Though the pharmaceutical industry seems to want to do its best to make us giggle with its cutesy advertising campaigns, to Martin Bluth, an overactive bladder is no laughing matter. Bluth, co-founder of Detroit-based Genome Dynamics International (GDI), says treatments for overactive bladders represent a $26 billion market—and that’s not including the social costs of the condition. “It makes people miss work, or hesitate to go outside,” he explains. “There’s a whole psycho-social component.”
Finding a better way to diagnose overactive bladders is why Bluth and his partner, urologist Wellman Cheung, founded GDI, a biomarker discovery startup. GDI focuses on discovering and developing minimally invasive blood tests that use cells from a patient’s immune system to diagnose diseases like overactive bladder. “Often, people take disease tissue and try to come up with new biomarkers,” Bluth says. “In our test, the immune systems serves as a surrogate reporter. The advantage is that a screening blood test is way cheaper and applicable to a much greater patient base.”
Bluth says the company can tailor the blood tests to other hard-to-diagnose diseases like pancreatic or breast cancer. He estimates that with an additional $450,000 in funding, GDI be able to produce the data it needs to submit its novel technology to the FDA for approval. The longterm goal, Bluth says, is to work with insurance companies to make GDI’s products into billable tests and license or sell the platform to a big lab company.
In 2007, Astellas Pharma and GlaxoSmithKline funded the initial trial to test the technology, which was developed at Downstate Medical Center in New York. Bluth and Cheung licensed the technology and founded GDI in 2008. The company moved to Wayne State University’s business accelerator, TechTown, in 2010. (Bluth serves as the associate director of the blood transfusion service for the Detroit Medical Center and is part of the WSU medical school’s Department of Pathology.) “There are not enough words of praise for what Wayne State and TechTown have been able to provide to mature this technology,” Bluth says, adding that improvements to the blood tests have been developed in part thanks to the university’s guidance, infrastructure, and collaborative efforts. “The traction that we’ve been able to gain while being here has been logarithmic.”
GDI has already garnered the attention of angel investors in Canada and Israel and has picked up a number of funding awards, but Bluth says the company is now looking for equity partners and is ramping up its efforts to woo investors. This past spring, GDI scored a Corps! magazine DiSciTech award, which recognizes Michigan companies that are pushing the boundaries of science and technology.
Bluth, as you may have guessed by his use of the word “logarithmic,” is just as smart as he is self-effacing. For a hardcore scientific mind like his, one of the hardest things about getting GDI off the ground has been learning to pitch to investors. “There’s a critical distinction between scientific and business questions,” he admits. “It’s been a serious learning curve, but I’ve been well-chaperoned by TechTown.”
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