Russia’s first commercial research biobank, National BioService, opened a brand new laboratory at the Skolkovo Technopark on Thursday.
The National BioService lab at the Skolkovo Technopark will be used for both the company's own research and to provide services for other Skolkovo startups. Photo: Sk.ru.
The laboratory will be used both to develop the company’s own medical and diagnostic products, and to provide other Skolkovo startups and companies with the biological samples they require to assess the effectiveness and safety of the medical drugs they are developing, using in vitro models.
“As well as startups, there are a lot of shared resource centres and labs here in the Technopark that can provide services to other startups and companies working on medical developments,” said Kirill Kaem, the Skolkovo Foundation’s senior vice president for innovations, at the lab’s opening on Thursday.
“We have companies here working on biomedical industry and agricultural projects, and now that there is a biobank, they can use the services of National BioService. That’s exactly the synergy that the Skolkovo system makes possible, allowing us all to develop together,” he said.
National BioService, a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomed cluster, is one of few organisations in Russia that can provide both domestic and international pharma and diagnostic companies with the biological materials they require to carry out their research and development. It also develops products that are used in the development of medical and diagnostic treatments, including tissue macrochips, designed to study the cross-reactivity of antibodies to human tissues, for which the company received a grant from the Skolkovo Foundation.
Vitaly Prutsky, founder and director general of National BioService. Photo: Sk.ru.
“There is a wide range of startups that need our services, for tasks from the simple selection of biological materials – which is no small thing – to organisations that, for example, want to develop a new diagnostic test, but lack the necessary knowledge, experience, infrastructure or the team of people who can collect those biological samples with the right information and quality control, while observing all the rules of ethics: it’s a specialised task,” National BioService’s director general, Vitaly Prutsky, explained to Sk.ru.
Another area in which the company’s services are in demand is for the analysis of biosamples.
“We have equipment in this lab that is more or less unique in Russia, which allows us to conduct biochemical analysis of practically any liquid or solid sample,” said Prutsky.
National BioService also develops biomarkers, as well as actively helping other organisations to create their own biobanks in accordance with Russian and international requirements. Zisis Kozlakidis, president of the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER), of which National BioService is a member, was present at Thursday’s opening.
“It’s really exciting to see this initiative taking place,” he said, noting that Russia is currently among the world leaders in biobank initiatives.
Tretye Mnenie's Anna Meshcheryakova and German Klimenko, a presidential advisor on internet development, sign the cooperation memorandum with Prutsky. Photo: Sk.ru.
The Skolkovo lab is the third that National BioService has opened in as many years, following its main lab in St. Petersburg, where the company is based, and another specialised lab in Nizhny Novgorod. The company, a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation since 2015, has received invaluable help from the foundation, Prutsky told the audience at the lab’s opening.
“Everything we have managed to do is to a large extent thanks to Skolkovo, which gave us both moral support and a grant,” he said.
“It’s also a place where we count on finding a lot of potential clients among Skolkovo startups, and that’s already happening,” said Prutsky.
Among the Skolkovo startups that have already worked with National BioService is DRD Biotech, which is developing an express test for the diagnosis of ischemic strokes, and which used NBS’s services last year to collect blood samples for the fellow startup’s research.
Skolkovo's Kirill Kaem talking to German Klimenko on the sidelines of Thursday's lab opening. Photo: Sk.ru.
In total, National BioService cooperates with more than 90 medical and research centres in 15 Russian regions, the company said, with the ultimate aim of boosting Russia’s biomed industry: currently, 85 percent of medicines and diagnostics are developed and produced abroad, and for Russia to start making an impact, companies need samples, said Prutsky.
“In other countries the [biobank] infrastructure appeared over decades. We don't have decades,” he said. National BioService’s network of partners includes AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Roche.
On Thursday, the company signed a cooperation agreement with the representatives of two more organisations: German Klimenko, chairman of the board of the Internet Development Institute, and Anna Meshcheryakova, director general of Tretye Mnenie, an autonomous non-profit organisation.
“Today we are signing a cooperation memorandum with two organisations involved in the internet processing of data: that might sound strange, as we are biologists, so we work with cells and tissue and so on, but there are very clear and concrete areas of use for what we do in telemedicine, for example,” Prutsky told Sk.ru.
“In the project we are announcing today, together with those partners we will create a big, unique resource of digitalised medical and biological images, mainly histological [the study of the miscroscopic anatomy of cells and tissues], which will be accompanied by detailed clinical information and histological information checked by experts. This resource will allow us to do a great deal of things, from teaching histology students to our own creation of methods of digital-electronic processing. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are popular terms today, but they’re not just empty words. We can use this material as a source of data to train those machine models that will in future make it possible to recognise pathology remotely or in an automated way,” he said.