COLOMBIA - Health & Education
Co-founder & President of the Board of Directors, ALIFE Health
Luis Diaz is an oil and gas professional and entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience of international field operations, business development, finance and management. During his career he has led teams in global companies and start up operations in Colombia, Mexico and the US for privately owned companies, and has worked closely with shareholders to create a unique corporate culture and build great teams to execute short- and long-term business and strategy plans. Over the past three years he has also co-founded different companies in various sectors including health, agroindustry, energy, and hospitality, employing more than 150 employees.
TBY talks to Luis Diaz, Co-founder & President of the Board of Directors of ALIFE Health, about biotechnology in Colombia, oncology, and partnerships with other companies.
Where does ALIFE Health fit within the Colombian biotechnology ecosystem?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we came up with the idea of setting up a molecular biology laboratory, to help with the COVID-19 diagnostics, especially PCR tests. During our analysis of the market, we identified a deficit of technology in cancer diagnostics and precision medicine in Colombia, where a large portion of the advanced diagnostics is actually done outside the country. That reason triggered the creation of our Precision Medicine Division. Our technology can identify different type of mutations including SNV (Single Nucleotide Variations), INDELS (Insertion and deletions), CNV (Copy Number Variations). All these analyses give us the chance to get a profound knowledge of genes defects. The immune oncology treatments and targeted therapies defined by these types of diagnostics will improve patients’ well-being, or increase the likelihood of preserving patient’s life. Medicine and therapies based on DNA is revolutionizing how patients are diagnosed and medical practice overall now and in the future. One important characteristic of ALIFE is being an innovator and a first mover in the biotechnology market in Colombia; we did it first for COVID-19 diagnosis, and now we are doing it again for DNA sequencing for precision oncology using the worldwide leader in genomics.
How will ALIFE’s technology in matters of diagnosis and prevention revolutionize the field of cancer treatment?
First, we have an NGS Sequencer available in our facilities in Bogotá Colombia. In terms of capacity for example, our technology can process more than 65000 samples per year of inherited cancer panels. Having this technology available in Colombia allow us to reduce the time to get a diagnostic in more than 50% percent of the current time lapse, compared to the processing done overseas. There are some other technologies available in Colombia, though they do not have the quality in terms of depth of sequencing, and the impact of this analysis in clinical management of the patients. Private sector is not the main driver to provide cancer care or treatment in Colombia. This is handled by the public healthcare insurance, also named “EPS”. Our goal is help to reduce the gap between patients than can get access to an early diagnostic and timely treatment, and those patients that are currently suffering due to a delay in their diagnosis. We seek to not only implement science, but also to provide a service to the people of Colombia that doesn´t have the opportunity to get diagnosed early and receive the proper treatment in a timely manner. Around 95% of the population cannot afford to pay a treatment abroad. ALIFE will improve the availability, timeframe, and cost of those diagnoses.
ALIFE’s crowdfunding in A2censo set a new record in terms of money raised. To what do you attribute this success?
Unlike traditional banking, we qualified for crowdfunding financing after a year and a half of operations, and our experience was extremely positive. The rationale of using technology to improve the well-being of cancer patients was attractive to investors, and we raised COP2.6 billion (about USD670,000) from a total of 1,432 people who contributed to the project in just 10 business days. A2censo had never raised funding of this size. It was a great exposure to the market because many people got to know us and our work. With greater awareness, there will be more opportunities for cancer diagnostics and treatment in the future, and this also opens up opportunities of financing from different sources. It is a way to propagate and distribute the message of the business potential associated to technology and life sciences.
What other types of companies are you looking to collaborate with?
Our main focus are the final consumers of the different diagnostics that we do, and those patients are mainly affiliated with the private sector and premier insurance companies. Our key partnerships therefore lie with insurance companies, either private or those from the mandatory government health programs. There are also key collaborations that we do with companies that develop the technology we use, as well as the pharmaceutical companies that offer treatments for cancer. Such collaborations have been key for us to have a better understanding of the market and continue to do R&D in collaboration with them. These diagnostics and treatments will continue to evolve, because they are all in the initial stages. There is still a great deal of research and data being gathered. Provided that we are at the forefront of biotechnology, it is important to have strong alliances with science providers and pharmaceuticals as well as data collectors, people who can harness the power of the work we are doing, and the final patients, which is the purpose of the company altogether.
What is the importance of capital investment in matters of biotechnology for Colombia’s development, and what parties can benefit from these types of investments?
There are many areas where we actually have an impact: first on the public healthcare sector and mainly on the political strategy for the future, regarding public health policies. Having a continuous increment in the use of the type of diagnostics offered by ALIFE will generate more data on genetic analysis that is gathered across the population in Colombia helping the country to develop a more accurate public health strategy for the future.
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