Cofactor Genomics chases consumer testing with RNA diagnostic

Cofactor Genomics CEO Jarret Glasscock

Startup Cofactor Genomics is getting in on the consumer testing craze, developing an innovative RNA-based diagnostic to cash in on a rapidly growing market and challenge business models laid out by rivals.

As Wired reports, Cofactor is hard at work developing its circular RNA, or cRNA, tests, which rely on small, looping pieces of RNA to give a broader picture of what's happening inside a patient's body. The technology could offer an advantage over blood tests that miss early signs of a disease, or DNA tests that provide potential risks but offer no definitive statements about a patient's condition, the company told the magazine. "This idea of RNA diagnostics sits right in the middle," Cofactor CEO Jarret Glasscock said, as quoted by Wired.

The St. Louis, MO-based company has already started to make a name for itself in the industry, selling its RNA tests to drug companies developing candidates. Cofactor recently snagged $1.5 million from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to ramp up its cRNA efforts and spur plans to bring its tests to market. Declining costs for DNA and RNA sequencing mean "it's no longer this scenario of needing $200 million and 10 years to get to product," COO Dave Messina told Wired, and the company expects to have its cRNA tests ready in about 18 months, he added.

But moving its product through development is only half of Cofactor's battle. The company will compete against lab heavyweights such as Quest Diagnostics ($DGX) and LabCorp ($LH), and fellow upstart Theranos, which has been making waves with its finger-prick blood test. Eventually, the company wants to set up a patient-directed test model like Theranos', Messina told Wired.

The company will need some serious cash and business know-how to keep up, the magazine notes. And Cofactor has already taken steps in that direction. In August, the company moved from its native Missouri and joined Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley boot camp for promising tech startups. At least so far, the company is seeing promising results. Cofactor was 100% funded after its Demo Day presentation, Glasscock said.

Even though the company could face a tough road ahead as it attempts to catch up to Theranos, Cofactor envisions a big future for its technology.

"We see RNA as the future of personalized medicine," Messina said, as quoted by Wired, "and it will be a multi-billion dollar market."

- read the Wired story