Advanced Animal Diagnostics Creates New Subsidiary Focused on Human Health
Advanced Animal Diagnostics, which has always been focused on point-of-care technology, began by providing diagnostic testing for cattle. “We expanded to humans because of the difference that our technology can make by doing what nobody else in the market can right now,” said Joy Parr Drach, president and CEO of both companies. “The name Advanced Animal Diagnostics didn’t communicate our commitment to the human market, so we created Ad Astra Diagnostics as our human-focused subsidiary.”
Drach says that Ad Astra, which is Latin for “to the stars,” encompasses the company’s high aspirations for making a difference in human health. It is also a nod to the fact that some of the techniques that power the algorithms used in its technology have roots in astronomy. “A third reason for the name is that we have a team of really dedicated stars — our employees — who are making it all happen,” she adds.
Saving lives with fast results
One of the human applications for the technology is rapid, early intervention for sepsis, the body’s toxic response to widespread infection. When septic shock occurs, each hour delay in starting antibiotic treatment is associated with about an 8% increase in mortality.
The Ad Astra technology, known as QScout RLD, can detect one of the earliest known markers of sepsis using a single drop of blood from a finger stick or a traditional blood sample. The portable imaging-based platform provides patient-side results in about two minutes — much faster than sending a blood sample off to the lab and then waiting for results.
When the COVID pandemic emerged, Drach’s team realized that the company’s technology, which counts six types of white blood cells, might also be helpful for predicting illness severity, which is important for triaging patients. At the time, doctors were doing this by using lab tests to calculate the ratio of two types of white blood cells. However, the counts for each type of white blood cell are reported independently, which means someone must manually calculate the ratio.
“Imagine being in an emergency room that is overflowing and you're trying to make rapid decisions,” said Drach. “Waiting to get reports back from the lab and then having to manually calculate ratios would be very cumbersome. Our technology can provide that information automatically from a finger stick in two minutes and eliminates the need for manual calculations.”
The company has completed clinical trials for the QScout RLD test and will soon file for FDA approval. Regulatory approval would allow the platform to be used commercially for making faster treatment decisions for sepsis, predicting severity of illness for COVID patients, monitoring patient response to treatment and other applications.
“Because the technology is imaging based, it's easy to expand,” said Drach. “There's a great need for making diagnostics simple and giving caregivers fast information to make decisions. These first applications will certainly go a long way to doing that, but there's so much more we've got planned for the platform.”
The importance of local support
“Our company started with a loan and grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and we received an HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority contract to report the sepsis markers thanks to the accelerator at First Flight Venture Center,” said Drach. “It's the support of organizations like this that have made the creation of Ad Astra Diagnostics possible.”
The company has also benefited from many local financial supporters, including Burlington-based LabCorp, Durham-based Intersouth Partners, Wallace-based Murphy Family Ventures and Alexandria Real Estate Investments. Drach adds that it is important to give back, and one way she does this is by sitting on NCBiotech’s board of directors.
“The North Carolina ecosystem has made our job of creating breakthrough technology easier in so many ways,” she said. “It's also a great source of very diverse talent. When you're creating something that's never been done before, it takes a really diverse mindset in your employees and diverse skill sets.”