March 16, 2012

What is going on with Germany?

Germany is economically less centralised than other European countries. Unlike Paris or London in France or the United Kingdom, there is no single city that dominates business.

The same applies to German research institutions, which are spread throughout the country. This may be the reason why Germany does not have a flagship dedicated sequencing centre such as the Sanger Institute in the UK. Instead, its sequencing capacity, although similar to that of the UK, is more distributed amongst different research facilities.

One of those is the excellent Max Planck Society. Its institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and Molecular Genetics have large sequencing capacity and use it to produce excellent research.

In the private sector, the sequencing services company GATC Biotech stands out. If you had to pick a stereotypical German company, you couldn't do better than GATC. With 150 employees it is solidly Mittelstand, it is family owned and managed, it is innovative, and it is headquartered in the entrepreneurial state of Baden-Württemberg. It is also successful: In its European market, GTAC competes with international industry behemoth BGI.

German Euro Coin

Apart from sequencing, GATC is also active in the prenatal diagnostics space. Its daughter company LifeCodexx is about to market its PraenaTest, which uses technology that is similar to and partly licenced from Sequenom's MaterniT21 test.

To my knowledge, the PraenaTest is the first commercially available sequencing-based prenatal test in Europe. This is surprising, given Germany's conservative attitude towards more controversial biotechnology. German legislation reflects this. For example, preimplantation genetic diagnosis is more tightly regulated than in many other countries.

But GATC has dealt with cumbersome legislation before. When it was founded in 1990 as Europe's first sequencing company, its name was inspired by the four DNA bases. It soon had to find out that according to German corporate law, such abbreviations are not permitted for company names.  The founders circumvented this by simply claiming that GATC instead stands for Gesellschaft für Analyse-Technik und Consulting (Society for Analytical Technology and Consulting).

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