GENOS: From Croatian Startup to Laboratory Attracting Foreign Scientists

Lauren Simmonds

As Index/Marko Repecki writes on the 16th of February, 2020, founded back in 2007, Genos was the first academic Croatian startup to grow into a serious lab which currently employing some 50 experts, half of whom have PhDs and are world leaders in some areas, such as glycan research.

In addition to Croatian scientists, experts from abroad are also coming to Genos, which is not surprising given that back in 2013, the renowned scientific journal The Scientist declared it the “Best Place to Work” in the world, in competition with 240 biomedical and biotechnology companies.

They were able to develop a GlycanAge test that allows you to look into the onset of certain diseases, such ones which can cause heart attacks or strokes, and then work to prevent them.

Could Zagreb could become a centre for pharmacogenomics for Europe?

In addition, Genos founder Goran Lauc announced major plans in the field of pharmacogenomics, which is very important in personalised medicine, in a recent Index interview.

“Genos was founded in 2007 and at the beginning we were mainly concerned with genetics, we did various genetic tests. Even then, we launched some tests that were the first of their kind in the world. For example, we were the first to do a prenatal paternity test – it’s a test that can be done before the baby is born. A year or two later, we switched to glycans, but we still have a part of the lab where genetic tests are done. We’re now developing pharmacogenomics in collaboration with St. Catherine Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in the US, and we hope that in this shared story, we will be able to achieve a pharmacogenomics centre for Europe in Zagreb,” says Lauc.

Pharmacogenomics, the next area in which Genos has ambitious plans, allows patients to get exactly the medicine they need. This reduces the side effects of drugs and the possible harm that may result from taking drugs they don’t require.

“In pharmacogenomics, genetic testing is done, the human genome is analysed, and then based on the information they receive, one can determine which drug really helps the patient and at what doses and which drug he should not take. Today, when you go to the doctor, he doesn’t really know anything about you. He asks where it hurts, measures your temperature, listens to your heart, but realistically knows nothing about you and gives you a drug at random, one that he thinks might help, and that’s why we’re in a situation where two-thirds of medication doesn’t help.

Your doctor prescribes you one medicine, so if that doesn’t help, he prescribes a second and then a third, and so it goes on. The problem is that if the drug doesn’t help, it often does harm. In the US, about 100,000 people die annually due to getting the wrong treatment. Pharmacogenomics solves this problem because it allows the patient to be prescribed exactly the medication that will benefit them. This is an example of how genetic analyses have gone into clinical use, but this is still not routinely applied worldwide.

In Croatia, the most was done by St. Catherine’s Hospital, which, as a private hospital, referred a large number of its patients to this, thus obtaining safer treatment. We, in cooperation with them, want to create a laboratory that will conduct these analyses not only in Croatia but abroad as well. We want to make a central laboratory for Europe for this type of testing,” says Lauc.

”What’s strong about Genos is glycans. Glycans have been investigated as potential biomarkers in personalised medicine since relatively recently. In fact, we were the first to start doing major studies on glycans, on a large number of people, sometime back in 2008.

We’re one of only two or three labs in the world where major glycan studies can be done, and when someone at Harvard wants to do something with it, they send their samples to us. Right now, we have in the lab a large cohort from two thousand twins from whom blood samples were taken three times over a 15-year period. This was collected at Kings College London and sent to us for analysis.

Less than a month ago, the result of a major survey of 27,000 people whose samples were collected in Germany 20 years ago, of whom 800 had diabetes, 500 had suffered heart attacks or strokes, and we can predict on the basis of glycans who will end up in which category. So, if I test my glycans today, I will know if I have an average risk of having, for example, a stroke, or if my chances are above average.

The idea is that glycan testing should one day go into routine checkups, like measuring your blood glucose or liver enzymes today, so this test could work. Our GlycanAge test is expensive, so it isn’t sold much in Croatia, so our primary channels are selling it to longevity clinics worldwide.

There are many centres around the world where people who want to live longer and healthier try to prevent diseases. People mostly go to the doctor when they’re already ill, our western medicine treats a sick man, and when a person is sick, it means that some system is no longer working. The idea of ​​longevity medicine is to try to motivate people to do what’s good for them. We all more or less know what’s good for us, but we actually don’t do anything about it. Why don’t we? Because we don’t see the effects. Until at some point something bad happens,” Lauc says.

Genos is also very interesting to scientists as an employer, and besides scientists from Croatia, people from abroad come to work for Genos.

“We currently have 50 people in Genos, 24 of them have PhDs. We’re one of the strongest conglomerates of highly educated people focused on one story. In the last 12 years, only two people have left us. I try to make people feel good here and then they stay. We have no problems finding experts, they come to us not only from Croatia but also from abroad, so 14 foreigners have worked or currently work with us so far. One colleague from Russia has been here for seven years, then there’s another from Canada, who has been working here for four years, we’re just receiving one Indian, etc,” says Lauc.

Make sure to follow our dedicated Made in Croatia page for more.

Leave a Comment