CEO: David Stein
Based: Austin, Texas
The scoop: By making blood testing more accessible—with more convenient locations, shorter wait times, and lower prices—Babson Diagnostics’ is removing the barriers that stop people from getting the tests they need.
What makes Babson fierce: Babson’s chief executive David Stein took up the reins last September, after parachuting in from the company’s corporate backer, Siemens, where he had served as head of global strategy and innovation and chief of the medtech giant’s point-of-care businesses.
Babson was initially incubated at Siemens and Siemens Healthineers remains a “very strong and supportive partner,” Stein said.
“I never expected to join Babson when I left Siemens Healthineers, but started to help Babson as an advisor and board member and fell back in love with the mission of the company, the people at the company, and the impact for good that we will have,” he said. “I fell in love with the company mission because I see the potential for Babson to truly help improve people’s lives.”
But just a few months into his tenure, the world was hit by a global pandemic. While COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of biopharma trials and work, it has had the opposite effect on medtech and blood testing companies.
“The pandemic has ignited patient-centric innovation across healthcare,” said Stein. “It’s also sensitized everyone to how important access to proper diagnostic solutions really is—and the role it can play in more effective care. A year ago, people didn’t talk about lab diagnostics.”
“After experiencing the need for COVID-19 testing, everyone developed a more acute sense for how critical testing is—not just for slowing down the pandemic, but for overall health as well,” he said.
“In truth, the pandemic has shown us that people want and need a choice when it comes to diagnostic testing. Accessibility is absolutely essential, and that’s part of our mission at Babson: enabling more accessible diagnostic testing, without sacrificing menu breadth, quality or cost.”
Part of Babson’s tech—under a long-term partnership with the blood-collection heavyweight BD—is centered around a device that aims to collect lab-quality blood samples in settings such as pharmacies and grocery stores while requiring little training by the technician.
The device is also designed to only require a small volume of blood, gathered from the finger’s capillaries, without sacrificing the quality of the sample.
The conventional blood testing process was first established 70 years ago and, despite being inconvenient and pretty uncomfortable, has remained conventional because its accuracy is well-established. Babson is the first to present a true alternative to venipuncture that the company says does not sacrifice quality or accuracy.
It also wants to put this into the hands of patients. According to the CDC, 70% of today’s medical decisions depend on laboratory test results, and over 14 billion laboratory tests are ordered annually, but primary care clinicians indicate that up to 30% of prescribed diagnostic tests are not filled by patients. By making diagnostic blood testing more accessible, Stein said his company is looking to truly put patients at the heart of the process.
The cloud of Theranos
Quick-and-easy blood tests have, however, fallen under a dark cloud: Theranos, formerly run by now-disgraced grifter Elizabeth Holmes, promised an easy, simple blood test which could turn around accurate results using new technology and looked to disrupt the whole industry.
The company, of course, never delivered. The following investigations killed off the $9 billion-valued company and landed Holmes in court. “Theranos caused many problems, but it also raised awareness for just how important both accessibility and a science-backed approach to blood diagnostics truly is,” Stein said.
“Their initial success proved that people want choice and accessibility, and their ultimate failure reinforced that scientific integrity can never be compromised.”
He said there’s a reason that a viable alternative to the current tech of diagnostic blood testing has not been realized yet. “It’s because a true alternative requires an incredible force of science-backed innovation,” Stein explained.
But Babson said that Theranos shouldn’t mean companies shouldn’t still strive for a better approach for patients. “We’re a step closer every day to truly making democratized blood testing a reality across the country.”
The company is also heeding the call for COVID-19 testing, with its antibody test nabbing an FDA emergency authorization in June of last year. Since then, Babson has used its serology testing technology to provide screenings for patients located across the U.S.
Babson’s serology test is being used by healthcare providers, companies are offering it to their employees, and it is currently in use in clinical studies with research centers including the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.
Stein said that Babson will continue to partner with the local community and collaborate with other researchers to “contribute to the fight against and recovery from this pandemic.”
And after its series A round last year, the question of money never goes away. Stein said he continues to scale the company as it moves towards commercialization, and that they “are currently actively fundraising.”
Asked how much time this takes up, and whether it drags on the day-to-day R&D and management side of the business, Stein said: “As the CEO of a venture-backed startup, raising money is a key aspect of my job and one that I enjoy. After all, it means I have more opportunities to interact with very smart and curious people who ask outside-the-box, collaborative questions that ultimately will help us to advance patient care.”
Investors: In September 2020, Babson closed $13.7 million in cumulative series A funding, led by Siemens Healthineers, Prism Ventures, Genesis Merchant Capital and Lago Consulting Group.