KAUTE 20190315 Kunal Garg, jyväskyläläinen KAUTE-säätiön tutkijayrittäjä-palkinnon ehdokas. Kuvaaja Hanna-Kaisa Hämäläinen
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Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2018 is revolutionising the diagnosis of tick-borne diseases

PhD student Kunal Garg is the co-founder of Tezted.

What problem does Tezted address?

“Ticks are the most dangerous animals in Europe and North America and carry several pathogens. However, people bitten by ticks are usually tested only for Lyme disease. In this case, the patient receives treatment only for Lyme disease, even though ticks can also spread other pathogens.  

Current tests for diagnosing tick-borne diseases are slow and costly. Diagnosing multiple diseases from a tick bite requires up to 11 different tests, which in Europe costs at least 7 000 euros. The TICKPLEX test kit we have developed tests the patient for about 15 pathogens associated with ticks at once. Thanks to the product, the cost of testing is reduced by 90 percent.”

What kind of research are Tezted’s activities based on?

“I joined Docent Leona Gilbert’s research team at the University of Jyväskylä in 2014. For the past 20 years, Leona has been studying autoimmune diseases, that is, diseases related to the body’s defence system. I came up with a test kit with her that enables us to test patients for several pathogens at once.

According to current recommendations, you can only test patients bitten by ticks for one pathogen at a time. However, scientific evidence shows that up to 60 percent of those who become ill from tick bites suffer from several pathogens. In 2014–2016, we conducted a study on over 400 patients where the percentage rose to about 85 percent. We concluded that there was a need for a new company in the field and founded Tezted.”

What got you interested in entrepreneurship?

“I couldn’t imagine doing research for years, publishing a research article about my work and moving on to do something else. I want to influence people. In Finland, taxpayers fund a lot of research, so it’s important to ask what they get in return for their money. I don’t think my work makes sense if it doesn’t benefit people.”

What kind of attitude does entrepreneurship demand from researchers?

“A researcher interested in entrepreneurship has to know the details of their research, but they must also be able to explain it understandably to their grandmother, for instance. Others must be able to relate to you, otherwise you won’t get investment and you won’t arouse the interest your idea needs to succeed. The researcher must be able to identify what social and economic problems their work can address.”

What kind of plans do you have for Tezted?

“Our plans aren’t limited to TICKPLEX, instead we are soon going to move to testing other disease-causing agents as well. Our big goal is to reform the diagnosis of complex diseases. I hope that over the next few years, TICKPLEX will become the industry standard test and that it will be accepted and implemented by healthcare providers.”

Do you see yourself returning to research in the future?

“I’ve always been an inventor at heart. I’ll never stop doing research, but I’d like to continue it on the industry side. I hope we can hire someone to make TICKPLEX tests so that I can develop new test kits myself. I like both sides, research and entrepreneurship. I can no longer live without them.”  

Founded in 2016, Jyväskylä-based Tezted Oy currently employs six people. The TICKPLEX product meant for laboratory use is already on sale in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, and the company is currently in talks to expand sales to other parts of Europe as well. Read more about Tezted at www.tezted.com.

Photo: Hanna-Kaisa Hämäläinen