16th March 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic led to many challenges for businesses across the world, and here in Europe companies have been severely affected. Health companies have seen orders decline for routine care as healthcare providers focus on the immediate threat caused by the virus.
For some, this has meant closing their doors, laying off employees, or making use of private or government support to continue operating on a minor level until there is a return to the norm. Some companies, however, have spotted connections between their offering and the huge demand created by the pandemic. One such company is EIT Health-supported A3P Biomedical based in Stockholm, Sweden. A3P Biomedical has developed and commercialised Stockholm3, a blood-based test that doubles the numbers of aggressive cancers that are identified and reduces unnecessary biopsies by 50%.1
Early in the pandemic, it was clear to A3P Biomedical that there was a huge downturn in the number of men being screened or tested for prostate cancer, evidenced by a significant drop in orders from healthcare providers of the test. An avid advocate of men’s health, A3P Biomedical’s CEO Martin Steinberg has campaigned to resume testing for men at risk of prostate cancer, but in the meantime, he saw an opportunity to support the COVID-19 efforts. We spoke to Martin to find out more:
Q: Martin, what impact did the pandemic have on your company?
A: We had strong sales in January and February 2020. In mid-March it became clear that demand was declining substantially. The main cause of this was that prostate cancer testing was stopped due to hospitals going into crisis mode, which meant focussing on the treatment of patients with COVID-19 but also not risking virus spread by bringing other patients into the hospitals. Interestingly, while our sales dipped in Sweden the drop was only slight in Norway, so routine care was happening in some places and hardly at all in others.
Q: When and how did you spot the opportunity to pivot into COVID-19 testing?
A: In early March 2020 we decided we wanted to support the national Swedish effort against the pandemic and, at the same time, provide opportunities for our lab employees to continue working. Almost within the same breath, we realised that the equipment and skills we had could be used for COVID-19 PCR testing. Within the building our lab is situated, there was also the possibility to rent more space, so it all came together seamlessly.
The pivot to COVID-19 testing has been good for our bottom line
Q: What practical steps were involved?
A: We immediately contacted the Public Health Agency of Sweden and offered our help and suggested appropriate processes. I believe that the key to our success was that we were able to provide the Public Health Agency of Sweden with a complete concept – from sampling, electronic referrals, analysis and electronic patient reports using already existing platforms and infrastructure – nothing had to be created or developed from scratch. This was not only cost-efficient but also fast which is exactly what they needed at the time. We set up the lab fully in April 2020, and demand was so high that we had to increase our staff from 10-12 people back in April to 40-50 by the end of the year.
Q: What equipment was needed for the testing?
A: The key pieces of equipment were the PCR machines, and there was a lack of those in Sweden and of course globally at that point in time. We happened to have some within our lab, and we were also able to borrow equipment from Karolinska Institutet, thanks to our close collaboration as a result of being a spin-out company. As of January 2021, we had completed around 180,000 tests.
Q: What does the future look like based on your experiences throughout the pandemic?
A: The pivot to COVID-19 testing has been good for our bottom line and has allowed our company to continue and thrive. It has also shown investors – we closed our first growth financing of 11 million Euros in July 2020 – that we are flexible as entrepreneurs. However, going forwards, we will focus on prostate cancer (and prostate cancer only). During the pandemic, we have accelerated efforts around product development, regulatory issues, and market access strategies and we expect to start growing the prostate cancer business again in 2021.
- Bergman M, et al. Män som vill testa sig för prostatacancer – en strukturerad modell Läkartidningen;115: FCDT, October 2018.
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