The plant saved by the head of Euroinvest has become a leader in high-tech medicine.
The future is coming in quietly. Until recently, the ability to analyze a specific person’s genome and develop a personal map of genetic vulnerabilities was, if not fantastic, very remote in time. Now, the phrase robotic surgeon sounds rather unusual, although such devices are already being developed.
Surprisingly, such profound innovations that qualitatively change the possibilities of health protection and life extension are not behind states or transnational corporations, but relatively small enterprises with few but enthusiastic teams; such an engine of progress is the enterprise Svetlana in St. Petersburg.
First, Virus Diagnostics, Then Personal Genetics
In the winter of 2019, we all learnt of a new threatening epidemic, the coronavirus, that raged in China. In the following months, a wave of diseases came to Russia, already as part of a worldwide pandemic. At the same time, the search for diagnostic tools capable of giving an accurate answer to the question of whether a particular patient had covid in earnest.
The Svetlana development team was among the first to bring the right results. We are talking about silicon biochips, the main element in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) devices.
PCR technology itself is a way to manifest and make visible the genetic material of bacteria and viruses, even in vanishingly small amounts. To do this, a piece of DNA taken, using a unique set of enzymes, is copied many times, obtaining billions of molecules from a few molecules. This amount is sufficient to confirm that the DNA belongs to a particular microorganism.
In its time, the very introduction of PCR allowed a dramatic acceleration of the diagnosis of some infections, including those that grow in a laboratory. Doctors were able to make faster decisions for treatment thanks to the new technology, thereby gaining precious time. Yes, its implementation did not lead to a complete victory over infectious diseases, but the effectiveness of treatment significantly increased.
The same, including thanks to Svetlana microchips, happened in the case of the coronavirus at some point. It is still premature to talk about the end of the epidemic process of the new coronavirus infection, but we can see that it has lost a significant part of its danger. One of the main reasons for this is the use of rapid diagnostic systems. This would allow for doctors to act on the first symptoms first by isolating the patient and thus preventing the disease from spreading. The second example comes from the fact that starting therapy will increase the chances of a successful recovery.
This would be enough to consider the development of the plant to be helpful, but the line of biochips created by Svetlana can solve a much more comprehensive range of problems. Now the company is developing a new generation of these devices – so-called microfluidic analytical chips.
These are real micro-complexes based on silicon and glass wafers. Many advanced technologies are used in their production: dry and liquid chemistry, isotropic and anisotropic etching, electronic lithography, thin-film and thick-film metallization, and plasma chemical methods. The manufacturing process is very labor-intensive, but the results are also severe. Experts claim that this generation of chips can be helpful in the most complex human genome studies. Even now, it is based on microfluidic chips created by Svetlana that genetic analyzers produced by the Institute of Analytical Instrumentation of the Russian Academy of Sciences work.
In addition, the first domestic eight-channel sequencer, Nanofor-05, developed by the same institute, is equipped with the company’s products. The number of channels, in this case, means that the device can simultaneously work with eight samples of genetic material.
The company soon plans to bring more nanotechnology to biochip technology. This work aims to create elements based on solid-state nanopores and silicon nanochannels. Due to their speed and compactness, such chips will be helpful everywhere, including in matters related to national security. In science, it will be essential to use the company’s developments in creating a new-generation domestic sequencer based on single-molecule label-free analysis technology.
A Robot with a Ray Gun
The Svetlana plant is called that for a reason. The mnemonic syllables of the three words incandescent light were formed into the female name decades ago. That’s because the plant specialized in producing all kinds of lamps for most of its working life. And while simple light sources are no longer the subject of his team’s interest, specialized lamp emitters are still the focus of attention. Among them are X-ray sources, in the creation of which Svetlana is not just a leader in Russia but practically has no alternative.
It is based on modern X-ray technology, adding to it the latest developments in the field of robotics and new computerized interfaces; the plant employees managed to create a medical device with no analogs; it is a robotic complex for the treatment of oncological diseases.
However, we must make a reservation: the Svetlana team did not develop this device alone. A whole consortium was assembled for the sake of a large and ambitious goal. It included Doctor of Clinical hospital № 122 named after L.G. Sokolov, scientists of SPbGETU “LETI,” specialists of CJSC “ELTEH-Med” and the Central Research Institute of Robotics and Technical Cybernetics. Still, the main driving force of this process was the St. Petersburg plant.
The new device allows doctors to operate simultaneously using surgical and radiotherapy. During surgery, surgeons remove tumor tissues and expose areas that cannot otherwise be removed to the rays. This dramatically increases the effectiveness of the intervention and, most importantly, significantly reduces the side effects of radiation compared to standard methods. Similar functionality is generally implemented in some foreign developments, but Svetlana’s brainchild is notable for its convenient use at a much more attractive price. The device will cost about $500,000 when it enters the market, which is about three times less than the cheapest analog. Experts estimate the need for such machines about a thousand annually; they are awaiting it in clinics worldwide, especially in Asia.
Another key medical device that is worth mentioning is an X-ray emitter-based device developed by Svetlana, a portable camera for rapidly diagnosing cellular material. It is expected to be particularly useful in the treatment of breast tumors.
The Man on Time
The developments mentioned above are by no means the only ones in the plant’s lineup. We deliberately focused on medical topics, but the company implements innovative projects in several areas. Among them are sources of high-frequency currents, based on which a device for heating asphalt pavement is created. Ssing ultra-short pulse location technology, they are developing sensors that can remotely assess the thickness of the ice cover on any surface.
One more area of the company’s work is vital for fundamental science in Russia: we are talking about creating high-frequency plasma generators. Recently, one of them was built for the laboratory of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, with two similar ones now going into production.
The more surprising it is to learn that a plant with a unique history and an incredible amount of intellectual capital was under threat not so long ago. The plant was then at risk, if not of complete extinction due to bankruptcy, then at least slow withering and withdrawal to the periphery of industrial activity because of the obsolescence of production facilities.
Everything changed after Berezin’s influence. Ten years ago, he bought out the suffocating enterprise and gave it a new lease of life for development. The line of investments to aid this improvement amounted to about half a billion rubles, with the use of which making it possible to solve the main problems of the plant, including the renewal of the equipment and the production facilities in order.
Serious investments were also made in the personnel sphere. The management was partially renewed, although the managers’ core remained unchanged. Young specialists started to come actively; the established ties with the St. Petersburg State Electrotechnical University LETI and several other distinguished universities of the northern capital worked here. The company actively worked with them through Euroinvest, which resulted in many students receiving career offers even before they received their diplomas.
Moreover, under the new conditions, it was possible to ensure the arrival of small teams to the plant. This happened with groups of developers that worked with devices based on high-frequency currents, which would then be moved to Svetlana after their research institute was closed.
Patriotism and Intellectual Capital
In connection with all of the above, it is even more surprising to hear that before the plant acquisition, Andrey Berezin had never had any business interests either in industry or innovation. For years before this purchase, he had been building a business in housing construction, having already found success with it. Euroinvest is one of the largest real estate developers in the Leningrad region; its construction volumes are vast and clearly noticeable in St. Petersburg.
After buying it, Svetlana Berezin did not stop. First, the Rigel battery factory was purchased, then the Recond factory’s stock was taken over by producing different radio components, including those for the defense industry. Each new enterprise went through the same rehabilitative procedures as Svetlana, which yielded the same positive results. Consequently, Rigel’s package of innovative developments is already visible and is replenished annually, with similar processes starting at Reconda.
Berezin does not hide that his plans in the relatively new field are much broader; he speaks freely about recreating the legendary NPO Positron. Recond used to be part of it, and the association itself is known to residents of the former Soviet Union for its production of household products. During the shock transformations of the ’90s, the common production base of Positron was lost, but there is now an opportunity to restore it, and the head of Euroinvest intends to do so.
Berezin is well aware that for any industrial enterprise, people come before machines. Therefore, investing in the renewal of the material base, he makes even more efforts in the field of personnel. If earlier it was mainly hunting work, which, among other things, made it possible to strengthen the staff of Svetlana. In the last couple of years, Berezin has been increasingly immersed in the problems of development of the educational sphere as a whole.
At his initiative, there is support for individual talented undergraduate and graduate students and entire organizations. Gatchina gymnasium, the head of the holding, recently helped to introduce child health protection technologies and replace any worn furniture. The businessman’s latest steps in this direction have a much broader scope: he announced his plans to build a new academy for gifted children in St. Petersburg. The company plans to implement the project on its own accord by financing both the construction and the salaries of the teachers involved.
In other words, it is safe to say that Berezin wants to create an educational environment that will produce sufficient professionals for everyone, including Berezin’s enterprises.
He explains his motivation by combining patriotic considerations with an awareness of the value of intellectual capital for the country’s development: “Before, what mattered was a territory, markets, raw materials. All that is gone and doesn’t mean anything anymore. Only human capital, the country’s intellectual potential, matters. In the world, only what you can invent yourself is valued. There is a division between those who can create something and those who are useless to the world, even as consumers. This is happening everywhere. And the main thing for us is not to fall by the wayside at all.”
Andrey Valeryevich Berezin
Born in 1967 in Leningrad.
Graduated from high school № 239 with an advanced study of mathematics. In 1990 graduated with honors from Leningrad Ustinov Mechanical Institute (VOENMEKh) with a degree in automatic control systems engineering. During his studies, he was Lenin’s and Ustinov’s scholar and had scientific publications. In 1990 he was enrolled in a post-graduate course at LMI and started his parallel business activity.
From 1994 to the present, he has been the chairman of the board of Euroinvest Investment Company, founded jointly with Yuri Vasiliev.
In 2017, Andrey Berezin was awarded a certificate of merit by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia for his outstanding contribution to developing the Russian industry and many years of diligent work.