Leeuwarden-based Biotrack is experiencing a stormy period in these Covid-19-dominated times. For the startup provides a rapid test with pluses, a quick analysis with many extras, because in addition to being fast and reliable, the test provides a punch of information about the virus, bacteria or fungus being examined.
First, let's explain how it works. Biotrack founder Gerard Schouten talks about the nearly 40-year-old technology that allows fluorescent 'keys' to be attached to viruses, bacteria or fungi. The "key" has a shape that fits exactly on the virus, fungus or bacteria, causing the virus to light up. ''We capture that scene with a sensitive camera,'' Schouten says, ''and the total looks like a kind of galaxy. A beautiful sight.''
Analysis provides much more information than a yes or no answer
All those stars in that image are the glowing corona viruses. A special computer analyzes the images. ''If one lights up, we know it's a Covid-19 virus, because the specially designed key only fits that virus,'' Schouten says. ''What we see is much more than you are or are not infected, much more than a yes or no. We see that there is one, we see how active it is, how many there are. We get immense information out of it. And quickly.''
Biotrack now has so much data that, for example, it can recognize whether someone has had the virus for a long time. In processing all that data, the analysis system also learns to recognize patterns. Much more data are therefore needed to arrive at definitive diagnoses through learning, Schouten says: ,,But we already have an indication. And quickly, too.''
No cotton swab deep in nose, just spit into tube
And there is another advantage of the Biotrack test: there is no need to insert cotton swabs deep into the nose or throat. Biotrack can already get started with some saliva, just spit into a tube, done. That's a lot more comfortable.
Biotrack immediately came into NOM's sights when the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate inquired whether it knew of any companies that could play a role in the fight against the "corona virus. Through the NOM-managed FOM (Frisian Development Company), there is a participation in Biotrack. The Frisian startup has now successfully obtained a European CE-IVD registration for both the technology and the Covid-19 test kit.
The mission speaks of ambition and mentality
That process was intensive. ''We showed what we could do and that included collecting data,'' Schouten says. ''The RIVM was quickly interested in us and we are now working together.'' An approval process with FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) is also now underway. Schouten: ,,That could mean an international breakthrough. We are among the first to be there for a test on saliva and blood.''
The omens are good. And it all fits, because Biotrack has a mission from which compassion radiates: to reduce patient mortality. And one wants to optimize therapeutic strategies. It speaks ambition and mentality. But Schouten doesn't seem a breast-beater when he says: ''We are happy to help.''
Path to better diagnosis and treatment
He does stress that Biotrack's tests provide so much information that more and better research can be done on, for example, the Covid-19 virus. Schouten: ,,If you look in the screen, for example, at what I see as a kind of galaxy, then you can see in that amount of glowing dots that the Covid virus does not always have the same shape. For example, one is brighter than the other. Then you start looking at it with the telescope, so to speak, and you get more insights into the virus. We look at the micro level.''
Biotrack already has a lot of information available. A lot, Schouten states. What will be done with it? ''We are trying to interest parties to do research on it,'' Schouten says. ''More parties need to look at it. We have a lot of contacts with universities. With our information you might get a better diagnosis and a different treatment.''
Gerard Schouten is not an 'on-the-shop fiter'
Biotrack's tester is portable, making it deployable as an on-site lab. It is yet another plus to this system. Science, technology but also entrepreneurship seem to blend seamlessly here.
And then comes the one moment in the conversation when Schouten feels uncomfortable. After being asked what kind of entrepreneur he is, he shifts back and forth uncomfortably in his chair. ''Pfff, I'm a pioneer though, not an on-the-shop-passer,'' he sounds hesitant. ''But it's the team that makes the difference. We have the opportunity to make strides in the field of pathogens (biological pathogens, ed.). The team makes such a thing possible.''
Biotrack started in water sector
Biotrack was founded in 2011. Initially the startup was active only in the water sector, but gradually the Frisian company began to focus on healthcare, water and food/beverage/dairy. It researches bacteria, viruses and fungi that are difficult to measure.
Schouten is a techie. Around him he has gathered microbiologists, among others. Test equipment was developed with Biotrack (10 employees). ''But it was actually too good for the applications we had,'' Schouten says. Therefore, Biotrack became active in more markets.'' Biotrack already had some experience in the medical sector. Last year, for example, the effect of Lyme had been studied.
Diederik Jongema, manager of Friese Ontwikkelings Maatschappij FOM:
,,We had known Biotrack for quite some time, it is one of the first funding from the FOM. It is a company that is constantly developing, although it is sometimes difficult to implement the technology in the market. I believe in the patent and the possibilities the company has with it.
It is also typical of what is happening now. Biotrack is not a covid tester pure and simple; their perspective is actually much broader. But they are jumping in and can now show what they can do. What Biotrack delivers is much more than a quick test that just says yes or no. The tester on Covid-19 is a logical extension of what Biotrack has been doing for years. The corona pandemic is creating more urgency and so Biotrack is becoming more visible.
Whether this will be Biotrack's breakthrough? I sincerely hope this puts Biotrack further on the map.''