How a Nijmegen biotech-company wants to cure malaria and dengue fever.

Story by Novio Tech Campus

TropIQ Health Sciences CEO Koen Dechering has a dream. Five years from now, his technology platform will be all over the national news. ‘TropIQ, that recently developed a successful drug for malaria, now finds a cure for dengue fever’ the headlines will read. Optimistic? “Yes. But the recent covid pandemic has shown us the power of vaccine and medicine research at full force”, Koen says.

Over half of the world’s population lives in malaria mosquito territory. With around 200 million cases and 400,000 deaths a year, malaria is one of the deadliest infectious diseases of our time. “Needless to say, the impact of malaria is huge. Healthwise, but also economically”, Koen explains. “I really feel the urge to do something about that. With our malaria research, we aim to create better opportunities for people, by improving their health, and thereby their productivity, social status and economic status. We want to make an impact.”

Joining forces in the fight against malaria

Dechering first came into contact with malaria research while studying in Cameroon. “The biology of these parasites is highly fascinating. They can survive in mosquitos, but also in people. You could compare that to us being able to live on earth and on Mars.” Koen earned his PhD in malaria research, switched to the pharmaceutical industry and bumped into Prof. Dr. Robert Sauerwein at exactly the right time. “I was looking for a new job. He told me there was a high demand for malaria research. As a vaccine researcher, he didn’t know the first thing about medicine. That’s where I came in. We started talking and decided to join forces.”

The result? TropIQ Health Sciences. A tech company that operates a platform for the discovery and development of molecules to combat insect-borne infectious diseases. With world-class parasitological and entomological expertise and state of the art drug discovery technologies, TropIQ accelerates the development of novel medicines, vaccines and vector control measures. “Our clients are pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and we’re also involved in PDP’s, product development partnerships”, Koen says.

A true feeling of being on campus

In 2016, TropIQ relocated from Radboud University to Novio Tech Campus. “We were looking for more space and a more businesslike environment. That’s exactly what we found on campus, and more. We really like the facilities. Each tenant can arrange the space the way they see fit. For example, we’ve built labs for our mosquito and tick research. And we’re expanding them at the moment.”

The thing Koen loves most about the location is the campus feeling, which is all about collaboration. “Our neighbor, QM Diagnostics, lets us use their facilities for research and we share equipment with Avivia and Enzyre. Sharing facilities like that works great for us. They are way too expensive if you only use them 5% of the time.” And last year, TropIQ provided help to Protinhi and Avivia for Covid research. “Covid isn’t our field of expertise, but malaria research is. When it became clear that chloroquine – one of the substances in malaria medicine – might be effective against Covid, we’ve provided a range of similar molecules for the research.”

Broadening the research field

Whether TropIQ really contributed to a cure for Covid, Koen doesn’t know yet – the research is still ongoing. He does know the future of his company won’t be only about mosquitos, although it will always stay their most important field of action. “We operate in a niche market”, Koen says. “But we’re broadening our research field into the field of vector-borne diseases. Right now, we’re researching mosquito repellents, but also Lyme disease and dengue fever. We expect the first patients can benefit from our malaria medicine within five years. It is our dream to find a cure for dengue fever as well. Maybe even in the same 5 years’ time. An optimistic goal, we know. But a man can dream.”