InsituGen | targeting drug cheats with innovative technology

5 August 2020

The world of drug-cheating in sports is set for major disruption with the establishment of InsituGen, a start-up company making anabolic drug testing kits developed by Professor Alison Heather from the University of Otago, New Zealand.

“This technology is truly ground-breaking and will provide a level playing field in the sporting world,” says InsituGen CEO Dr Ojas Mahapatra.

“The $1.6m start-up funding received from investors means we can now advance what Otago Innovation Limited has created so far and commercially offer the testing kits to global drug screening operators to detect anabolics, including designer steroids. These investors include New Zealand early stage, deep-tech investors Pacific Channel (lead investor) and New Zealand Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP), plus leading financial services company, Booster.

InsituGen’s immediate pathway lies in the horse racing industry. We’re then planning to adapt it into a human kit, with potential for InsituGen to be supplying major sporting codes as early as 2022,” Dr Mahapatra said.

“No other test in the world can test what this one can,” said Professor Alison Heather.

“At the moment existing drug tests only catch cheats who use and administer recognised substances. This means cheats who use chemically altered substances, including trainers who give them to equine athletes, go un-detected because the fingerprint of the drug can’t be recognised. This new test quickly identifies any form of anabolic steroid in an athlete’s system, even if it is an unknown compound.

“In addition to identifying anabolic drugs used to create an illegal advantage, InsituGen’s kits can provide sporting organisations peace of mind when choosing nutritional supplements. Not only does the technology provide athletes, coaches, trainers and administrators with confidence that what they’re taking is legal and won’t lead to a surprising and potentially career-ending positive result for an anabolic, it provides assurance that they’re not inadvertently taking something that is harmful and unsafe to their body,” Professor Heather says.

“We’re thrilled to be investing in this ground-breaking technology and supporting InsituGen to address this increasingly difficult challenge facing our global sporting industry,” says Brent Ogilvie, managing partner Pacific Channel.

“In addition to specialist capital, InsituGen will have access to our team of experts who understand what it takes to turn IP into technology that creates meaningful global impact and commercial success.”

Looking beyond sports, Professor Heather is examining the potential for the technology to be used in a medical application to monitor hormone levels. This could potentially assist the process of regulating dosage of hormone inhibitors used in certain hormone sensitive cancers, including breast cancer.