A three-year-old child in the Bay Area was recently admitted to the hospital with a rash. The child was sent home with a diagnosis of hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a common virus that typically resolves in a few weeks.
But the patient continued to get worse and had to be admitted to the hospital. The doctors were stumped, as more and more tests came back negative.
So they called up a stealthy biotechnology start-up in the Bay Area with a novel technology for detecting disease.
Overnight, the company’s lab got a delivery of the child’s blood. Its technology, which can detect the source of an infection — viral, bacterial or fungal — by analyzing fragments of DNA in the patient’s bloodstream, was able to produce a diagnosis in a business day.
The child had been scratched, likely by a pet rat.
That company, called Karius, is announcing $50 million in financing from investors including Khosla Ventures, Tencent, and Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors.
This particular patient was involved in one of its early clinical studies, which intended to compare its test to the current gold standard for infectious disease diagnostics. Karius presented its data at a medical conference in June.
The company’s CEO Mickey Kertesz said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention delivered the same result of rat bite fever, but it took several months. That’s because current techniques are hypothesis-driven: A physician has an idea for the culprit, takes a sample to culture, and waits for a positive or negative result. If it’s a negative, they move on to the next idea.