“The problem with infectious diseases is, obviously, its massive impact on humanity,” Kertesz says. Cancer is an extremely visible disease, and receives huge amounts of public and private funding. Yet illnesses spread by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites are “actually the second leading cause of death worldwide,” Kertesz points out. “More people die of infectious diseases than all cancers combined.”
With $165 million
Companies in the liquid biopsy field, such as Ally Bridge Group-backed unicorn GRAIL and newly public Guardant Health, look at free-circulating DNA in the bloodstream to detect illnesses. While those companies look for DNA from tumors, Karius focuses on microbe free-circulating DNA.
Launched in 2014, the Redwood City-based startup
Liquid biopsy is still a relatively new concept. Its first use, for non-invasive prenatal testing, began in China in 2011. Since then, the field has exploded, and investors are becoming increasingly certain that it holds real potential in disease diagnostics.
Most other companies look at prenatal testing and early screening for cancer, says Vikram Bajaj, a managing director
After a clinical examination, a doctor normally has to guess what is wrong with a patient, then order multiple specific blood tests to confirm that diagnosis. With Karius, a doctor can send the patient for a single blood draw, and the next day find out if the patient is infected with a virus, bacteria or something else. The test can also determine if the patient is infected with a known disease, or something new. Kertesz says that Karius tests have already found novel pathogens in patients’ blood that have never been studied before.
This fast detection of unknown microbes based on DNA could be crucial in the next pandemic. Not only can fast detection help when it comes to setting up quarantines, says Anthony Fehr, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, but at the early stages of disease, “there are probably better treatment options.”
While this current
Right now, Karius’ technology is limited to DNA, which means it can’t detect RNA-based viruses like the