Understanding how diseases affect the body on a molecular level and how medicines work to counteract them is key to developing better therapies for patients. Therefore when Olivier Heyning, an applied physicist working in the electron microscope industry, encountered the work of two young professors at Amsterdam’s VU University, he knew they were onto something special.
“They had enabled the first ever live observation of the molecular interaction of diseases, DNA and drugs,” he explains. “This was a huge breakthrough in life sciences and drug discovery, and a big improvement on the still images we relied on before.” Keen to apply the research to new products, Heyning joined forces with the professors, Gijs Wuite and Erwin Peterman, and researcher Andrea Candelli, to explore the market potential. Having confirmed the expected demand, the four launched LUMICKS in March 2014.
During the feasibility study phase, Andrea Candelli had attended the first ever bootcamp at Ace Venture Lab at Amsterdam Science Park. The connection would prove invaluable in the rapid development that followed. “We’ve been affiliated with Ace since the beginning,’ explains Heyning. “The advice and support we’ve had from them has made a huge difference. For example, when we needed a big loan for order execution, one of the Ace coaches helped us to get it.”
Now with a staff of 21, LUMICKS recently won the Dutch Young Startup Award. “Everything has happened quite quickly,” says Heyning. “Our revenue is several million, and we’re at break-even point. Our customers are academic institutes and big pharma companies. Including Harvard, Berkeley, Max Planck and AMOLF at the science park.”
Even more rewarding perhaps, is the potential societal impact of LUMICKS’ single-molecule analysis microscopes. This is “indirect but immense”, says Heyning. “Observing interactions at the molecular level means we can design better drugs to tackle diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and tuberculosis. As we grow our company, we hope to have a really positive impact on the world.”
For LUMICKS, there’s more than one chance to be part of something big. “We’re currently based at the VU campus in Zuidas,” explains Heyning. “In the future, however, VU and UvA will join forces and all the exact sciences will operate together from Amsterdam Science Park. This will create a concentrated cluster that will be the biggest in the Netherlands and perhaps even unique on a European and global level.”