The company, which has received a grant from the SPRI Group under the BDIH Konexio programme, manufactures the raw material for the production of health diagnostic tests
IKERLAT Polymers is an SME located in Lasarte (Gipuzkoa) that manufactures the raw material for health diagnostic tests. Its product has enabled 150 million Covid tests to be carried out worldwide. The company has received financial support from the SPRI Group through the BDIH Konexio programme through which the Basque Digital Innovation Hub is making the connected network of advanced manufacturing assets and services available to SMEs for training, research, testing and validation.
The company was set up in 2000 by people from the Faculty of Chemistry in San Sebastian who, in their doctoral thesis, “saw that it had a commercial outlet. What we make are dispersions of polymers in water that are used for the in vitro diagnostic health system”, explain Joxe Sarobe and Sergio Rubio, director and researcher of Innovation and Development, respectively.
Their product initially focused on tests for hospitals, but over the years they have evolved, both in new fields such as protein purification, and in the search for markets abroad.
“In these 22 years we have gained more market share and diversified our products”. In the past year, its raw material has been used to perform 150 million Covid-related tests worldwide, from antigen testing to detecting side effects in Covid-affected patients.
“What we do is polymerise a monomer to form monodisperse particles on the nanoscale that are used as raw material in diagnostic kits,” he says.
Its customers are mainly in the healthcare sector, manufacturing tests for disease detection such as Covid or pregnancy tests, but also for laboratory analysis in hospitals. “In general, they are diagnostic tests. We have specialised in a healthcare niche and we manufacture on a litre scale because customers get a brutal return: with one litre they make from 20,000 to a million kits”.
The product is sold to companies that in turn sell the tests to hospitals.
IKERLAT’s staff is made up of five people, all of whom hold doctorates in chemistry. Last year, turnover reached almost one million euros and R&D is key to their business. “Between internal research and projects, we spend between 30-40%. And our idea, in addition to producing more, is to increase R&D”.
The aid from the SPRI Group’s BDIH Konexio programme has been used to characterise the product on a nano scale and thus characterise the more specific composition of the particles. “It has helped us to improve the product and it has already been marketed. We have worked with CIC nanoGUNE, which allows us to carry out research with equipment that would be very expensive and unfeasible for us. We have noticed positively that these technology centres are closer to the market”.
Among the challenges, they highlight the completion of the extension work on their facilities, which will allow more surface area for production laboratories and R&D. “We have made a major investment. “We have invested heavily. It will allow us to take on new projects, increase our production capacity and become more international: we now have 15% of our turnover abroad. We are making efforts in countries such as China”.
As for future products, they are working on magnetic particles for DNA and RNA extraction, cell separation and protein purification. “With Covid, the Carlos III Institute contacted us and validated one of our products for automated RNA extraction systems. There was such a worldwide demand that the multinationals supplying the state market had no stock and the validation of our magnetic particles allowed us to meet the demand at that time”.