Don’t accuse molecular diagnostics startup Ischemia Care of thinking small.
The Oxford, Ohio-based company that was founded three years ago is hoping to be the first to market with a blood test to diagnose a stroke’s origin, the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, and transient ischemic attacks, known as mini-strokes.
And it’s hoping to do that within two years, according to CEO Jeff June, the company’s only full-time employee. June is a visiting professor in Miami University’s interactive media program and started with Ischemia Care in April. Previously, he founded Gerard Biotech, a distributor of life sciences research products.
“This would be an incredible medical advance in the diagnosis of a disease that results in 5 million deaths per year worldwide,” June said.
If doctors could quickly and accurately determine a stroke’s cause, they’d be able to put patients on the right long-term therapeutics to treat that cause. Strokes can result from a number of factors, such as a blocked artery in the brain or a burst blood vessel that causes bleeding around the brain. Typically, a stroke’s cause is diagnosed by a combination of a physical examination, basic lab tests and imaging tools.
Dr. Mark Alberts, director of the stroke program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, said he’s aware of blood tests that indicate whether a patient has suffered a stroke, but none that would determine a stroke’s cause. “We spend a lot of time and energy figuring out the mechanism of stroke, so a test that could help further clarify that wold be very helpful,” he said.
Ischemia Care’s blood test would use gene expression profiles to differentiate strokes that originate in the heart from those that originate in large blood vessels leading to the brain, according to June. He envisions the company’s test as a “companion diagnostic” to imaging, selling the test mostly to stroke centers and hospitals. The company acquired its technology from the University of California at Davis where it was pioneered by Dr. Frank Sharp, a neurology professor who’s on Ischemia Care’s scientific advisory board.
Unlike most one-person startups, Ischemia Care already has significant clinical data — from about 500 patients — for its technology. The company is studying reimbursement and regulatory pathways to commercialize the test. That path is uncertain, due to the challenge of evolving regulation of molecular diagnostics companies, June said. In 2011, the company will begin pilots at at least four stroke centers with the goal of accumulating data on 200 patients at each location.
About $5 million from various government grants has gone into funding research on the test. June and other investors have contributed about $250,000 in seed equity, but more significant is an investment from Queen City Angels, a Cincinnati-based angel investment group. QCA led the company’s $500,000 Series A round, and June said the funding is important because it strengthens the company’s ties with stakeholders in the state and shows its commitment to Ohio.
In the near future, June’s goals involve obtaining lab space and grant or loan funding through the state of Ohio. In exchange, he believes Ischemia Care could create about 40 high-tech jobs within the next five years. The company already has been awarded up $100,000 from the state of Kentucky, but June would prefer to turn that down to stay in Ohio.
The company is pursuing a $400,000 grant from the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center, a consortium of research and medical institutions headed by the Cleveland Clinic that’s aimed at developing products to treat cardiovascular disease. June pointed to Ohio’s pool of investors, life sciences talent and state assistance programs — plus his own commitment to the state — as reasons to stay.
“There are a tremendous amount of resources here for people starting life science companies,” June said.