By Steve Hamm
Meet Doris, an 85-year-old woman for whom a cardiologist is considering prescribing a popular blood-thinning drug. The doctor is concerned about the potential for an adverse reaction, so she runs a swab across the inside of Doris’ cheek to collect a tiny amount of genetic material. The sample goes to a lab for testing and the results come back via Doris’ electronic medical record. The news is good. Doris can use the drug.
This almost magically simple procedure is at the heart of a new system for evaluating drug effectiveness and safety being offered by Coriell Life Sciences, a one-year-old Camden, NJ-based company that’s bringing genomic science to bear on everyday medicine. “We empowering doctors and helping patients by simplifying genomic science,” says Scott Megill, Coriell’s co-founder. The company’s easy-to-use yet sophisticated technology impressed the judges at the annual IBM SmartCamp contest finals in San Francisco on Feb. 6. They presented Coriell with IBM’s annual Entrepreneur of the Year award. The winner of a popular vote conducted online was the UK’s Shopa, a social advertising company.
The eight finalists for the global contest were winnowed from 1200 applicants last year through a series of 17 local and 4 regional contests. In addition to the United States, finalists hailed from Brazil, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Australia and Malaysia.
Coriell is an offshoot of the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, a 60-year-old non-profit research organization. In 2007, the Institute launched an effort to bring genomic information to bear on health management. Coriell Life Sciences was established to commercialize the results of that research. Vast amounts of genetic information about individual patients has been available for a number of years, but it has been difficult to get at and expensive. “This company bridges the gap,” Dr. Michaelp Christman, the Institute’s CEO.
Demand for its services is being driven by the Affordable Care Act, which penalizes hospitals when patients are readmitted within 30 days of being sent home. A frequent cause of readmission is adverse reactions to drugs. In fact, US statistics show that only one half of all drugs prescribed have the intended effect on patients’ health, and about 2 million people have adverse reactions to drugs each year.
Coriell is in the process of raising venture capital to fund the expansion of its business. So far, it has raised $2.2 million of its goal of $4 million. The company is negotiating with resellers in 25 states.
It’s also making plans to upgrade the system by embedding IBM Watson technology. Today, Coriell has a labor-intensive process of gathering information and evaluating it, using a team of human experts. Watson, which beat two grand-champions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, ingests huge amounts of information and answers questions put to it in ordinary language. “With Watson, we can turbo charge our process,” says Megill.