gerbion®: hunting down pathogens
Detecting viruses, bacteria or parasites in human, animal, food and environmental samples is routine for the staff of gerbion GmbH & Co. KG. The company has been using virological, microbiological and serological methods for many years, but is now also using cutting-edge molecular biology methods for detecting pathogens. The founders of the Kornwestheim-based diagnostics company have concentrated on own research work and the development of new detection methods and tests right from the word go.
“2003 was a somewhat uncertain time for setting up a diagnostics company,” recalled Dr. Christoph Metzger-Boddien. The biotech bubble had just burst and venture capital was nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, the biologist and current CEO of gerbion® decided to get involved in two diagnostics companies. “I’ve always wanted to start a business. There comes a point when you decide that the time is ripe for taking the risk and trying new things,” said Metzger-Boddien who previously worked as the head of a department at a Stuttgart-based diagnostics laboratory. gerbion® initially focused on BSE tests, while the second diagnostics company specialised on the detection of other infectious agents.
The company founders proved that they had a good nose for business: the BSE crisis at that time ensured that turnover kept growing – at least until 2008, when the number of BSE analyses dropped significantly, partly due to an EU regulation which increased the age limit of cattle that needed to be tested for BSE prior to human consumption. However, Metzger-Boddien and his business partner Georg Klopfer, who shortly after split with the third founder and withdrew their shares from the second company due to personal differences, had taken precautionary measures right from the start. They had been carrying out research and developing other tests with the aim of selling them to laboratory physicians in public and private laboratories as well as veterinary investigation laboratories.
New test methods one step ahead of competitors
Metzger-Boddien and his business partner Georg Klopfer have been developing and marketing around 20 laboratory detection tests – initially based on client commission and under foreign labels – based on real-time (RT-) PCR since 2009. “We decide which tests to develop on the basis of our personal assessments, talks with clients and users and we also look through the literature to find ideas for products with the potential to become best-sellers,” said Metzger-Boddien. Tests for noroviruses, which are the most common cause of severe viral gastroenteritis in humans, and for Legionella, which grow best in warm water and are the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, are examples of such products. The gerbion® product portfolio also includes the ixSave® tick test, which is sold directly to end consumers. The tick test set contains an innovative tick remover and everything that is needed to send a tick to gerbion® and have it examined for the presence of different pathogens. Results are sent by post, but can also be downloaded from the Internet.
“In future, we have plans to develop tests that are not so heavily based on PCR as our current tests. PCR is relatively easy to set up in a laboratory and so anyone can use it,” said Metzger-Boddien explaining his future objectives, going on to add, “the patent for RT-PCR expired in 2011 and has led to a flood of cheap PCR tests of doubtful quality from the Middle East.” The company also has plans to validate a novel proprietary luminescence assay in 2013. The test is similar to ELISA (eds. note: enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), and detects interactions between antibodies and pathogens using an enzyme-mediated reaction. Unlike ELISA, the new method does not require time-consuming washing steps and is between 10 and 100 times more sensitive than ELISA.
Another business pillar: participation in clinical studies
The company frequently works with partners at universities who provide it with the genetic constructs required for specific tests. gerbion® has a number of reference methods that can be used to test the validity of a novel test and find out whether it is able to specifically detect the pathogen under consideration. The company also needs to develop tests to detect related pathogens. The broad spectrum of methods used by the gerbion® staff and the high quality standards in the accredited laboratory also mean that the company is able to participate in clinical vaccine studies such as studies associated with the development of vaccines against the bird flu virus. gerbion® is contracted by pharmaceutical companies to determine the quantity of antibodies in the sera of vaccinated volunteers using a haemagglutination inhibition test or a neutralisation test.
“As we are a relatively small company with just nine employees, we are able to react more quickly and flexibly to client requirements than big diagnostics laboratories,” said Metzger-Boddien who also hopes that good customer service and high quality give his company a lead over the large number of competitors from China. “I am sure we are on the right track; we’ve developed very positively in 2012 and we hope that this will continue in the future,” said Metzger-Boddien.
gerbion GmbH & Co. KG
Dr. Christoph Metzger-Boddien (CEO)
Tel.: +49 (0)7154/ 80 620 - 0
Fax: +49 (0)7154 80 620 - 29