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January 2, 2024

Babson Diagnostics founder prepares to launch innovative blood testing product

By Brett Wistrom

For Austin Business Journal

Blood tests are part of almost any medical examination, but it's often less than convenient to get on the schedule, find the testing center and get them done.

Babson Diagnostics is a health care technology company based in Austin that has developed a new method of collecting and analyzing blood samples to make it significantly easier for patients and pharmacists to conduct blood tests at retail locations. The startup, which was incubated at Siemens Healthineers AG before spinning off into its own company in 2017, has been developing this new method for years.

In 2021, Babson raised a $31 million series B funding round, and it has been expanding its team with health and tech experts since then. It was also an Austin Inno Fire Award winner in 2023, and the company recently received clearances from the Food and Drug Administration that will pave the way for it to bring its proprietary system, called BetterWay, to market in 2024.

It's a journey that's new for Babson founder and Chairman Eric Olson, as well as regulators.

"It's been an incredible ride working on that because it's really a new field," he said. "Capillary blood is a field where the science has not really yet been done. So it's new for the technology companies that are developing technology here. It's new for the FDA reviewers that have to work on it. And the FDA in general is understaffed for the huge workload of medical device review that they currently do. So it's a big lift all around to get the right R&D, the right science and the right clinical studies behind supporting clients like this."

Olson was a recent guest on the Texas Business Minds podcast. Listen to the full interview in the player at the top of this story or on popular platforms such as Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Below are a few excerpts from the conversation.

On the company's forthcoming BetterWay blood tests:

"It's designed to be more convenient and pleasant for the individual person that needs to get their bloodwork done, whether it's for their routine primary care visit, or whether it's to monitor a chronic disease ... It's used in the medical scenarios where you'd normally go and get a blood collection with a needle in your arm. But we've updated the process to enable it to be done at retail pharmacies, where it can be done a lot more convenient and collected through your finger in a way that's more pleasant for the individual and still allows the same quality level and broad range of testing to be done."

On the company's new lab and planned launch across Texas:

"Our goal for this facility is it has a lot of capacity. This facility can handle millions of samples per year. We plan to launch in Austin, and then in San Antonio, moving out to Dallas and to Houston. So we do plan to cover the four major cities and central, northern and eastern Texas, where the bulk of the population is, and the radius of that service area is really determined by our ground transportation capabilities. It is critical that we can transport these samples quickly and refrigerated, so that we can assure the best quality."

On finding the right talent for its team in Austin:

"Picking Austin is one of the best decisions that we've made in the history of the company. So, really excited to be here. We were kind of built from the ground up with medical device and diagnostics experts, by virtue of the way that things came together. This wasn't just an idea that some entrepreneurs dreamt and then built a team around. This idea was incubated at Siemens, which is one of the leading diagnostic equipment manufacturers of the world. And that's where we developed a lot of the back-end technology, a lot of the patents related to sample collection and sample preparation. And then it was developed in partnership with (Babson), which is No. 1 in the world at sample collection technology. So we have a lot of the kind of deep industry experts that have been there since it was really a corporate idea prior to being spun off. And a lot of the people that are from those types of organizations are in Babson today. But we've been able to build around that really great laboratory team, a really great clinical team, really great commercial team that is, I would say, half sourced locally from some of the great Austin talent with the universities and technology industry that we have in town, and half imported from other places that are historically more heavy medical device, deep medical technology centers of excellence."

On the company's fundraising future:

"We're not ready to announce the next financing round yet. But as a startup company, of course, you need to continually be in that market. We are set to launch in early 2024. So between the FDA clearances and the impending launch of the BetterWay service, we've achieved the milestones that we need to get to the next level."

On generative AI and its applications in health care:

"I think generative AI has a big opportunity in health care. I think that it's a way to make a lot of health care logistical communications more efficient. And it can be a good way for patients to learn more about conditions or about blood tests. But it is something that has to be done extremely carefully. Because this is about the last field where you want to make a mistake or make an assumption that the AI is correct when it's talking about a specific disease state. Chat GPT is a an incredible tool for a lot of things. But quantitative issues and understanding the nuances in the interactions between blood tests, it's not particularly great at it. It has a good way of sounding quite impressive, but sometimes it will say 'higher' when it really should be saying 'lower.' And that's not the kind of mistake that you can make in health care."