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Lee Hood’s New Company Snags $30M to Spot Cancer and Alzheimer’s in Early Days

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in Pasadena, CA. Hood and ISB faculty member David Galas are contributing proprietary data on proteins that can be fished out of the blood, and changes in their concentration in the blood, which can offer up information on subtle clues when something’s wrong in any of the body’s 50 major organs. These proteins can also be used to specifically stratify patients with certain disease types, and monitor their progress and recurrence rates, Hood says.

Heath’s lab at Caltech is providing a microfluidic chip combined with a set of simple chemicals that are supposed to be more reliable and easier to make than the antibodies used on conventional diagnostics, Hood says. Done properly over time, this will allow InDi to run blood protein analysis in a matter of minutes, with a fraction of a drop of blood, for less than $1 per protein measured, Hood says.

Hood, 71, has a record of founding more than a dozen biotech companies, including some of the industry’s big success stories—Amgen, Applied Biosystems, and Rosetta Inpharmatics. As in those companies, one of the first orders of business at InDi (pronounced “In-dee,” like Indy 500) will be to recruit a founding CEO. Paul Kearney, the scientific director of special projects at the Institute for Systems Biology, is the president and chief scientific officer.

Whoever ends up getting the CEO job will go a long way toward determining where the company is based, Hood says. If the company decides on a CEO who will only do it in San Francisco or San Diego, then it’s possible the company will be based there, Hood says. “But I’m going to push hard to get it here in Seattle,” Hood says.

One of the big challenges the company will face is in showing correlations between certain concentrations of proteins in the blood, with symptoms of disease that only develop later in life. The company plans to run experiments to establish strong correlations, by comparing the blood samples that appear to be diseased with those that appear normal. I asked Hood whether this is going to take a long time, and face a lot of skeptics along the way who will worry about “false positives” which could prompt people to take treatments that really aren’t necessary.

“Sure,” he said. “You deal with the skeptics by showing them the data. When you show them the data, the skeptics eventually slink away in the background, never to be heard from again.” He added, “A lot of people don’t understand the revolution in medicine that’s coming. It’s actually already here.”

Partnerships with academic medical centers, and industry partners, will be important to the fledgling company, Hood says. InDi will also rely on data that emerges from an ongoing $200 million partnership between the government of Luxembourg and three U.S. research institutions—the ISB, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, AZ.

When I asked Hood if the ultimate vision is for every doctor to someday have one of these diagnostic machines on his or her desktop, like office workers have computers on their desktops today, he said that’s possible but maybe not how it will actually evolve.

“I’ll go one step further,” Hood says. “Whether we do that, or whether it’s a handheld device that transmits data via wireless technology, is open for debate now.”

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