A Northwest Arkansas-based company is developing blood tests it says will diagnose a range of medical conditions as accurately as current lab tests, but much more quickly and cheaply and from the privacy of a patient’s home.
NOWDiagnostics’ ADEXUSDx product encloses the entire process in a single plastic unit – like a home pregnancy test, but using blood instead of urine. Membranes inside the plastic housing separate plasma from blood cells, performing the same job as centrifuges in the lab, said the company’s CEO, Kevin Clark. Results are available within five to 15 minutes.
The company is developing 36 products that would test a variety of medical conditions, including diseases and food intolerances. In some cases, more than one type of condition, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, potentially could be tested by the same device.
It already is marketing six products manufactured in a 22,000-square-foot facility in Springdale, with its hCG pregnancy test available to labs in the United States and all six available throughout Europe and elsewhere. The hCG test can detect pregnancy within 48 hours of implantation, Clark said. It’s particularly useful in emergency rooms, to which it’s being marketed, so certain medical procedures can be avoided that would be harmful to a fetus. Using the test, doctors don’t have to wait hours for a lab test to determine if a patient is pregnant, and they don’t have to wait for the patient to urinate into a cup, which not all emergency room patients can do. Clark said his product is more sensitive than urine-based tests and is not as prone to false negatives.
Products already for sale in Europe include two tests that can determine if a patient’s blood contains proteins that are released during a cardiac arrest. The Vatican’s hospital ambulatory system is using this product to test patients as they are transported, radically speeding up the diagnosis, said Jeremy Wilson, founder of NewRoad Ventures out of Bentonville, a capital investment firm that is NOWDiagnostics’ parent company.
Other tests include three toxicology tests for overdoses of aspirin and acetaminophen and for methanol contamination.
“You’ll be seeing additional tests rolling out from the company over the next 12 to 24 months in pretty rapid fashion,” Wilson said.
NOWDiagnostics is focusing for the time being on the professional market, which is the easiest to enter. It plans to move more broadly from emergency rooms into doctors’ offices. It’s being priced to “save the system money,” Clark said. The retail, over-the-counter market will take years to enter, but the process has already begun.
Clark said the product enables consumers to learn if they have a certain condition, like the HIV virus, in the privacy of their home. Moreover, a parent can learn if a child is infected with strep throat or perhaps has something less serious, helping the parent decide if it’s necessary to miss work and take the child to a doctor’s office filled with other sick kids. After talking to large retailers and insurance companies, “We’re thinking that once we get to (over the counter) and retail that we’re talking about something south of $20,” Clark said.
The firm’s 18 individuals are capable of producing batches of 10,000 tests at a time, with a new batch able to be started each day. That’s enough to satisfy the professional market, but as the company enters the over-the-counter market, it will have to scale up and automate, Clark said.
The creation of NowDiagnostics helped lead to the birth of its own parent company, NewRoad Ventures. It all started when Wilson, a former Walmart executive and former chief operating officer of the digital advertising and marketing company Rockfish, was approached by a multinational company wanting to develop a new category of medical tests.
Wilson approached Clete Brewer, whose ventures include co-founding the Staffmark employment agency, co-owning Sport Clips hair salons for men, and serving as chairman and CEO of water treatment company BlueInGreen. The two created NewRoad Ventures based on a simple philosophy: Instead of trusting that an entrepreneur’s good ideas would find acceptance in the marketplace, they look for areas where demand already exists. They raised about $21 million during the initial startup phase that has been plugged into 15 companies, including social analytics company DataRank, and Overdrive, an online auto parts distributor.
Toronto-based ZBx Corporation had developed the medical testing technology for which the multinational company was looking, so NowDiagnostics was formed to license it for the United States market and certain other countries. After a $10 million capital campaign, NowDiagnostics recently bought ZBx Corporation and now controls the product.
Wilson foresees medical personnel carrying a thousand of these tests in a backpack to a remote village to test for malaria.
“It is without question … going to reinvent health care globally,” he said. “It has the potential to literally change the way patients and consumers are … diagnosed for treatment.”