I am still in summer mode this week so am taking a short-cut back to a posting from early March of this year. In “Dx Rock Stars”, I wrote about two companies making progress toward diagnostic (Dx) devices that could allow for rapid detection, and thus better treatment, of diseases in under-resourced areas where employee medical insurance plans and laboratory testing companies are in short supply.
The first company is Alere (Alere) which is headquartered in nearby Watertown, MA, and has a core strategy to provide relatively simple, non-lab-based tests to patients and health care providers along with systems to monitor, inform, and ultimately improve health while lowering costs (Investor presentation 2012). It is publicly-owned with 14000 employees and 2012 annual revenues of $2.8 billion which are up 16% over 2011 (Boston Business Journal article). Back in March, I noted that Alere got a $20 million grant and $20 million loan from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support its TB and HIV tests (Fierce Med Devices article and Alere press release). My spin on this news was that Alere was acknowledging the profit potential in Dx for global health and the value in investing in the R and D needed to adapt its products for sale in resource-constrained settings.
I found no update on Alere’s use of the Gates funding (not surprising given the size of the company), but I noted that it just finished a two-month fight in August between its management and a majority stockholder that ended with the management’s picks for board seats getting re-elected (Biz Journal blog). Of course, the market had driven up the stock price during the fight, so it dropped double digits when the fight ended. The price is still down as of today so I rate Alere as a “buy.”
The second company I posted on was QuantuMDx, a UK-based company started in 2008 with the express mission to develop Dx for “third and first world nations” (QuantuMDx). According to the company, its most advanced product is the Q-POC, a hand-held device for diagnosis of tuberculosis, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections by identifying the causitive agents and any drug-resistant strains. The device will deliver results in less than 20 minutes at a fraction of the cost of lab-based tests (Q-POC). With 35 employees, no corporate sponsors or licensees, and a bit of grant funding (it received shares of two UK government grants which totaled about $7 million in 2012), QuantuMDx is at the other end of the scale from Alere.
As for news, the commercial launch of Q-POC has apparently slipped to 2014 but I could find no reason given (QuantuMDx). In May, the company signed a collaboration agreement with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology, and Research to develop “Asia-specific” POC tests for cancer, the first targets being two extremely rare types (ASTAR press release). No funding was mentioned. Although this “personalized” approach to cancer therapy has made a few companies lots of money and it has legions of ardent supports, I wonder if the genetics of cancer and limits of mutation-directed drugs will eventually deflate the hype. I also found the new blog of QuantuMDx’s founder, Jonathan O’Halloran, where he provides an account of the company’s start-up pains (“I am the Biotech Rockstar, welcome to our world …”) but no comments on the progress of the lead product. For more relevant reading, I learned last week that Fierce publications has started a Dx newsletter and sign up is at FierceDiagnostics.