Roche is definitely on to something.
The world’s largest maker of cancer drugs recently said that 60 percent of the drugs in its pipeline are coupled with companion diagnostics to make treatment more effective.
Hundreds of companies are working on innovations in diagnostics to help clinicians identify disease earlier, quicker, less invasively and cheaper. They’re using genes, imaging, microfluidics and more, and they’re bringing tests previously done in labs or hospital settings to the bedside.
Here are six areas where demand is high for new diagnostics and the startups that are working on them. I’m sure there are areas I overlooked, so please share your thoughts in the comments.
As it is for therapeutics, cancer is a big target for diagnostic firms. They’re taking many different approaches: from a noninvasive sensor that detects breast tumors to blood tests for lung cancer. One company, Ascendant Diagnostics, is even developing a tear-based screening for early detection of breast cancer. Some of these companies focus not just on detecting cancer but monitoring it. TeloVISION’s device is one of several in development that would analyze blood samples to quantify circulating cancer cells that signify tumor metastasis.
The U.S.’s first at-home test kit for HIV was approved this year, but the greatest need for innovation in this area is overseas. A lack of reliable and inexpensive tools to identify infectious diseases is the greatest obstacle to controlling disease in the developing world, according to the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics. Cepheid, for one, is making deals to make its tuberculosis testing kit more affordable in developing countries. mBio Diagnostics is one company working on commercializing its first easy-to-use bedside tests for HIV and syphilis. And Amplino, which recently won funds from the Vodafone Mobile for Good competition, says its mobile-enabled malaria testing kit can identify different strains of the disease more accurately than existing devices.
Imaging is big in cardiology. Epsilon imaging and CardioInsight, for example, are advancing technologies to allow better visualization of the heart’s activity. QLIDA Diagnostics, on the other hand, is developing a mobile cardiac biomarker test for emergency rooms to rapidly determine if someone is having or will have a heart attack. Meanwhile, LipoScience is turning to certain gut flora as a biomarker of heart disease.
Many new tests for MRSA are being developed as healthcare-associated infections remain a big concern for hospitals. One company, DxUpClose, is working on a device that would determine, within in hour, which common antibiotic is the best option for a patient with an infection.
There’s some really interesting research going on in brain health that could lead to novel ways to predict and identify disease and injury. NeuroTrack, for example, is working on a computer-based early predictive test for Alzheimer’s disease. Quest Diagnostics has developed a test to detect genetic mutations associated with Lou Gehrig’s disease. And Cerora is just one company developing a novel device to detect concussions in athletes.
From pregnancy to women’s cancers, the need for more research in women’s health issues is evidenced by all of these startups. A noninvasive female fertility test from Celmatix could allow doctors to better guide fertility treatments, while VitaPath Genetics is developing DNA tests for women at risk for birth defects like spina bifida. Juneau Biosciences is working to determine if women are predisposed to develop endometriosis and Lucine Biotechnology hopes to develop salivary diagnostics for hormone-related OB/GYN conditions. At the end of last year, a new rapid test for Group B Streptococcus, a bacterial infection that can be passed to a woman’s baby during delivery, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.