December 18, 2014

Blueprint Genetics disrupts genetic diagnostics testing and targets US

Blueprint Genetics’ proprietary technology offers high quality, cost-efficient and fast genetic tests for hospitals.
Blueprint Genetics’ proprietary technology offers high quality, cost-efficient and fast genetic tests for hospitals.
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Almost five per cent of the world population is affected by a hereditary disease, says Finnish biotechnology company Blueprint Genetics. The company has developed a high-quality and cost-efficient professional genetic test to ensure that these diseases are diagnosed correctly.

Blueprint Genetics has a mission: the biotechnology company wants to raise professional genetic testing to a new level. One year ago Blueprint released its first genetic diagnostic tests for inherited cardiovascular disorders and with 80 hospitals in 15 countries already signed up the company is off to a strong start.

The test is based on the targeted sequencing method developed by Finnish biologist and Blueprint Genetics co-founder Samuel Myllykangas during his postdoctoral studies at Stanford University in the United States. The test uses a molecular biology approach called ‘Oligonucleotide-Selective Sequencing’ to efficiently analyse patients’ DNA.

Myllykangas’ neighbouring laboratory happened to be occupied by two fellow Finnish doctors, Juha Koskenvuo and Tero-Pekka Alastalo. Both recognised the benefits of the new technology in clinical use as many diseases are the result of hereditary changes in the DNA. Between them Blueprint Genetics was born and founded in 2012 when the trio returned to Finland. Blueprint’s first genetic test was launched in 2013.

“How the process works is that when a patient or a family suspected to have a hereditary disease visits their doctor, a blood sample is taken and delivered to us for analysis,” explains Blueprint Genetics CEO Tommi Lehtonen, who joined the company early on.

“As genetic testing technology has become more complex, hospitals more and more prefer to outsource the testing instead of relying on their own laboratories", says the CEO of Blueprint Genetics Tommi Lehtonen.

“As genetic testing technology has become more complex, hospitals more and more prefer to outsource the testing instead of relying on their own laboratories”, says the CEO of Blueprint Genetics Tommi Lehtonen.

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“We provide the clinician with our analysis through our web service. The results can be used to determine the right treatment for the patient and to better understand the development of the disease.”

Blueprint Genetics is not without competitors but stands out in the crowd by offering a high diagnostic hit rate, fast lead times and cost-efficiency combined with clinician-friendly analyses.

“When we launched our test, genetic tests typically cost around 3,000 euros and took several months to analyse,” says Lehtonen. “Our average price is 1 300 euros and the lead time for all our tests is three weeks. Some of our competitors might offer low costs or fast analyses, but we are the only one who has been able to combine all of these elements.

“It’s a great sign that our customers in Canada prefer to send their samples to us in Europe instead of using companies in the US.”

The American appeal

Blueprint Genetics’ unique offering has also raised the interest of investors. In August the company closed its latest funding round bringing total funding to approximately three million euros. The company’s existing investors Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, and Finnish business angels were joined by the early-stage venture capital company Inventure as well as Avohoidon Tutkimussäätiö, a Finnish foundation.

Blueprint Genetics, which employees 13 people in Helsinki, has a clear plan to use the funding to accelerate its internationalisation. Currently the company’s main markets are in Sweden, Canada and Finland, but the biggest fish is found across the pond: the more mature genetic testing market in the US.

The company’s first office outside Finland has already been set up on the West Coast and will secure its sales license in the US during the first months of 2015.

“Our main push this year has been starting operations in the US,” explains Lehtonen. “The funding will be used to grow our operations there as well as our whole organisation. Naturally we will also focus on further development on the technological side.”

Not for consumer use

Genetic tests for consumers have been gathering lots of visibility in recent years, but Lehtonen emphasises that consumer and clinical tests are two very different beasts.

“They have very different technologies and operational logic,” he says. “Consumer tests don’t offer the quality and detail that is needed in clinical tests. However, they are getting people interested in their genetic history which is a positive thing.

“We believe that with time and advances in technology and regulations, in 10 years or so, the professional and consumer markets in genetic testing will converge. Then it would be possible for us to do something in the consumer space.”

But for now the next step for Blueprint Genetics is developing tests for other diseases beside the pilot group of cardiovascular diseases. Its technology could potentially be used for any hereditary diseases and that is exactly where the company’s ambitions lay.

“The major part of clinical genetic testing market is focused on cancer testing,” explains Lehtonen, who points out there are more than 3 500 inherited diseases.

“The genetic testing for other diseases is an under-developed market. Which is why we want to be the leading global company in clinical genetics testing for all other hereditary diseases.”

Blueprint Genetics has already customers in 15 countries but its next major step is expanding to the US market.

Blueprint Genetics has already customers in 15 countries but its next major step is expanding to the US market.

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Text: Eeva Haaramo

 

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