Genetic Testing... On Your Smartphone?
Health Tech | Shiv Gaglani
In this column we’ve covered the growing field of mobile health (mHealth), including the development of smartphone-enabled stethoscopes and ultrasounds. Researchers and companies continue to push the limits of mHealth, and this month’s profiled device is no exception. Based in Philadelphia, PA, Biomeme promises to bring genetic testing to the bedside, and field, through intuitive and cost-effective smartphone-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR). We had the opportunity to speak with their co-founder, Max Perelman, shortly after he got back from meeting with one of Biomeme’s more famous investors: Mark Cuban.
What is Biomeme?
Biomeme is a handheld mobile platform for fast, easy-to-use, real-time PCR testing. Our end-to-end kits for DNA and RNA detection require no special lab equipment, like pipettes, a centrifuge, or vortexer. Users can collect and process a sample in one minute using our lab-free nucleic acid extraction technologies, test it in our smartphone-based thermocycler, and then further analyze the results in our web portal or integrate the data into your EMRs via our application programming interface (API). Our vision is to enable gold-standard lab tests on the spot, so that clinicians and patients no longer have to wait days or weeks for vital lab results.
How did you come up with the idea behind Biomeme?
My co-founders, Marc DeJohn and Jesse van Westrienen, met at a previous biotech startup, where they saw firsthand seeds of an upcoming mobile health revolution. Together we shared an interest in personalized health, and empowering laypeople with the same technological capabilities as a central lab. Notably, Jesse contracted malaria and Dengue fever simultaneously while traveling in Southeast Asia, and was hospitalized when local clinicians lacked the technology to diagnose him.
Marc and Jesse began prototyping an iPhone-based thermocycler out of Jesse’s grandmother’s basement in New Mexico. The first Biomeme device was actually made out of parts of a travel hairdryer. That prototype was enough to convince Jared Tarbell, Etsy co-founder, to give the team its first angel investment. Shortly thereafter, in April 2013, we moved to Philadelphia to be part of DreamIt Ventures’ inaugural DreamIt Health accelerator.
Is this something clinicians would be using?
We’ve heard from many clinicians that our tech could make a huge difference at the point of care. Our platform provides clinicians with the ability to do any real-time PCR test at the bedside or in the exam room, from genetic SNP panels to disease diagnostics. That trend towards rapid, decentralized, patient-centered, and personalized care is what led us to our first test, a panel for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas. We’re validating our STI panel in an IRB-approved study with the women’s health clinic at Drexel Medicine in Philadelphia.
Can you discuss any cardio-specific applications?
Cardiologists and transplant surgeons have expressed interest in a rapid bedside test for genetic markers that might indicate pharmacogenomic treatment course or transplant rejection risk. We’ve also heard interest in diagnostic tests for various pathogens. Beyond that, cardio is a field we know comparatively little about—we would love to hear from anyone seeking to add point-of-care testing to their practice (firstname.lastname@example.org).
You have Mark Cuban on board as an investor. How did he find out about you all?
We connected on Angel List about 2 years ago, during our seed investment round. He’s been a great advisor and resource along the way—but it was only at November’s Mavericks vs. 76ers game that we met in person!
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
In 5 years? Biomeme’s tools have created the ability for community-focused primary care clinics around the globe, personalized medicine practitioners, and time-sensitive tertiary care providers to provide patients with immediate results.
In 15 years? Biomeme’s tools have expanded beyond PCR machines into biomarker detectors and more. Following a trend in consumer health, telemedicine and personalized care, patients are the primary users, sharing their real-time information with clinicians who act more like coaches or mentors.
Shiv Gaglani is an MD/MBA candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Business School. He writes about trends in medicine and technology and has had his work published in Medgadget, The Atlantic, and Emergency Physicians Monthly.
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