02. May 2018

Highly insightful genes

Start-up Genetek Biopharma is developing sets for DNA testing

Genetek: Riddhi Patel, Alexander Grail
Genetek: Riddhi Patel and Alexander Grail

Doctors require suitable aids and appliances to detect hereditary diseases and genetic defects. The international start-up Genetek Biopharma is striving to fill that gap with its DNA testing sets. Moreover, the company is developing similar products for application in forensics.

Laypeople may be familiar with the process from detective novels and crime films: a criminal leaves biological traces at a crime scene, which are sent to a laboratory. The police can catch the culprit using DNA traces. This is one area of application for DNA testing sets. The start-up Genetek Biopharma GmbH aims at developing and marketing such sets (or kits). Their diverse product range can be used for genetic analysis in many different fields.

Some are used by forensic scientists to analyse rape cases, or to conduct paternity tests. Others are used in health care, for example, to test patients for hereditary diseases and genetic defects. The methods help doctors to quickly detect trisomy and haemophilia. “Our company is one of few that caters to healthcare as well as forensic application,” says Indian scientist Riddhi Patel with a certain pride.

One such kit contains a wide range of custom-made substances for testing. Some substances are highly sensitive and interact strongly with genome sequences that contain the tested properties.

The company’s two laboratories are light and spacious. Patel points to a refrigerator: “This one is minus 85 degrees Celsius.” At such extremely low temperatures, DNA can be stored for many years. Next door, Cassandra Steinkraus und Alexander Grail, two of Patel’s colleagues in white lab coats, are examining whether testing with a kit yields the same results as testing in a lab. First, the samples are cleaned and prepared using established methods like the “polymerase chain reaction”. The lab staff then uses a high-quality analytics device to test the kit’s reliability.

Riddhi Patel is responsible for the research side of the international start-up. A native of the Indian state of Gujarat, she studied biochemistry and biotechnology. Her scientific expertise is complemented by Professor Sirous Zeinali, one of the CEOs, who has excellent credentials in genetics. The second CEO, Behrouz Alambeigi, is responsible for finances, human resources and marketing. Zeinali and Alambeigi founded the company in March 2017. In August, they brought Alexander Grail in as the laboratory manager.

As early as summer 2018, the team wants to conclude the testing of the kits and launch production. “In order to market them as commercial products, we need a certification of the TÜV, the German Association for Technical Inspection,” says Patel. The company has already gone forward with the two-year procedure. It is possible, however, to sell the uncertified kits for research purposes.

In the near future, the Genetek team also wants to make products for ordinary consumers. A new kit called “Genetastic” will enable non-scientists to examine their genome for personal health and fitness purposes. “You could test yourself for lactose intolerance, or find out what body type you are,” says Patel. She tests her fitness every day – by riding her bike to work.

By Sven Titz for Adlershof Journal