Interview with Dimitris Koutsioulis of Enzyquest
EnzyQuest is a biotech company born out of the research of founder Dimitris Koutsioulis. The company is based in Crete and focuses on developing and commercializing new enzyme products that allow for more efficient manufacturing and analytical processes. Dimitris has worked in New England Biolabs in Boston and was the Head Scientist of FORTH’s Minotech Biotechnology laboratory He holds a Ph.D. in Molecular biology and biomedicine and is a Lecturer at the University of Crete. He has designed and developed more than 15 molecular biology products and holds one patent. Here’s what he told us.
Dimitri, tell us about the process and experiences of developing a technology in a research facility and then taking it (successfully) to the market test.
Before returning to FORTH, I was fortunate enough to work at NEB (New England Biolabs) in Boston under the guidance of Nobel Laureate Sir Rich Roberts. Working in one of the leading biotechnology companies in the world provided me with a completely different perspective regarding manufacturing and R&D. When I came back to Greece, working for FORTH was the lens through which I realized how I could combine state-of-the art concepts in the biotech industry with the idiosyncrasies of our Country. EnzyQuest is also located inside the Science & Technology Park of FORTH, which allowed us to bridge more easily these so different sectors.
Nevertheless, I quickly realized that developing a technology/product in a research environment is a very different process from commercializing it. There are so many different pitfalls, obstacles & peculiarities, most of which we had to learn the difficult way. Still, the practical lessons were invaluable.
What differentiates you from the rest of the industry? What value do you bring to the clients and partners?
Currently, EnzyQuest is the only Biotech company in Greece that manufactures its own molecular diagnostic RT-PCR kits instead of importing them. At the same time, we are certified with very strict international standards which renders as a unique company in Greece and in Balkans. Our certifications open doors to the rest of the world market but they also make us a useful partner and market conduit for other Biotechnology companies.
Additionally, we are investing in R&D, constantly looking out for new products. One aspect of our effort to continuously innovate is our Bioinformatics department which is currently focused on discovering new enzymes with commercially desired novel properties by applying Machine Learning techniques. Our upcoming products will be used in state-of the art applications, such as biomanufacturing of mRNA vaccines.
What would you consider to have been (or are) your biggest challenge so far?
Our core business plan changed within one weekend at the beginning of the lockdown, March 2020. We decided to establish not only a very effective kit for the detection of SARS COV2 but to find the people that will transform our company to a certified medical device manufacturer. Building and running strict quality and regulatory tasks was quite challenging since this area is at its infancy in Greece. Finding people that would support our unit was a huge challenge.
I am proud to say that EnzyQuest team is really exceptional. Each of our people is highly trained with a great sense of professionalism and devotion in our mission.
What are the biggest learnings from your journey so far?
That you must always be prepared to face challenges you could never even imagine existed. Just a few months after we launched the company came the pandemic, which forced us to drastically change our plans and strategy in order to survive. Turning a threat into an opportunity is not just a theoretical concept.
Also, nothing is exactly as it seems when changing perspective from one field to another. Both manufacturing and R&D share some core concepts between academia and industry, but there exist as many differences in their implementation.
Finally, every aspect of a new company needs to be dealt with appropriately and timely, otherwise problems have a tendency to snowball.
I believe, us having internalized those lessons (and many more) has made our company robust and ready to face any challenge that may arise...