Responsibility in times of crisis: a Rostock-based company that otherwise tracks rare diseases is opening its laboratories for life-saving coronavirus tests. Up to 10,000 swabs can be analysed per day.
“Test, test, test.” Arndt Rolfs leaves no doubt as to what he considers to be the order of the day in the coronavirus crisis. The CEO of Centogene started conducting these tests in his own company in mid-March. Each and every person was tested for the novel coronavirus Covid-19. Only one employee tested positive. She went into quarantine, but the others were able to continue working after the series of tests were completed. Some of them, however, are currently working on completely different things than before: they are analysing coronavirus tests. Centogene took the initiative and is providing laboratory capacity for virus testing.
The samples come from men and women who are crucial to the vital infrastructure of society: medical staff, fire brigades, police. One screening was also carried out in nursing homes. So far, residents of Rostock, where the biotechnology company is based, have been able to have themselves tested. But according to Rolfs, the goal is to expand the scope. Centogene’s laboratories have the capacity to handle 5,000 to 10,000 swabs per day.
Arndt Rolfs, 60, is a professor of neurology and an entrepreneur. He founded Centogene in 2006 as a spin-off of the University Medicine Rostock and listed the company on the New York technology exchange Nasdaq last year. The company’s activities in the fight against the coronavirus are far removed from its actual purpose: Centogene is the global market leader in diagnostics for rare congenital diseases and is now helping to contain an epidemic that affects everyone.
In its Rostock laboratories, Centogene searches patient DNA for rare genetic diseases and has the world’s largest database in this field.
Investments in health
“We have a responsibility to society,” says Hubert Birner, Managing Partner of TVM Capital. The Munich-based venture capital company has held a stake in Centogene since 2017. It has just raised capital for the TVM Capital Life Science Innovation II fund, which among other things finances Centogene. KfW Capital, the subsidiary of KfW Group, has invested 25 million euros in this fund, which also finances Centogene. “Particularly in the current situation, it is clear how important investments in the development of active substances in the health sector are,” says Jörg Goschin, Managing Director of KfW Capital.
TVM Capital has praised Centogene’s extraordinary involvement during the pandemic. “Rolfs has declared war on the coronavirus,” said Birner, using the resources of his company in close cooperation with investors. Birner, responsible for the biotechnology portfolio at TVM Capital, is “very happy” with Centogene’s development overall. He emphasises that Rolfs, who he calls a “traditional entrepreneur”, managed his company without debt capital for the first ten years.
400 Centogene employees now generate sales of 50 million euros, mainly in America and Asia. In its Rostock laboratories, Centogene searches patient DNA for rare genetic diseases and has the world’s largest database in this field. It stores genetic information from half a million patients from around 120 countries.
Prof. Arndt Rolfs has now stepped down as CEO of Centogene. Dr Andrin Oswald will take over the management of the company at the beginning of December 2020. The Rostock-based company has disclosed that Prof. Rolfs has agreed to serve as an advisor during the transition period.
Combined forces during the pandemic
There are 7,000 rare diseases, 5,600 of which are of genetic origin; at present approved drugs only exist for a few of them. In combination with the expertise of the treating physician, the Rostock researchers can use a patient’s genes to diagnose whether the patient suffers from a rare disease or is likely to develop it. The result in turn is the basis for therapy.
Centogene is a laboratory subject to all international quality criteria with certifications from the US American regulatory authorities, which are typically much stricter than the German ones. With its existing equipment in genetic diagnostics, the company can also conduct the specific and sensitive tests for Covid-19 with little lead time. Rolfs estimates the need for Covid-19 testing in Germany at up to one million per day. He is convinced that people who are 70 years and older and suffer from lung diseases must be given priority and undergo extensive testing, in nursing homes in general and, of course, the professionals who uphold the social and medical infrastructure.
“The next few weeks are critical,” he says. For the well-being of people, but also of companies.
The described project contributes to the following United Nationsʼ Sustainable Development Goals
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Health is the goal, prerequisite and result of sustainable development. Supporting health is a humanitarian requirement – both in developed and developing countries. Around 39 per cent of the worldʼs population lives without health insurance. In poor countries, this amount even exceeds 90 per cent. Many people still die from diseases that are not necessarily fatal with the right treatment, or that could easily be prevented with vaccinations. Strengthening health systems, particularly by making vaccines widely available, can make it possible for us to drive these diseases back and even eradicate them by 2030.
All United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda in 2015. At its heart is a list of 17 goals for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should become a place where people are able to live in peace with each other in ways that are ecologically compatible, socially just, and economically effective.
Published on KfW Stories: 27 March 2020, last updated 26 October 2020.