With Nanopore Sensing Beyond Sequencing, Ontera Takes 'Lab' to the Field

We’ve interviewed several CEOs over the years since the Theranos fiasco who avoided any mention of the blighted company whenever the comparison came up. But today’s guest, Murielle Thinard McLane, the CEO of Ontera, jumped at the chance before Theral could get to it.

"Some people might say, well that's the Theranos model. They (Theranos) didn't get it wrong. The demand for a fast, comprehensive point-of-care solution near the patient is there. Where they got it wrong is that you need a technology that is sound to do that!"

Ontera is a spinout from UC Santa Cruz, and they came on the scene with a nanopore device/platorm that was so versatile that perhaps the biggest challenge they faced out of the gate was in choosing just what to do with it first.

And what makes it so great? It is small. It is fast. It can read any molecule. RNA, DNA, proteins, small molecules.

Think of the applications. It can be taken anywhere. Out into the field for agricultural testing. On location in Africa or South America for Zika virus testing or TB testing. Or, and this circles back to our earlier point, to your local Walgreens for basic diagnostic tests where you will receive immediate results.

The company has new leadership after a round of funding that includes Silicon Valley's forward thinking Vinod Khosla, and can boast already of partnerships with the Gates Foundation, IARPA, and Bayer.

A Point-of-Care CBC Test Based on a Few Drops of Blood—Is This the Real Thing? with Danny Levner, Sight Diagnostics

Time is health. Take certain blood cancers, for instance. When a patient is seen in a doctor’s office, they are then sent to a central lab for testing, and the results can take a few days. With blood cancer patients, these few days can be vital.

For years a holy grail in diagnostics has been to get diagnostic tests to the point-of-care based on just a few drops of the patient’s blood that could give immediate results.

Today we talk to Danny Levner, the co-founder of Sight Diagnostics, a company that has been working carefully and methodically toward this goal, first with a malaria test and now a CBC, or complete blood count, point-of-care test using just a couple drops of blood. The new CBC test is CE approved and commercially available in Europe and on track for FDA approval soon.

Danny says there are CBC point-of-care tests on the market in the U.S. already, but that they compromise on the quality that one gets from a central lab test.

“The physician has a question in front of him or her: Do I want the result now, or do I want it done well? And what we resolved to do in the beginning is to offer a no-compromise test,” says Danny.

This is not all that sets the company apart. From the get go, working under the ever present shadow of Theranos, Sight Diagnostics has been meticulous about doing clinical trials and publishing their data.

Danny also shares today how the technology works, combining machine vision and AI to digitize blood with an easy to use application kit for the average operator in the doctor’s office. Members of Sight’s team came from the automotive machine-vision company, Mobileye. Levner trained in George Church’s lab.

They’re working at it in methodical steps. They’re publishing their data. This time it looks like the real thing.