Israeli startup succeeds where Theranos failed
FDA approves use of a toaster-sized machine that can conduct a complex blood test with a simple finger prick.
During TED Talks and at high-tech conferences, Elizabeth Holmes liked to regale audiences with her genesis story. Like most kids, she was not a fan of having her blood drawn and the sight of needles put her into a panic. And so she made it her life's mission to help future children. She launched Theranos, a Silicon Valley company that invented a device that she claimed could conduct hundreds of health tests – all from a single drop of blood drawn from a finger prick.
If all that sounds too good to be true, it was. Investigative reporting by the Wall Street Journal exposed Holmes and her technology to be a scam. The house of cards that Holmes had built – she was at one point the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America – came tumbling down. The dream of conducting blood work with just a small drop of blood seemed to disappear with her.
But while the rise and fall of Theranos captivated international headlines, a startup in Israel was quietly toiling away in its Tel Aviv laboratory. Sight Diagnostics was founded in 2011 by Hebrew University alum Yossi Pollak. At first, he and his team created a niche machine that could test blood for malaria in a matter of minutes. More recently, they built a device called the OLO analyzer. It's about the size of a toaster and can easily sit on a countertop. It requires only two blood drops from a finger prick and – within 10 minutes – can deliver the results of a Complete Blood Count, known in the medical field as a CBC. It counts and examines the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in a patient’s blood sample. It's one of the most informative tests a doctor can conduct.
“The CBC is frequently used as a data point in determining whether an ailment is viral or bacterial,” said Dr. Carlo Brugnara, Director of the Hematology Lab at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. “In rarer cases – involving acute leukemia, for instance – a CBC can make the difference between life and death.”
Unlike Theranos, Sight Diagnostics is starting small and working its way up. Holmes claimed her device could do hundreds of tests across the four main classes of blood tests: hematology, immunoassays, general chemistry and DNA amplification. Sight is only focusing on a subset of hematology for now.
The OLO analyzer is already commercially available in Europe and other international markets. This week, the Israel-based company announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared the device for the American market. The FDA clearance follows clinical trials that took place at Boston Children’s Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center.
“The years our R&D team spent solving complex engineering and design challenges have positioned us well to expand our offering in the future,” said Sarah Levy, Sight’s CTO. “Our end-goal is to offer diagnostics for any disease with visible signatures in the bloodstream.” The company is currently hiring in their Tel Aviv, London, and U.S. offices.
Jon Medved, a Jerusalem-based high-tech entrepreneur is the founder and CEO of OurCrowd, a company that has invested in nearly 200 Israeli startups. Many of those are in the healthcare industry, like Sight Diagnostics and MedAware, a software that ensures you get the correct prescriptions. "We are risk takers here," he told From The Grapevine about why his country is home to so many startups. "We're also delusional; have been since Abraham. I think that combination of risk, acceptance, and delusion makes for great entrepreneurial excitement."
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:
Related Topics: Science