At gene level
The Kalibr Technopark in Moscow accommodates the only Russian industrial manufacturer of chemicals for molecular biology. In his interview to the Moscow Investment Portal (www.investmoscow.ru), Gen Terra director Vladimir Survilo talked about DNA, genome sequencing and plans to conquer the international market.
- Vladimir, for a layperson it is difficult to understand the specifics of your company. Could you tell us more about your field of work?
- We are producing chemicals for molecular biology. Molecular biology in the world is currently experiencing explosive growth. About 30 years ago there was a project called "Human Genome" that required decades of research and billions of dollars in investments. The entire human genome sequencing probably took about 20 years. Now, the genome of any person can be sequenced literally in one day, and the cost is affordable, it makes several thousand dollars. That's how quickly technologies are developing.
- What does it mean to "sequence the genome"?
- Every living being has DNA. It encrypts all the information regarding our appearance and internal structure. DNA is a long thread of small molecules that makes millions of kilometers. In a cell, it is folded in a special way that can be sequenced now, that is, the sequence can be read. We can see clearly where a molecule is located within this thread. Knowing the sequence, we can understand what this part of DNA is responsible for, what proteins it programs, how it defines our appearance and internal structure. Accordingly, we can influence these things. Recent generations of medicines can directly affect the genome and make it possible to treat rare genetic diseases. There are mechanisms for editing the genome, so, in theory, we can create mutants. Artificial organisms are already being created: a new genome is synthesized and embedded in living cells to create a completely artificial organism, without intervention of nature.
These technologies are developing very fast. For example, thanks to sequencing, we can learn from scientific media that the human body contains 9% of the Neanderthal DNA. The Neanderthal bones and then the modern human are sequenced to find the DNA sections that Neanderthals had. The entire anthropogenesis is based on DNA analysis.
In medicine, sequencing helps us to diagnose a wide variety of diseases, for instance, in oncology, that has developed significantly. We are already beginning to understand which tumors are sensitive to this or that medicine. There are personalized treatments, where the tumor of a sick person is sequenced, so that the right medicine can be found. Such person gets a chance to live, because earlier the only possible treatment was practical: a patient was given a new medicine and the results showed that disease could not be treated. Prenatal diagnostics and 100% paternity testing have become possible due to molecular diagnostics.
It is also used in forensic science. If the criminal has left any biological trace, it can be 100% established whether the suspect is guilty. For example, if you have a suspect and a cigarette butt from the crime scene, you can use the smallest skin cells that remained on the butt to define if it is his or not. There are a lot of examples. Our whole life is being actually changed, and we do not even notice it.
- And what does your company do?
- We produce artificial DNA. In order to conduct such tests, you do not have to look at something, for example, through a microscope. DNA is analyzed using chemical processes, special enzymes, and sequencing. At the initial stage of these studies, synthetic fragments are used. For example, if we know what exactly we are looking for, we synthesize it and then compare the test sample with a synthetic fragment. If they coincide, then this is what we are looking for. The DNA study methodology is like this: initially, we have to obtain synthetic fragments of DNA, the so-called oligonucleotides. Those are industrially produced by our company.
There are several companies in Russia that synthesize oligonucleotides for scientific research. They are produced in very small quantities for scientific purposes. We, however, produce them in grams (for such complex molecules one gram is a lot) to be used for various mass applications in medical field, for example, to create diagnostic sets. Thus, we provide raw materials for medical diagnostiсs. We are the only company of such level in Russia. In the world, these technologies are very advanced. As far as I know, the first medicine in the form of DNA molecules based on artificial DNA appeared in 2012.
- How long has your company been engaged in this business?
- Our company was founded in late 2014. And we actually began our work in late 2015, after we had spent a year to start the production.
- By what criteria did you choose the Kalibr technopark as your production site?
- Initially, we were based in a research institute, but such institutes do not fit the specifics of our company. In fact, it is very hard to find a place for production in Moscow. There are workshops, but we have a number of requirements that immediately make it impossible to choose: we need water, because we produce chemicals, and an exhaust system with a roof ventilation unit. In addition, we work with explosive substances, namely, chemical solvents. Therefore, the production can only be located on the first floor, with a roof above, so that no one gets hurt if something explodes. We need a separate warehouse, a freight elevator and an entrance, since we are always handling some cargoes.
These criteria narrowed the range of suitable premises significantly. In Kalibr, we found what we needed to fully arrange the production. We also liked the fact that this is a technopark, since there are always meetings, events, business breakfasts, we are offered to take part in exhibitions. It is always nice when someone cares about you, and not just about the rent you pay. We have big international development plans and expect the technopark to assist us in fulfilling them.
- After the time you have been here, can you say that the technopark is developing, something is improving?
- Oh sure. Before, the technopark was only focused on electronic productions, "lifeless" technologies, now there are leaseholders engaged in "live", medical technologies. Apparently, the technopark has found a new area, which it was not familiar with, and has begun to develop it.
- What kind of assistance do you, as a resident, get from the technopark and the Moscow Government?
- In Europe there is such a thing as a CEO label. It is used to mark the products manufactured at the factories that observe certain quality control standards. If you do not have such label, there is no point selling in the European market at all. We plan to receive this label for one of our products, and the Moscow Government will compensate us the relevant costs. We expect that the technopark will provide us with some advice regarding this issue. This will help us to enter the foreign market.
Jointly with the technopark, we are planning to go to MEDICA, the largest medical technology exhibition in Düsseldorf. The Moscow Government will submit an application with the assistance of the technopark and compensate us the costs of participation in this event.
- Do you supply your products all over Russia or only in Moscow? Which companies are your customers and what are your development plans?
- We have supply our products within Russia and Belarus. As soon as we get the CEO label, we will first find European partners, and, through those, find American ones. In this regard, the American market is huge. While the Russian market is nothing as compared to the relevant European market, the American market is several times bigger than the European one, it is literally a laboratory country.
It is difficult to work with Asia: people there have a completely different mentality, and there is an immense Chinese market. In addition, the Asian market is derived from the European and American ones: there are high-tech companies, but they use either Western technologies or Western equipment. Thus, the European and American markets are the primary ones.