MADRID--NIMGenetics takes the guesswork and wait out of diagnoses. In only three days, their team accurately analyze DNA and identify diseases like cancer, autism and Down's Syndrome.
NIMGenetics focuses on the development of high-resolution genomic systems for clinical diagnosis. The researchers extract DNA from a 5-ml blood sample and place it on their special array chip, integrated onto the usual chemist's glass slide.
"With this glass slide, we can test if this person has deletion (or error) anywhere in the genome," testing for mutated or missing genes, in a search for more than 200 diseases, says Enrique Samper, president of NIMGenetics. "Extract DNA and find out if the whole genome of a person is fine"
Samper says it's "very successful in characterizing and finding mental retardation, autism, and malformations," both prenatally--during amniocentesis, from around three months--and postnatally. The goal is "to provide the diagnostic as early as possible." He says that, in developed nations, two percent of the pediatric population suffer from mental retardation, autism, and genetic malformations. Half of that are incorrectly diagnosed.
In every case, the doctor must prescribe the test. Samper was very clear that it is a service to the medical community and the patients are not the direct consumers.
SmartPlanet has already talked about how, due to crisis and culture, the Spanish population is decreasing, as parents are waiting until much later in life to have children. Samper says that, like fertility problems, the incident of Down Syndrome and autism, among other such diseases, increases with the parents' age. "The higher the age, the more propensity to have one of these problems," he says, specifically, for pregnancies where the mother is 38 or older. In Spain, 80,000 women a year seek fertility treatments, and 55 percent of these women are over 35. Samper says seven percent of Spanish pregnancies are considered high risk.
NIMGenetics has gone past babies to develop genetic tests for other diseases. One of these specific tests are for the frequency of familial cancer. Ten percent of cancers--mainly breast, colon, and endocrine--are commonly-inherited cancers. The test can notify earlier if patients have these cancer-causing genes.
Over the three years of their product line, they've had a 90-percent annual growth rate and are currently only in the Spanish, Portuguese and Greek markets. The next step, once backed by more investors, is to promote their product to hospitals and doctors' offices in Argentina, followed by the rest of Latin America and Europe.
Spain is afraid of failure
SmartPlanet sat down with Samper at the SpainStartup conference last Friday morning. It brought together 28 start-ups who pitched their products and services to investors and business angels scattered among a packed crowd. The five-minute sales pitches were intermixed with corporate roundtables and networking coffee breaks.
Samper had a lot to say about the experience of being an entrepreneur in Spain, including the statement SmartPlanet hears again and again: Spain is afraid of failure.
"There's something in Spain that's risk adverse," Samper says. "We are not used to debating, having open discussions in general. This is all flipped in the entrepreneurial community." He says that, in the United States, people "are trained to sell themselves from very early on. We just need to learn. Here we have a lot of brain power, but we don't know how to exploit it."
Samper gave the example that Italian prosciutto, wine and olive oil are found in grocery stores around the world. Spanish products have equally high quality, but "we don't know how to sell."
In research and science, he says the Spanish are just as capable as anyone else, "but we just haven't had an entrepreneurial mind for decades," even calling Spain the "Old World." He says that, for scientists, starting a company is "simply crazy." Plus, there is no flexibility to change university majors or careers. "Here you're trained to be a doctor and you'll be a doctor all your life. You're never going to change," he says. Spain still has many businesses passed down from father to son to his son.
"To go from a construction-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. This is what will save us from the crisis," he says.
Samper sees hope in his fellow entrepreneurs. He defines these emprendes as "a little bit nuts," in love with change and risks.
"In Spain, I think the investment community is starting to wake up," Samper says. He thinks Spain is about ten years behind the States in almost everything, particularly in developing its own Silicon Valley. He is a part of the Parque Cientifico de Madrid, which features 150 start-ups in an entrepreneurial brain bank at the Universidad Autonono.
He sees "a lot of potential. We just need the investors to just be a little more" open and to "learn from Americans." Samper doesn't want the Spanish to reinvent the wheel, but to copycat Silicon Valley.
"In Spain, it is the most positive community I've come across. Even in the worst economic crisis since 1929, we are positive people and that will bring the change."