With $30 million in recent financing, a Seattle-based company has launched operations to develop and market inexpensive tests for thousands of blood proteins, offering a comprehensive picture of the health of all the body’s organs. The Seattle startup, called Integrated Diagnostics, is developing cheap diagnostics that work in minutes and could be used to detect diseases at early, more treatable stages. The company’s technology has been in development for the past nine years in labs at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. The company hopes to provide tests for early diagnosis of neurological disorders and other diseases.
Today’s diagnostic tests tend to focus on a single disease marker, such as the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that’s used as a predictor of prostate cancer. However, such tests are unreliable and often inaccurate. Integrated Diagnostics’ technology is based on a systems biology approach that leverages large amounts of information about various biomolecules associated with health and diseases. Leroy Hood, one of the company’s founders, is also the founder and president of the Institute for Systems Biology. Instead of focusing on one gene or protein at a time, systems biology, Hood says, is based on “the idea that diseases arise from a perturbed network” of many genes and proteins.
Using such an approach, diseases like cancer can be detected much earlier, and researchers can determine how aggressive a disease is and how far it’s progressed. Researchers can even predict which therapies will be most effective for individuals. “PSA is deemed by many people to be a failure because of high rates of false positives” that happen when focusing on a single indicator, says Hood. “You have to have multiple parameters.”
While the systems approach has borne fruit in the lab, it hasn’t yet been brought to the clinic, says Paul Kearny, president and chief scientific officer at Integrated Diagnostics. That’s because of the expense and complexity of these more comprehensive, multiple-parameter tests. Integrated Diagnostics is focused on detecting proteins present in the blood. Testing for blood proteins with today’s technologies is time-consuming and too expensive to scale up. The PSA test is about $40; detecting other proteins can cost upwards of $500 for a single test. Kearny says Integrated Diagnostics plans to drastically reduce these costs. “It’s realistic with our technology to get the measurement costs down into pennies,” he says.