The research was in this doctor’s DNA

DNAlysis, a South African DNA testing company, has been helping medical practitioners find personalised health solutions for their patients for 10 years. The brand which is now a globally recognised company was started from a love of genetic research and a need to bring the findings to the people who needed it the most.

The man behind the business, Dr Danny Meyersfeld, founded DNAlysis Biotechnology just over 10 years ago because of his love and interest in research. “I was pretty frustrated with the state of research in South Africa. In the sense that it was often the case of research for the sake of doing research without a specific end goal in mind. There needed to be a way to bring the outputs of genetic research that was being conducted to doctors and patients in a productive way.”

After completing his PhD in molecular biology at the University of the Witwatersrand, he followed his passion and set up a company committed to the application of medical research in clinical practice. “I knew I wanted to stay in South Africa after graduating and was extremely interested in how the healthcare sector would change in the era post the completion of the Human Genome Project. South Africans had the technology and skill set, but there seemed to be a general lack of the awareness of the healthcare advances that were made possible by the genome project. Those in South Africa who were aware of some of these tests were sending samples abroad at exorbitant costs, only because no such services were available locally. I thought that I could fill this gap in South Africa.”

Dr Meyersfeld started DNAlysis Biotechnology in 2007 – working with registered healthcare practitioners on the numerous nutrigenomics tests he was offering. “We focused on education, giving practitioners a clinical context to the tests and the results.” As with everything that is new, Meyersfeld said there were some critics when the lab first opened.  However, there was never a plan B for him. “I never doubted I was going in the right direction, it was just a question of convincing others.”

“We spent much of our time in the first few years having to defend ourselves to the sceptics; there are still those who feel that the services such as these are premature, but our days of defending it are gone. The approach now is ‘don’t confuse ignorance with a lack of evidence,’ as we find that the loudest critics are usually the ones who are least prepared to read the research.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced, and still face now, is educating the healthcare practitioners. The practitioners need to understand the product and the results in order to use it to help their patients. It was because of this that I took the view that this was not a direct-to-consumer product. There is too much value to be added by a clinician by incorporating the genetics into the clinical context.”

All the tests DNAlysis Biotechnology conducts are based on scientific research. Our aim is to get this research into the public domain, so that people can make more informed decisions and practitioners can work with a patient’s DNA, instead of against it. Meyersfeld said that what set his company apart from others, especially during its founding phase, was the fact that he focused on the science behind the test rather than making rash promises about the outcomes of the test. “What made us a success was the science backing us. There are no wild claims or assumptions here.”

Meyersfeld said he believed DNAlysis Biotechnology probably started two or three years before the South African market was ready for it. “Having survived the first few years, we soon found ourselves within an industry that had a captive market. After 10 years, there is now a bit more competition, but starting early meant we were able to pave the way – and position ourselves as leaders both in the South African market, as well as some international regions.”

While DNAlysis Biotechnology might have started because South Africa was not seen as a nutrigenomic hub, the lab is fast changing the world’s perspective. Dr Meyesfeld said, “I started off essentially as a distributer for an international company. I was trying to convince doctors of the benefits of genetic testing by sending swabs to a lab in Europe… Now we send our tests to doctors in about 30 countries and all the swabs come to my lab in Johannesburg. It has come full circle.”

Looking towards the future, Meyersfeld said there was still so much that was unknown and he was excited to see where technology would evolve. Personalised medicine has had such a massive impact on the way doctors are able to treat patients. “We are still living in the beginning stages of personalised medicine. The future holds so much potential for this sector of medicine and I have no doubt that DNAlysis Biotechnology is going to embrace the future with open arms,” said Dr Meyersfeld.