BioGX: A truly stellar company
BioGX is a molecular diagnostics company that identifies – and thereby helps track – infectious diseases. Serving over 100 countries, its testing technology has even travelled to outer space, where its products are used on the International Space Station to study the effects of weightlessness on growth, development and immunity.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, their easy-to-use molecular tests are used in both high-tech labs and smaller labs managing with less infrastructure and expertise. “Basically, our tests detect genetic signatures specific for pathogens,” explains the firm’s CEO Dr Iqbal as I amsterdam sits down with him (virtually) from his US offices in Birmingham, Alabama. “We take very complicated genetic testing and simplify it so that fast and reliable testing can be carried out anywhere in the world using any available lab instrumentation for molecular testing.”
How BioGX can help track infections across populations
In 2008, BioGX embarked upon a project to speedily develop a molecular test for swine flu in response to swine flu having confirmed cases abroad, threatening a global crisis. As it happily turned out, these efforts were not necessary, as the 2008 swine flu concern did not escalate. “But ever since, BioGX has been in a ‘prepared state’ for such global threats,” says Iqbal. “Naturally, we became alarmed back in January when cases of coronavirus were coming out of China. We realised we had to watch closely. In fact, we got a team to work on the initial design of our test.”
Amsterdam Science Park (pre-coronavirus)
And they were done just in time. “I was in Spain when the first case arrived in Italy,” recalls Iqbal. “I called the team, all hands on deck. It’s going to blow up, we must move now.” Within two weeks, BioGX launched the CE-IVD test in Europe and partnered with BD for US FDA Emergency Use Authorization.
Why BioGX choose Amsterdam
BioGX originally came to Amsterdam’s Science Park in 2017 to set up a lab and offices to supply tests to all markets outside of the USA. “The Dutch government, both local and national, made it very easy to get us up and running very quickly – cutting out all the red tape,” says Iqbal. “Amsterdam also has a diverse biomedical talent pool, due to the proximity of universities and hospitals. It was the perfect fit for us."
Now, with the need to scale production in response to the pandemic, BioGX required more space, and fast. “Our volume of supply went from a few thousand tests a day to tens of thousands. We’re now able to ship 50,000 to 100,000 Covid-19 tests daily and counting.” The City of Amsterdam and Amsterdam Science Park landlords Matrix Innovation Center from whom BioGX already rented, were quick to step up with a solution. A struggling startup ended its rental agreement early, and BioGX could move in immediately. All parties were happy.
“The response was impressive. And I am seeing this everywhere, everyone is coming together to help supply as many COVID-19 tests as possible, that’s the biggest driver and motivator right now – everyone is recognising the importance of mass testing.”
Changing the way we fight disease
Iqbal believes that COVID-19 has fully exposed global shortcomings in healthcare when it comes to infectious disease diagnostics. “This is why the required mass testing is not happening. It’s time for a change. It starts with high-quality tests, by which we can be certain that the test we produce, performs the same way in a high-tech lab in a developed country as in a remote lab with poor infrastructure and limited resources.”
First and foremost: testing must become patient-centric and more geared around population testing. “With a pandemic, this is essential. Right now, the system is built such that the testing should go through the doctors who are ordering the tests,” says Iqbal.
The current absurdity around diagnostics
“The physicians must first see the patient, and if they don’t see the patient, the patient won’t get tested. Going through the current system to get tested for an infectious disease is burdened with unnecessary costs. A molecular test itself might not cost more than twenty dollars, but by the time the test goes through the healthcare system, it costs hundreds of dollars, which ultimately the patient pays for one way or another. This all just doesn’t make sense,” says Iqbal.
“Why not let the patient get tested with their sole consent by sending their sample to the lab directly? If positive, they can follow up with their physician. All negative patients don’t need to see their doctors. This can save everyone a lot of costs and agony. Why should we stand in line only to find out we did not have to stand in line after all? Where else does this happen?”
The light at the end of the tunnel
Iqbal remains optimistic. In these trying times, he’s noticing many people out to make a difference. “You see it in how people are helping us. You see it in how regulatory bodies around the world are opening their regulations when it comes to outbreaks testing. Some are really beginning to look at how they can unchain the manufacturers to develop solutions that don’t cost hundreds of millions,” says Iqbal.
“Rather, we should focus on how to serve the general population by manufacturing tests that are affordable and available to the masses, and not financially aimed at a corporate benefit This would be a great leap forward for the positive evolution of the diagnostic system worldwide.”
But I’ve actually been most impressed with our own employees. They’ve been working around the clock, 14, 15, 18 hours a day to create innovation and scale production and making sure we are supporting customers globally. These are the people I am most proud of.”
Read more business news from around Amsterdam.