Irish firm playing global role in tackling serious tropical viruses

Innovation awards finalist Aalto Bio Reagents produces some 300 different reagents

Aalto Bio Reagents CEO Philip Noone. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Aalto Bio Reagents CEO Philip Noone. Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

Aalto Bio Reagents is an Irish company playing a global role in tackling serious tropical viruses such as Zika, dengue and yellow fever.

Founded in 1978 to supply raw materials to the global diagnostics industry, the company now produces some 300 different reagents – 150 antibodies and 150 proteins – which are used for the diagnosis of a vast range of diseases.

CEO Philip Noone, an entrepreneur with a long track record in the diagnostics space, acquired the company in 2014. He was attracted by the company’s existing product set as well as its potential.

“Aalto Bio had some interesting diagnostic products and I wanted to look at other areas, including dengue fever and the Zika virus,” he says. “I also thought a good area to look at was the chikungunya virus and we launched a material for that in 2015.

"We then targeted the Zika virus, and the late 2015 outbreak in Brazil triggered enquiries from hundreds of companies around the world. When the noise died down, we were left with five or six key players building diagnostic solutions for the virus and we are working with all of them. The mosquito which carries the Zika virus also carries chikungunya and dengue. We have the materials to test all the diseases from that vector.”

Quiet success story

This has been a quiet success story. “Our brand doesn’t appear anywhere, but we make the key component,” he explains. “When someone goes to be tested for a tropical disease the assay will probably use an Aalto Bio biomaterial. We supply the materials to all the main global players. What’s happening now is that our customers are asking us to build biomaterials specifically for them. They will identify a disease. We will go out, inoculate an animal, take a sample, grow the virus, build the antigen and then produce it synthetically to the scale required.”

The company has grown rapidly, with staff numbers doubling and turnover rising in double-digit growth to €3.3 million. “Our target is to double the size of the business within the next five years through a combination of new product development and new customers,” he says.

“We are interested in looking for solutions to emerging pathogens and building materials that help patients get diagnosed faster. If you want to be at the leading edge you’ve got to move fast.”

Export markets remain the primary focus. “Exports account for 93-94 per cent of our sales. Almost all of our business is generated outside of Ireland, ” he says.

“We are setting up partners in China at present and took part in an Enterprise Ireland trip there earlier in the year. We are now doing the same thing in Japan and we have just signed up a partner there as well. We are also working with a manufacturing partner in Brazil and are targeting Germany and France for future growth.”

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