In 1994 the definition of start-up was not as popular as it is
today but would have been perfectly suited for Tecna Srl, that at
the time was taking its first steps at the AREA Science Park in
Trieste. Founded by a small group of chemists and biologists with
several years' industrial experience in the field of
immunodiagnostics, the entrepreneurial venture started with the
development of methods to detect and measure drug
residues in food.
Since 2000 the company has extended its activity to the
detection and measurement of mycotoxins, and then
moved onto the development of kits for allergens.
In these years Tecna has become leader both in Italy and overseas
in the market of diagnostic kits for the analysis of chemical
contaminants in food and feed
material. Today it employs 25 staff, has a turnover of €
2.3 million, a growth of 14% on 2012. It is present with its
products in 40 countries and, last year, its exports accounted for
35% of its revenues.
A safe food supply chain
Thanks to the progress made by scientific research, many sources
of food pollutants are now known and well identified. They are
partly of natural origin, partly due to industrial processes or the
use of drugs or pesticides in breeding farms and crops, as well as
to polluting phenomena due to the use of substances that mask food
adulterations. Detecting such substances through cost-effective and
reliable kits is imperative to guarantee the health of ingredients,
food and feed material.
Tecna products are manufactured using immunochemistry
technology, but over the last twenty years the company has
undergone considerable change in terms of evolution and
diversification of technology and format. Tecna has mainly
developed microplate kits (ELISA), aimed at structures with
laboratories equipped with a considerable degree of know how. Over
the years it has tried to release new versions of faster and faster
ELISA kits, that are more user-friendly and cost effective in terms
of format, offering a screening tool that can be directly used by
manufacturing companies or small laboratories.
An example of this evolution is B ZERO AFLA
M1, a revolutionary ELISA kit for the analysis
of aflatoxin M1 present in milk, fine-tuned by Tecna
researchers in the summer of 2014. It is the first microplate kit
that enables the direct analysis of milk, without
the need to prepare samples, thus representing a considerable
advantage in terms of time and cost of material for the analysts,
as well as a reduction in sources of error due to the manipulation
of samples. As opposed to the other kits available on the market, B
ZERO AFLA M1 cuts analysis time by 50% and allows for
quantitative results in just 30 minutes. The considerable time
saved is matched by significant cost savings, thanks to a format
that requires calibration. The extremely high quality of the
reagents is such that the test can provide quantitative data
without resorting to standard solutions.
New technological challenges
Besides the tests made using the microplate, in recent years
Tecna has faced a new technological challenge, starting to use the
so-called "dry chemistry" to develop "self-monitoring"
tests similar to common pregnancy tests. These tests, defined
"lateral flow" or more simply "strips", are aimed
at non-professional users and are characterised by very fast
response: only few minutes to check goods being delivered to decide
whether to (i) accept receipt of such goods and authorise their
unloading or (ii) reject them. This testing technology is surely
very interesting for the analysis of mycotoxins,
as it basically does not require either specific equipment or
training in the analytical field.
It was a major challenge for Tecna: the transfer of the know how
gained and consolidated for the ELISA to the new "lateral flow"
format has been a process that has involved researchers for several
years. Last May Tecna managed to launch the Smart Strip
DON, a strip for the detection of deoxynivalenol in
cereals, a result also achieved thanks to the
contribution of Community funds granted by the Friuli Venezia
Giulia Region under the POR-FESR Program. With Smart Strip
DON this mycotoxin, that was quite widespread in Italian
corn crop in 2014, can be detected and measured in just 10 minutes.
The Smart Strip is gradually adding new products that have recently
entered or are about to enter the International market, such as
Smart Strip AFLA B1, released at the
end of October, that allows to detect the dangerous aflatoxin
B1 present in corn, still in just 10 minutes.
In the year in which it celebrates twenty years of activity,
Tecna looks at the horizon ahead for the next 20 years. "The market
demands more and more product differentiation - explains
Maurizio Paleologo, Chairman and General Manager
of Tecna -. Companies like Tecna must be ready to take up the
challenge and develop new responses to meet different needs. For
the future I can imagine a considerable increase in interest for
faster methods using strips, tools that might also reach the
world's poorest countries, where the fight against contamination by
mycotoxins cannot rely on the use of expensive, sophisticated,
complex and slow tests.
On the technological plane, the next challenge instead will be
compacting several tests in the same diagnostic screening system.
In other words, it will be necessary to develop revolutionary
platforms that enable to acquire a greater amount of information
about the potential chemical contaminations for the same sample of
cereal, milk or meat. A multi-testing platform would enable
the exploitation of the sample collected, a reduction in testing
time and the ability to access more information on the actual
hazardousness of what we eat".