By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Imagine if you, a loved one, or a close friend who might have an autoimmune disease could receive a confirmation from their doctor much earlier in their life so treatment could begin sooner.
That’s the important need that IQuity is addressing, thanks to cutting edge technologies developed over the past decade and a tool that the Nashville-based start-up is developing.
“The doctors are making the diagnosis,” Chase Spurlock, IQuity’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) emphasizes. “We offer providers a new tool so that they can identify the presence or absence of disease at the earliest onset.”
That’s a huge breakthrough which can enable early diagnosis and treatment, significantly increasing the quality of life for patients with various autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis (MS).
IQuity’s foundational technology was developed at Vanderbilt University through research funded by the National Institutes of Health. There, it was discovered that autoimmune patients exhibit distinct RNA (ribonucleic acid) expression patterns in their blood.
“Measurements of RNA allow us to uncover a snapshot of gene activity in real time,” Tom Aune, IQuity’s Chief Science Officer, explains on the company’s website. “This enables us to identify disease earlier than ever before.”
Leveraging the knowledge gained through years of research, the start-up has developed a suite of algorithms, marketed as IQIsolate®, using RNA expression data from a blood sample and machine learning to determine if a patient’s RNA profile looks like other diseases IQuity has examined in the past. This process helps doctors confirm a suspected diagnosis.
The IQIsolate® diagnostic tool is focused on autoimmune disease and related disorders in neurology, gastroenterology and rheumatology, three specialties that serve a majority of autoimmune patients. Initially, Spurlock and well-known Nashvillian Julia Polk, who serves as IQuity’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, say they are concentrating on MS.
“It can take months to years for a patient to receive an MS diagnosis from the onset of the first symptoms,” Polk explains. “IQuity’s tool can help doctors achieve an earlier diagnosis and initiate therapeutics earlier, helping mitigate damage to the central nervous system.”
IQuity plans to continue its ongoing research and development and one day hopes that the machine learning technologies it has constructed will be providing tools for doctors to anticipate a relapse or flare-up in the patient with MS.
“That’s when the damage occurs,” Spurlock says. “The doctor needs to monitor and possibly treat the patient.”
IQuity’s business model is simple. The provider orders the test. The blood is captured and sent to the start-up’s lab where the RNA data are analyzed. The results are provided to the physician.
The company’s lab is housed in the Cumberland Emerging Technologies Life Sciences Center in downtown Nashville.
The decision to launch IQuity has its origins in late 2013 when Spurlock and Polk first met. He is a Murfreesboro native who, after graduating from the University of the South, pursued opportunities to advance his knowledge of molecular biology at Vanderbilt University. Spurlock earned his Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology studying under his advisor and fellow IQuity co-founder, Dr. Tom Aune.
Polk is an active early stage mentor in the Nashville community and advisor to IQuity since its inception.
“From the very first day I met Chase and Tom, I knew that this technology had the opportunity to positively change patient lives,” she says. “I started my career working on Wall Street where I financed the first HIV-AIDS blood test, and I’ve now come full circle. It’s exciting that this technology will be made available this spring.”
Spurlock says that the research that led to IQuity stemmed from a “got to know” curiosity. For those who want an earlier diagnosis for diseases like MS, it’s fortunate that the IQuity team pursued that inquisitiveness.