Mediagnost Gesellschaft für Forschung und Herstellung von Diagnostika GmbH in Reutlingen develops, produces and distributes test systems for a wide range of applications in the fields of infection diagnosis and endocrinology. Mediagnost, one of the oldest biotechnology companies in Germany, offers a broad range of services, including the production of antibodies, proteins and viruses, the analysis of samples and the customisation of raw materials. To provide customers specialising in biomedical and pharmaceutical technology with the best possible solutions, Mediagnost is constantly driving forward the identification of innovative markers. The company celebrated its 25th anniversary on 19th March 2010 with a series of events.
The success story started back in 1985 when PhD student Angelika Haage, her supervisor Prof. Bertram Flehmig, then Professor of the Department of Medical Virology and Epidemiology of Viral Diseases at the University Hospital of Tübingen, and the working group he headed succeeded in producing the Hepatitis A antigen in cell cultures. Prior to this breakthrough, the virus had to be extracted from human faeces. Since then, these new cell cultures have provided a system for producing antigens in any given quantity as and when necessary. Today, there are still only a few companies worldwide able to produce this antigen. “When we went public with this achievement, we were contacted by a major diagnostics company in Italy asking whether we could produce the antigen in really large quantities,” recalls Mediagnost Managing Director Dr. Angelika Haage. “At the time, this was not possible at the university, so we decided to establish a company and quickly rented laboratories in Tübingen.”
The order from Italy was so big that no external capital was required to finance the venture. At only 30 years of age, Angelika Haage became managing director, laboratory worker, secretary and head of quality control in one. Prof. Bertram Flehmig remained a researcher at the University of Tübingen and was involved in the company as a shareholder. "Although we didn't shout about the venture from the rooftops, people soon found out that I was involved in the project, and that had a negative impact on my career during that period," explains Prof. Flehmig. "A lot has changed since then. Now the university gives its backing to company start-ups. Many founders exchange information with partners from the university or other research institutes. Nowadays, nobody has a problem if professors are involved in the foundation of companies - it was quite a different story 25 years ago."
In fact, the direct link to the university and, therefore, the associated research activities was key to the success of the small company. Work in research projects focusing on the development of more efficient and sensitive diagnostics through the use of cutting-edge technologies was - and still is - a central task in order to provide the best possible solutions for customers specialising in biomedical and pharmaceutical technology. Besides the Hepatitis A antibodies and virus, Mediagnost also developed test systems, among them a test kit for endocrinology that can be used to identify growth disorders in children through hormone analysis. "This test was developed at the start of the 1990s in cooperation with a professor at the University Children's Hospital in Tübingen. It did not really fit with our existing strategy of infectious diseases, but we thought it was a good idea to establish a second pillar," explains Prof. Flehmig. "As a result, we launched the world's first immunoassay for identifying this growth disorder and really made our mark. This test is still considered the gold standard in its field today. In the meantime, we have built up a very solid product portfolio for endocrinology."
Mediagnost made a conscious decision to specialise in niche products for the diagnosis and research of infectious diseases and endocrine disorders. As competition is fierce, the company focuses primarily on research and supplies smaller laboratories that specialise in manual tests. "Automation does not pay off with quantities of this size, so our competitors don't tend to encroach on these market segments," explains Haage. Mediagnost has carved out a successful niche for itself in this line of business and has never been seriously tempted by any takeover bids, and the offers have certainly been there. The company has never had to rely on external capital and had marketable products right from the start. Today, these products are distributed via a local dealer network and via established sales partners abroad. The company also sells directly.
In 2000, Mediagnost GmbH moved to the Tübingen-Reutlingen Technology Park with its workforce of 20 employees to take advantage of well-equipped facilities covering 1,200 square metres. "Our employees are all highly qualified, well-trained and extremely reliable, otherwise we would not be where we are today," states Haage.
Barbara Bosch, Lord Mayor of Reutlingen, and Klaus Tappeser, Ministerial Director of the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, both gave opening addresses at the company anniversary celebrations on 19 March. Prof. Reinhard Kurth from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin then took to the stage to give a presentation on new infectious diseases.