commercialise the research. 

Steady growth

Gutleb leveraged his over 20-year history in cell culture and academic reputation to attract customers from Europe, the US and Japan. In January 2023, he hired his first staff member, Sabina Burla, the Chief Scientific Officer. Burla studied under Gutleb when she completed her Master’s in toxicology at “Iuliu Hatieganu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Cluj-Napoca.

Gutleb, who splits his time by working 20% on the startup and 80% on his other duties, will join Burla to work full-time on the startup in 2025. 

The two currently work at a laboratory at LIST’s Belval campus, and have access to high-tech equipment on a rental basis. Here they conduct in-house tests on products and ship kits with live cells to customers with some limitations. 

“Our model has a relatively short shelf life. So we ship Mondays and a week later they cannot be used,” said Gutleb, adding: “It’s not possible to ensure 24-hour shipping globally so if we want to go into Asia or North America, we will have to think about either placing people temporarily or permanently or outsourcing the technology to similar institutions.”

Currently bootstrapped, Invitrolize has applied to participate in the fourteenth Fit 4 Start accelerator programme, to help raise funds and hire two more staff members. 

Its strategy is to grow the team to 20 over the next four years to expand its market reach. 

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