A Centogene employee takes a throat swab on a passenger
Mobile laboratories

Mobile laboratories

“We have to live with it”

Coronavirus tests could become part of everyday life in future. Germany is also gaining good experience just now. The mobile laboratories of the Rostock-based biotech company Centogene enable preventive and extensive testing.

Exterior view of the truck with the mobile laboratory of Centogene

The red container houses a mobile Centogene laboratory where tests are analysed on site.

“The test must go to the user, not the other way round.” Arndt Rolfs, CEO of the Rostock-based biotech company Centogene, shares one of the core experiences to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. And with mobile laboratories it delivers a practical and simple solution at the same time. He began at Frankfurt Airport with one red container. Now, three of these improvised test sites are in use throughout Germany.

The 60-year-old professor essentially tackles rare congenital diseases with diagnostics, but the general public became aware of him when he joined the search for how to test for SARS-CoV-2 in March. Centogene can regularly process around 50,000 tests every day now in its laboratories in Rostock, Frankfurt and Hamburg and in the mobile units. Since the pandemic began, Rolfs has been campaigning for broad preventative testing. In addition to wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining distance, this is the “only way to guarantee we can lead halfway normal lives”. He refers to scientific publications: the probability that someone who has tested negative will infect someone within the next 48 hours declines by 90 percent. “A coronavirus test needs to become as normal as brushing our teeth”, says Rolfs. At Centogene itself, this is already the case: staff and their families are tested twice a week. The Centogene CEO is convinced: “We need to live with SARS-CoV-2 like we do with influenza viruses.” That’s why coronavirus tests would make a long-term contribution to his company’s results.

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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.

Investment in health

Its investors include the TVM Capital Life Science Innovation II fund of the Munich-based venture capital company TVM Capital. KfW Capital, the investment subsidiary of KfW Group, has also invested in the fund with support from the ERP Special Fund. Even though the initial costs for establishing the overall process were high (including swab spatulas, a website, digital documentation, returning results, method validations), COVID-19 testing will contribute to a healthy year of revenue for the company.

The debate about why one person was tested and someone else was not goes against the grain for Centogene's CEO. As many people as possible should be tested. This is supported by experience at Frankfurt Airport: virtually all infected people had no symptoms, and most of them did not come from “risk countries”. So Centogene itself also tested various population groups: pupils, nursing home residents, police officers, concert goers, orchestra musicians, football fans and air travellers. Rolfs is convinced that testing is also a way to reboot the economy. It is as essential as health care. Even a rich country like Germany cannot absorb every economic loss.

The laboratory container in front of Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport is already history – it is now on its next journey. Additional containers are now being built for new sites. Centogene is still testing at the airport, but now the tests are analysed in a certified laboratory nearby.

Published on KfW Stories: 14 October 2020, last updated 26 October 2020.