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January 26, 2015 Issue

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Infectious Disease Diagnostics through Next-Generation Sequencing Technologies

 


Crystal Icenhour

CEO

 

Aperiomics, Inc.

www.aperiomics.com

  

Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – January 26, 2015

 

CEOCFO: Dr. Icenhour, would you tell us the concept and focus of Aperiomics?

Dr. Icenhour: The concept and focus for Aperiomics is, at the highest level, revolutionizing the way we diagnose infectious diseases. Right now, typically you have to have an idea of what type of infection you are looking for in order to get a proper diagnosis. This has resulted in something like 75% of infectious diseases never being diagnosed before treatment. We throw antibiotics at the patient and hope for the best. Then when they do not respond we switch antibiotics, which is not the best way to care for patients. Not only is effective treatment delayed and the risk of serious clinical complications increased, but one of the unintended consequences is promoting antibiotic resistance. Our focus is to change the way that we diagnose these infectious diseases and the technology that Aperiomics has developed does just that. With a single test from a plant, animal, human, or environmental sample, we can tell you every bacteria, virus, fungus and parasite present in that one sample. Instead of trying to search for a needle in a haystack we simply tell you everything that is in the sample so that you can then work from the standpoint of knowledge rather than a standpoint of guesswork and reactivity.

 

CEOCFO: How does the test work? What can you measure that others do not?

Dr. Icenhour: Right now, we offer our technology as a service because this technology is a little more technically challenging; it is not mature enough to put into the hands of other users just yet. Eventually the goal is to get this type of analysis into testing labs. We look at the genetic information in the sample. The base technology that we use is called Next Generation Sequencing. From that, we get the genetic information from everything, including every microorganism, present in the sample - things that are a normal part of our microbiota, but also the things that are infectious or can cause disease. There are other companies using a similar approach, but what makes us different is the way we analyze this information to identify everything in the sample. An enormous amount of data has to be quality controlled, sifted and sorted through to get an accurate answer. Our specialty in this is in the data analysis and we have developed some revolutionary tools to sift and sort through this genetic information to give you the answers that you need. Say a patient has an infection in their lungs, so you take a sample from the patient’s respiratory fluids and we sequence everything in the sample. Because we are looking for an infection and not for a normal part of the patient, we can filter out all of the information that is not pertinent to what we are looking for. Then we drill into that information and make a list of everything we find in that sample. Typically, you will find dozens, if not more, microorganisms in any type of sample and from that, the clinician can interpret the information to provide an appropriate course of treatment. The patient is then able to get more targeted and specific treatment faster than what we are able to do now and with a much higher success rate in resolving the infection.

 

CEOCFO: Is it just that you have been able to develop and get the right process or technology?

Dr. Icenhour: It is the whole process. If you do not have a good way to harvest information from samples, you cannot get a good result. If you do not run the sequencing properly to get the genetic information or code from the samples, you can introduce inaccuracies or “artifacts.” If you do not analyze these results just the right way, you can further introduce artifacts. We currently offer this as a service because it is a comprehensive solution that starts with the collection of a sample and goes all the way through the process to generating a report listing infectious agents present in the sample. Ours is a holistic way to approach this problem. Because it is more technically challenging than most of the other diagnostic testing methods currently used, there are many potential areas where artifacts and issues can be introduced into the process. As the technology matures, that will be improved.

 

CEOCFO: You have a huge potential market. Who is using your services today?

Dr. Icenhour: Initially our primary customer base is in agriculture and livestock. We have conducted significant testing in the aquaculture industry and we have been working with a couple of groups testing fish. We have discovered two new viruses using our process. It is not just about identifying the known pathogens there, but opening up the potential to see everything even if you have no clue about what you are looking for. It has an amazing amount of potential. In mid October, we began targeting human clinical markets, a brand new market for us and we are starting to get some traction there. The potential markets are very broad and the sky is the limit.

 

CEOCFO: When you are talking with a prospective customer, do they believe? Is there skepticism?

Dr. Icenhour: They do believe, especially in the clinical diagnostic market. The Next Generation Sequencing technology has been present in the clinical world for five or so years, so it is not a brand-new technology and they understand the underlying theory behind what we are trying to do.

 

CEOCFO: What is the strategy for reaching out?

Dr. Icenhour: Right now, we are focused on a key opinion leader strategy. We have four co-founders, including myself, involved in the company and we all have credentials to leverage key opinion leader status. This has been an important way to make progress in the aquaculture industry. We focus on tradeshows and PR as ways to get our message out because we are a small company and do not have a huge marketing budget or a sales and marketing department. Right now, it is very much a ground up and all hands approach.

 

CEOCFO: What have you learned along the way that makes for a better offering today than when first available?

Dr. Icenhour: I think the biggest thing that we have been working on is refining our message to make it easier for clients to understand. Our clients are very sophisticated and highly educated so it is key to deliver a clear and concise message about the potential and value that our service offers. If we get too technical and give too much data and scientific information, it can be overwhelming and our message gets lost. We are choosing powerful, clear messages to get people’s attention.

 

CEOCFO: Why pay attention to Aperiomics?

Dr. Icenhour: Aperiomics' technology is going to change everything about infectious disease diagnostics. We have already discovered two new viruses and that is the tip of the iceberg. There will be many new discoveries and the genomics work that we are moving forward is going to revolutionize diagnostics. You should pay attention to Aperiomics because we are on the leading edge of this technology and we are pushing the boundaries. Aperiomics is excited to be on the cutting edge of pathogen testing.



 

“Aperiomics' technology is going to change everything about infectious disease diagnostics.” - Crystal Icenhour


 

Aperiomics, Inc.

www.aperiomics.com

 

Crystal R Icenhour, PhD

434-293-2960

cicenhour@aperiomics.com

 


 

 



 

 


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