Rapidemic’s rapid STI tests lead the way to a healthcare revolution

4 September 2023

PLNT StartUp Stories

Rapidemic went from being a student project at Leiden University to raising more than €1 million in investments. In the future, they want to play a pivotal role in the healthcare revolution.

How does a student project get this far? Good question. Violette Defourt, CEO of Rapidemic, tells us all about it.

Team van Rapidemic

What is Rapidemic?

Remember COVID-19 rapid tests? Well, Rapidemic is developing something very similar, but for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The company develops a molecular point-of-care test for a fast and accurate diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections. Their current tests are specifically for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, but they plan to expand to other pathogens in the future.

Why? Well, “Rapidemic was born out of the idea that we should bring laboratory diagnostics closer to the patient,” Violette explains.

In practice, this means that diagnostics should be faster and more accessible. With their tests, not only could people get their results immediately at the clinic when tested, but eventually, they could just take STI tests in the privacy of their own homes.

How did Rapidemic get started?

Before Rapidemic was what it is today, it was a student project. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 proved that “there are accurate lab tests, but things often just don’t move quickly enough. Therefore, the virus spread rapidly.”

Though scientifically, the initial project had a different idea, the vision was the same: developing a point-of-care, laboratory-independent, rapid test that can be deployed in non-laboratory settings.

“We started off as a team in a student project for an international Biotech competition organised by MIT. It’s called iGEM,” Violette explains. “But you don’t really participate to win; you participate for the experience — and because you get to go to Boston,” she laughs.

Well, believe it or not: that year, the team from Leiden won!

From there, Rapidemic gained some momentum, and eventually, the student project evolved into the startup it is today.

Following their success, a few people from the project wanted to continue working to see how far they could take their vision. “Things started aligning quite nicely, so we played around, had some ups and downs, and learned a lot,” Violette says.

“I think it’s fair to say that the first year was more of a practice round”, she admits. “But today, we have a much stronger focus, and a fantastic network in the field — and that means the world to us.”

What role does PLNT play in Rapidemic’s StartUp story?

Rapidemic’s research team has its labs in the Leiden Bioscience Park — so, technically, there is no need for them to keep an office at PLNT — but they choose to anyway. “PLNT is just a fantastic way to get inspired.”

“When you’re in the lab, it’s more clinical, but at PLNT, you just feel that entrepreneurial spirit — and that’s really important for our growth.”

The PLNT network has had an immense impact on Rapidemic’s growth: “Everything we have going today is 100% thanks to our network, and PLNT has been really instrumental in providing us with that.”

“Especially Stéefan Ellenbroek, program director of unlock_, has helped us out a lot. I talk to inspiring people on a very regular basis, and I love to learn from their experience,” Violette says.

How does Rapidemic help people?

This one seems obvious — we all know that STIs are an issue around the globe. However, the actual numbers still come as quite a shock.

Violette lays them out to us: “About one million STIs are acquired each day.” Sounds like a lot? Well, Violette explains that “those are only the ones that are reported by the WHO. And when you talk to the WHO, you find out just how little of them are reported.”

So, in truth, there are many, many more STIs going around each day — and they are a concerning medical issue, here and around the world.

By developing a test that can provide results quickly, infected people can take preventative measures to avoid spreading the infection, and thereby contribute to reducing the overall prevalence of STIs.

This proactive approach to STI testing can play a vital role in promoting public health and fostering responsible sexual behaviour.

What’s in store for Rapidemic’s future?

The next big step for Rapidemic is to get its test on the market in different areas of the world. After that, they also want to address other unmet medical needs in the diagnostic industry.

“We want to start with STIs, but that’s not where we’re going to stop. There is a need for more decentralised techniques in all fields of diagnostics.”

But “STIs are the first place where this revolution is going to start — because it really is a revolution,” Violette says. “I think this technique is going to go across the whole healthcare spectrum.”

“And we want to be a pivotal player in this.”

Just like Rapidemic loves PLNT, PLNT loves Rapidemic! Why? Because by addressing a problem that is relevant to all of us, Rapidemic is making a direct impact not just on people’s lives, but on the healthcare industry in general.

We are excited to see where the journey will take them!

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