Demand for Dutch diagnostic SMEs curves with corona

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With the increasing market demand, the corona crisis caused Micronit to ramp up production. This was challenging, because of the disrupted supply chain. However, Micronit CEO Ronny van ’t Oever also sees the opportunities this crisis offers for innovative Dutch medical SMEs like his.

One of the early goals in fighting a disease like COVID-19 is to map the virus and its family. This can be done by determining its specific DNA sequence. “If you know the DNA, or in this case, RNA sequence, you can effectively develop the necessary PCR reagents,” explains CEO Ronny van ’t Oever. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a method used in molecular biology to make billions of copies of a DNA sample, which are then used to identify infectious agents.

Enschede-based Micronit is the producer of chips that allow specialists to determine the DNA or RNA sequence of viruses. Sparked by the spread of the corona pandemic, the company’s products have seen an enormous increase in demand. “Within a few weeks, our entire safety stock ran out,” depicts van ’t Oever. Seeing his team’s response, however, gave him a great sense of pride as an entrepreneur. “At times like these, my team shows an admirable passion and drive.”

The rising demand is especially difficult to meet as supply chains become threatened or disrupted. Van ’t Oever explains, “Our second supplier dropped out completely in the face of a demand that had doubled. So, that was a sizeable obstacle we had to overcome. We needed all hands on deck.” As many Asian factories closed, it was evident that simply obtaining products from the supply line was a serious challenge. “Fortunately, it’s been manageable so far. But it has really exposed our dependence on international factories.”

World player

Founded in 1999, Micronit originally focused on the miniaturization of devices using microtechnology. Over the years, however, the business shifted its focus to microfluidics for application in life sciences. These days, its product development department is working on new applications like lab-on-a-chip, which is designed for quick testing and can produce lab-quality results within an hour, and BioMEMS.

Although the corona crisis has driven the increase in interest of these kinds of technologies, Van ’t Oever sees most of the developments in his company proceeding in a business-as-usual fashion. “Our plans for a new building at Kennispark Twente are still on track. And despite a lot of our employees working from home, business processes are continuing surprisingly well.”

Looking to capitalize on and continue with this positive momentum, Micronit is setting some lofty goals. “We want to become a world player in DNA-related in-vitro diagnostics. By building multiple functionalities onto a chip, testing is simplified,” highlights Van ’t Oever. “To really succeed, our aim is to simplify these laboratory tests so they can be performed by personnel with lower levels of education.”

Ronny van ’t Oever sees a tremendous innovation potential in the Netherlands. Credit: Micronit

Innovation potential

The corona crisis is bringing attention to the importance and necessity of this sector in the Netherlands, notes Van ’t Oever. “There’s a tremendous innovation potential within the companies operating in our field, especially within SMEs.” One example he gives: organ-on-a-chip applications, which can be used for quicker medicine tests. “Vycap, for instance, is focusing on isolating cells, while Biosparq is working to optimize treatment of bacterial co-infections. Suddenly, the innovations of these relatively small companies have priority.”

Even though getting the right materials has priority, for now, Van ’t Oever thinks there’s huge potential for the future within the Netherlands. The sharp awareness also brings great opportunity. “Suddenly, companies and research facilities may actually get to finish certain innovative products. This could allow us to build the value chain closer to home and decrease the dependence on international suppliers.”