Meet the Stanford and USC Dropouts Whose Blood-Testing Startup 'Isn't the Next Theranos'

Meet the Stanford and USC Dropouts Whose Blood-Testing Startup 'Isn't the Next Theranos' September 5, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – Another California university dropout has his sights set on revolutionizing the blood-testing business using a droplet of blood from a finger prick.

The story may sound familiar in the way it mirrors another Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes and her one-promising startup Theranos that crashed due to a lack of sound scientific results. This is the story of Athelas and its founders Tanay Tandon, who quit Stanford, and Deepika Bodapati, a University of Southern California dropout. The two have scraped together $3.7 million from investors who, Bloomberg reports, believe in this company and its promise of a small piece of tech that can run a blood-cell count from a drop of blood. Investors who have backed the company include Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, a startup accelerator.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Tanay said he was aware of Theranos and its shortcomings. However, he noted that since the company was highly successful in raising capital to support its operations, it proves there is interest in the space of blood testing diagnostics.

Athelas though has opted to not follow the same path Theranos went. The new startup, which is named for the healing herb in The Lord of the Rings, has already published some of its data. Theranos was famous, or more aptly infamous, for its veil of secrecy shrouded under the “proprietary information” moniker. Bloomberg noted that company has been using machine learning to teach its system the difference between different types of blood cells in order to provide greater precision in blood testing – precision Tanay believes will be much higher than traditional blood-testing methods.

Athelas has submitted data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding its prototype. Bloomberg said it hopes to receive clearance “verifying that its technology produces results equivalent to blood drawn from a vein and tested on industry-standard equipment.” The company has hopes its device can be sold over-the-counter, Tanay told Bloomberg. If approved, patients will pay about $20 per month for the service. If insurers add the device to the plan though, that out-of-pocket device could be greatly reduced or covered altogether.

So far, Athelas is causing some buzz with two unidentified pharmaceutical companies signing deals to use the company device as a test to help find more patients for white blood cell-boosting drugs, Bloomberg said.

Athelas’ initial marketing goal is to get the blood-testing device into the hands of cancer patients who rely on frequent blood draws to monitor blood cell counts. White blood cell counts are typically taken prior to a round of chemotherapy. If a patient is able to get an accurate count at home, it can prevent patients from having to go to the cancer center for chemo only to be told to return due to low white blood cell counts. Tanay told Bloomberg he hopes the device becomes popular with oncologists who will recommend them for patients.

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