Young entrepreneurs from Gothenburg fight resistant bacteria

Published by Stefan Gadd 15 July, 2019 in Trade and industry group.

A young startup company in Gothenburg has developed an easy-to-use method for detecting antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The idea was born when two young researchers met and decided to start a joint business.

Kristina Lagerstedt and Susanne Staaf started 1928 Diagnostics to fight resistant bacteria

Working in a partnership produces stronger and better results than working individually. That was the reasoning that led Kristina Lagerstedt and Susanne Staaf to start 1928 Diagnostics. They met when they were both conducting research and working for a large pharmaceutical company in Gothenburg. The two colleagues got on so well that they decided to start a business venture.
“How difficult can that be?” says Kristina, laughing. She laughs a lot during our interview at Stena Center at Chalmers University of Technology, where many startup companies rent premises and gain inspiration from each other.

She says it helps when you know it’s okay to make mistakes – a mentality that is perhaps more prevalent in Gothenburg than in many other places.
“But of course you’re fantastic at doing things right,” interjects Susanne.
Molecular biology was really flourishing at the time when they were both research students. There was a widespread feeling in the pharmaceutical company that anything was possible. They frequently found themselves talking over dinner about what makes a successful enterprise and realised that many successful entrepreneurs work and run joint ventures with friends.
“Around this time, we decided to set up business together. The next step was to come up with an idea or a project,” says Kristina.

They aired their ideas with entrepreneur friends, who were impressed by their enthusiasm but couldn’t see a core concept. Then an idea emerged that was so clear it nearly sold itself. This is how they describe the company on their website:
“1928 Diagnostics is a Swedish company based in Gothenburg with strong ties to both the tech and science community, bridging knowledge from biology and medicine into software development. Our mission is to use technology to build important services that can be used in healthcare to address the growing and alarming problem of antimicrobial resistance. Sweden is our home base, but we are operating globally, and look forward to meeting you wherever our paths will cross. Join us in the fight against antibiotic resistance.”

When Sir Alexander Fleming won the 1945 Nobel Prize for discovering antibiotics (in 1928), he warned the world about the risks of antibiotic misuse. “We will enter a post-antibiotic era with grave consequences,” he cautioned. Over 70 years later, around 33,000 Europeans die every year from antibiotic resistance. This problem could become deadlier than cancer by 2050.

And this is where the business idea comes in that appeals to investors and employees alike.
“We realised that by creating a cloud-based software that enables faster analysis of bacteria, we could offer an intelligent method for infection control. You could call it smart infection tracking,” says Susanne.
The business has been quick to take off. Some experts believe antibiotic resistance is as great a threat to humanity as climate change or lack of clean water. Kristina and Susanne visited hospitals to confirm the need for their product. Since then, they’ve had no problem raising venture capital and have made a smooth transition from being researchers to entrepreneurs.
“Our prior experience of pharmaceuticals prepared us well. It taught us that things take time and to think globally from the outset. Antibiotic resistance is a global health problem that calls for wise initiatives that are globally effective.

“In urban areas such as Manhattan, 60 percent of bacteria are multi-resistant, and the figure in Mediterranean countries is 35 percent. In poor countries that lack clean water and hand-washing facilities, colistin-resistant bacteria spread like wildfire. When this happens, there is a thousandfold increase in the risk of not being able to treat them with antibiotics.”
Kristina believes that although the situation is critical, it can be remedied.

“But this requires greater collaboration between healthcare, enterprise, the WHO, national authorities and multinational corporations. It’s not just the healthcare sector and authorities that need to address the issue of antibiotic resistance; companies do as well.
“More and more major companies are opting to allocate profits for beneficial causes. Social responsibility is becoming an increasingly important part of companies’ business concept and is key in recruiting young people. They are much more concerned about ethics and beneficial causes.”

Copyright: Ulrica Segersten (text), Samuel Unéus (photo)

This article is an excerpt from “Magasin Göteborg”. To read the entire Magazine (in Swedish) click here.