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Cartagenia - software voor de analyse van genetische data

“LRD provided us with the correct information at the right moment and made sure that we made the right decisions.”

Herman Verrelst

CEO, Cartagenia (now a part of Agilent Technologies)

Cartagenia started off as a spin-off of the Centre for Human Genetics of the Leuven University Hospitals and the SCD Division of the KU Leuven Department of Electrical Engineering. At the Centre for Human Genetics, scientists were already looking at new hardware technologies for diagnostics. DNA of patients could be measured accurately, but the challenge lay in processing all that data. In order to build a software algorithm to use this data efficiently for genetic diagnostics, Professor Joris Vermeesch from the Centre for Human Genetics set up a collaboration with engineers from bioinformatics. Initially, the technology was only meant to be used at the Leuven University Hospitals. Then came the idea to commercialise the technology.

Many professors at the KU Leuven Department of Electrical Engineering already had experience in creating spin-off companies and exploiting research. They noticed the software was an interesting technology that would also be useful for other genetics labs, in addition to the one at the Leuven University Hospitals. In 2007, Steven Van Vooren and Bert Coessens, both bioinformatics engineers, started writing a business plan. At the time, I was also in close contact with Professor Bart De Moor and Professor Yves Moreau. They asked me to look at the business plan, especially the marketing and sales side of it, since I had done some bioinformatics datamining when I was a Ph.D. researcher. From then on, I became more actively involved. One of the main reasons for starting up Cartagenia was the fact that Bert and Steven had both finished their Ph.D. studies. It was also clear that there was significant market potential. The Leuven University Hospitals were going to be the first customer, but also other European labs provided us with positive feedback on the beta trials that we ran. The more we looked at the market, the more we became convinced of the potential of our product.

LRD guided us throughout the start-up phase. First of all, they informed Steven and Bert about what it meant to start a spin-off company, since it was all quite new to them. LRD also provided us with access to capital, by putting us in contact with the Gemma Frisius Fund and the Flemish Innovation Fund (Vinnof-PMV) which both invested in Cartagenia. LRD managed the intellectual property and set up the technology agreement to transfer the copyright to the new business. Because we work with software algorithms, the technology transfer didn’t involve any patents. We were also supported by LRD in the process of allocating the shares in the company to the university and to the founders. Overall, we would say that LRD provided us with the correct information at the right moment and made sure that we made the right decisions. Cartagenia was officially established in October 2008.

We have been able to start our company at a very high level. The Centre for Human Genetics  and the SCD Division conduct world-class research, which still allows us to compete with the most renowned universities in the world. This world-class research has given us a head start, which we still haven’t lost. This has been of key importance in the creation of our company. We also haven’t invested  in R&D alone, but have also focused from the beginning on selling our product. We have just opened an office in in the United States, which is a big market for us, and we’re expanding our R&D team.

We still have a close connection with LRD. Paul Van Dun is chairman of our board and represents the university as well as the Gemma Frisius Fund. We continue to collaborate with the university and the Leuven University Hospitals to further optimise our products. The agreements for these collaborations are supported by LRD, and LRD is also the mediator between us, a commercial company, and the university. I worked together with LRD for the first time in 1998 when I started my first spin-off company, Data4S. Every spin-off serves as a role model for the following ones.

Leuven is doing well when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship. Here, there is a lot of activity and a lot of new companies are being created. These companies can always turn to the university for further collaborations. Leuven also has a huge potential with regards to healthcare. The university hospitals can play a leading role in this field.

In 2015, Cartagenia was acquired by Agilent Technologies.