Lee Hood’s Startup for Personalized Medicine, Integrated Diagnostics, Hires First CEO

3/29/10Follow @xconomy

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of his time raising money instead of really focusing on the science and commercial aspects of the CEO’s job.

So Luderer first spoke with David Barker of the Wellcome Trust, and then met with Arnold Oronsky of InterWest Partners. The purpose, he says, was to “get a feel for where their heads were” in terms of the vision for Integrated Diagnostics, and whether they would provide enough resources for him to focus on building the business instead of fundraising. Then it came time to meet with Hood.

“My big question for Lee was, ‘To what extent will you be involved going forward?’” Luderer says. “The answer tells you a lot about whether he’s really committed. He could just say, ‘OK, I’m done now, call me when you’re finished.’ Instead, his answer was that he believes this is possibly the most important thing he will do in his career, that the Institute for Systems Biology has people working on these problems, and he’ll be extraordinarily active through the life of the company. That’s what I wanted to hear.”

With a vision as big and broad as Hood’s, the natural question then is, where do you focus your efforts first to get some traction? It will take years to develop the technology before it can reach the marketplace. It will certainly take focus and discipline.

In these early days, the company’s energy is being channeled into lung cancer, Luderer says. The company and its academic collaborators are running experiments now that are seeking to find trace amounts of signature proteins in the bloodstream that come from that specific organ.

InDi hopes to find precise molecular markers that correlate with worse signs of disease that can be seen later on with conventional imaging like that from a CT scan. Some early results should be available by May, and if positive, then InDi could be in position to go about gathering some rigorous proof from prospectively-designed clinical trials that could spot the markers early, and follow up with patients over time to see if they do indeed develop the lung tumors as predicted. The blood test will be valuable to physicians because it will be used to assist existing CT diagnostics that often don’t provide a conclusive result, Luderer says.

If these experiments go well, then the same principles could be applied to other tumor types that spill off into the blood from other organs, Luderer says. Further in the future, InDi hopes to detect signature proteins in the blood that are early signs of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

InDi is pretty small right now, with just eight employees. Half are chemists in Los Angeles positioned near the Heath lab at Caltech, while the rest are in one of the Institute for Systems Biology’s office buildings. Luderer doesn’t sound like he plans to spend big bucks on expansion or some new lab space in Seattle, although InDi does have four open positions on its website.

I got the sense it wasn’t an easy decision for Luderer to move back to Seattle for this gig from Boston. He said he thinks he’s on his eighth house now, during his career of moving around for new opportunities in biotechnology. But he says he didn’t want to be seen as arrogant like some CEOs, who might have insisted on building the company around themselves and their home location.

“I asked myself, ‘Where is the information coming from?’ Really the main focal point is the Institute for Systems Biology,” Luderer says. “And with Lee’s direct involvement, you really need to make the most of his input, and you can’t do that from Boston, you need to do that on the home court.”

We at Xconomy expect to hear more directly from Hood about this emerging company, and the new CEO, during the event we’re organizing today from 1:30 pm to 6:30 pm at the University of Washington. We look forward to seeing quite a few of you there.

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