Former Assurex VP launches new venture, starting with a single retrofitted RV
By Liz Engel - Staff reporter Cincy Inno, January 07, 2021, 10:07am EST
A new Mason-based biotech startup wants to increase the speed and accuracy of Covid-19 testing. Its primary delivery method? A mobile laboratory housed inside a retrofitted RV. Mobility Health, headed by former Assurex Health VP Sandra Gunselman, launched this week. The company already has plans to go beyond Covid-19 and include a variety of other infectious diseases. The on-the-go concept, she said, improves upon a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, where lab tests, often shipped away, sometimes face untold delays. She, like many others, watched the pandemic unfold in early 2020 and became frustrated by news of slow turn-around times and inaccuracies. It served as the basis for the venture.
“False positives are very, very frustrating, but false negatives actually become a health risk, because people think they’re safe and then go out and infect others,” she said. “And when it comes to infectious disease, results are really only good in real time. We knew there had to be a better way."
Mobility Health, using its lab on wheels, can process Covid-19 tests, end-to-end, in less than two hours, Gunselman said. Its singular mobile unit – the company does plan to add more – has the capacity to run around 1,000 samples a day. Gunselman said that count could increase to 3,000-4,000 a day through automation.
Mobility Health uses LAMP testing for Covid and is the first company to implement the newly developed Stanford University technology. Gunselman said LAMP is very similar to a traditional PCR test, a mainstay Covid-19 diagnostic tool, but is much improved. Mobility Health has validated its results at 100% specificity, meaning it reported no false negatives, with 99% sensitivity. Other tests on the market report between 96-97%.
“It’s a PCR test on steroids,” Gunselman said.
The back of the RV looks like a normal lab, and the front can be used to administer vaccines and the like. Gunselman said her customer base largely includes businesses and schools – Mobility Health made its first stop Monday to an area manufacturing facility – but the unit could also perform testing at concerts, sporting events and conventions.
Covid is its entry point, but Mobility Health is developing a full panel for other infectious diseases, like influenza A and B, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, measles, parainfluenza and others.
She said the company has the ability to scale nationally and is in early discussions with investors regarding an initial funding round.
“We strongly believe this is the future,” she said. “And it should be. We’re a digital society, and we don’t wait for anything. When it comes to diagnostics, we shouldn’t have to wait. This gives us results in real time.”
Gunselman’s launch in Mason is a second “homecoming” of sorts, said Michele Blair, director of economic development for the city. Gunselman was originally recruited to Assurex Health from Transgenomic, a biotech firm in New Haven, Conn., bypassing an opportunity in Cambridge, Mass., considered the industry’s “Mecca,” to work for the fast-growing startup.
Assurex Health, which developed a genetic test to determine the best medications for a patient suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental health disorders, was acquired by Myriad Genetics in 2016 for a price tag that’s since topped $307 million considering earn-outs, making it one of Greater Cincinnati’s biggest successes.
Gunselman spent nearly four years with the company before leaving in 2018 for an opportunity in Colorado.
The fact she came back to launch Mobility Health is an attribute to Mason’s status as a biohealth hub, Blair said. Mobility Health, outside of its RV, is operating out a more than 3,000-square-foot space at its Tech Elevator campus at 5155 Financial Way, one of three locations for the program. The Tech Elevator portfolio also includes companies like IncludeHealth, Clarigent Health, Masters Pharmaceutical and more. Mobility Health currently has five employees.
“For someone with a story like Sandra’s – coming out of a fast-growing, successfully exited company with their own idea – being able to connect with others in our innovation portfolio is a really great recipe to spark growth and capture more cutting-edge thinking,” Blair said. “That’s what makes this region different than the coasts, we can get to each other quicker and develop those relationships.”