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Tick bite? Tezted knows if you need to worry

Research that bites: Finnish startup Tezted has identified up to 20 microbes associated with tick-borne diseases and developed a single test for detecting them all. Pixabay

Ticks are a growing problem worldwide. These tiny creatures can carry a plethora of diseases which are easily left undiagnosed. This is why Finnish diagnostics startup Tezted is creating a buzz.

For a tiny creature, ticks can cause a lot of trouble. According to Tezted, three million people in 80 countries suffer from diseases caused by tick bites every year. Despite this, Lyme disease (or borreliosis) is the only well-known tick-borne illness that is widely tested for, and this is creating a problem.

“Our study, published in the Nature Scientific Reports in 2018, showed for the first time that 85 per cent of patients who suffer from Lyme disease may also have other microbes, such as viruses and bacteria, associated with tick-borne diseases,” says Kunal Garg, co-founder and technology development director at Tezted. “So why aren’t we testing individuals with a tick-bite for other microbes than Borrelia?”

The answer is most current diagnostic tools only test for one bacteria or virus at a time and carrying out several tests on an individual can be time-consuming and expensive. In response, Tezted has come up with a solution: a single diagnostic tool, called Tickplex, which can detect 20 different microbes associated with tick-borne diseases. This means less time spent on performing tests and waiting for results, as well as cost savings of 90 per cent, according to Tezted.

“Replacing multiple tests with just one also shortens the time for a patient to get the appropriate treatment from their doctor,” Garg enthuses. “That is very important.”

Taking flight

Tezted stems from academic research. The idea for a single test for multiple microbes came from Dr. Leona Gilbert, CEO at Tezted, who has worked in the field of autoimmune diseases for over 20 years. Garg joined Gilbert’s research team at the University of Jyväskylä, Central Finland, in 2014. But it wasn’t until the duo successfully applied for project funding from Business Finland that they realised the commercial potential of their work.

The Tezted team (left to right): Suvi Marjakangas, Tapio Rantapirkola, Kunal Garg, Dr. Leona Gilbert, Dr. Jouni Toivola and Jaana Tikkanen. Image: Tezted

“By autumn 2016, we had to decide if the best idea was to patent our diagnostics technology and sell the patent, license the patent or start a new company,” Garg recalls. “All results indicated that a new company was needed in this area.”

Once the decision was made, the momentum came quickly. Today, Tezted has a six-member team in Jyväskylä and its test kits are already used by laboratories in Germany and the Netherlands. The company aims to have its tests available across the Nordics and Baltics by autumn 2019.

“At the moment, the main markets for us are Europe and North America,” says Garg. “Once we have a good record in Western countries, we will pursue similar opportunities in Asia. Tick-borne diseases are present in Asian countries, but the issue isn’t widely acknowledged. So that is going to be a different kind of a battle.”

Integrated diagnostics

New markets aren’t Tezted’s only focus. Further down the road, the company is keen to modernise the way complex diseases are diagnosed. Garg, who was named Finland’s Young Entrepreneur Researcher of 2018, is motivated by the challenge:

“The big goal for us is to have an integrated approach for developing diagnostic tools together with healthcare providers. An integrated approach is still missing for a multiplex and multifunctional test like ours. It will lead to a better understanding of numerous test results and drive personalised treatment for the patients.”

Good News from Finland is published by Finnfacts, which is part of Business Finland.

By: Eeva Haaramo