A panel of pitch competition judges just acknowledged COVID-19 has created a compelling new need for the kind of field blood testing that an Angola startup is developing.
Timing could not have been much better for Blaire Biomedical, the company founded about two years ago for that purpose by Melanie Watson, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Trine University in Angola.
The COVID-19 pandemic has health care professionals and patients seeking effective remote means of diagnosing, monitoring and treating medical conditions.
With 2020 the year of telemedicine, Watson’s emerging company is developing what it calls a SmartMed case capable of acquiring field blood test results in real time when attached to a smartphone.
Trine announced April 20 the company was among six regional pitch competition winners each awarded $80,000 in seed funding from Elevate Ventures. The money has been used for legal and accounting services, a reimbursement analysis and equipment and supplies needed to prepare for a clinical trial.
It also has been used to hire a consulting chief executive officer, Joe Wolfcale.
“Winning the funds from Elevate Ventures was such a great feeling. When Melanie told me we had been selected as a recipient, it confirmed how hard our team had been working to turn this dream into a reality,” he said in an email.
“We took a brief minute to celebrate but immediately went back to work. The funds will allow us to advance the science and technology behind the business, which is required as we make our push for the next round of financing,” he said.
Watson was the winner of a 2018 Fortitude Fund grant, which she used to cover costs of obtaining a provisional patent related to the SmartMed case and the app it uses with Apple and Android phones for field blood testing.
She also has received an Angola Investment Fund grant as well as investment from the Community Ideation Fund of Elevate Ventures.
“Our blood testing device has evolved to meet the needs of the cardiorenal failure patient population. These patients must have at-home solutions on demand, especially with today’s global crisis,” she said in an email.
“We are working hard to ensure our technology provides highly-sensitive, accurate results giving patients, caregivers, and their physicians an elevated level of trustworthy assay data.”
The technology could be used in a multitude of applications. Because it eliminates the need to travel to a hospital or lab environment for immediate blood test results, it was pitched even before the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to avoid the possibility of contracting illness from a hospital environment.
“Just like many other startups, we’ve experienced obstacles with funding needs, time crunches, and delays. Yet, we are resilient and determined to reach our technological vision,” Watson said.
“This past year, we’ve added new faces to our team. That’s helped overcome some of these hurdles. We are excited at the prospect of starting clinical trials later in the year.”
With an MBA from the Eli Broad School of Management at Michigan State University, Wolfcale has a strong background in health care and production, as well as tech company and investment group experience.
“COVID-19 has impacted our scientific team’s ability to collaborate together within the laboratory. The team is learning how to adapt on the fly, which is both scary and exciting,” he said.
“We have evolved to ‘Brady Bunch’ style team meetings utilizing Zoom, which creates an interesting dynamic with a majority of scientific minds on the virtual meeting,” he said.
“Fortunately, we have built a strategy for getting the team back together in the lab within a couple of weeks. This did allow us a chance to take a step back from our current findings and evaluate if there are opportunities to enhance the process.”
Because it is still operating in a startup mode, Wolfcale estimates Blaire Biomedical is a couple of years away from introducing its technology to the retail marketplace.
“We expect the testing algorithms to be complete soon. We also plan to have a prototype ready within a couple of months,” he said.
“At that point, we will be approaching the private equity marketplace with a wonderful opportunity to partner with Blaire Biomedical,” Wolfcale said.
“After funding, we will push to the finish line. Very soon we will be saving countless number of lives with our product!”