November 12, 2012

ASU spin-out HealthTell named Start-up of the Year

Posted: November 12, 2012
Silicon wafer used to read antibody profiles
HealthTell adapts computer chip production to make slivers of proteins on the surface of a silicon wafer to read antibody profiles.
Photo by: HealthTell Inc.
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HealthTell Inc., a spin-out company from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, was selected as the Start-up of the Year at the 2012 Governor’s Celebration of Innovation this week.

The prestigious annual awards gala, sponsored by the Arizona Technology Council and the Arizona Commerce Authority, spotlights innovations in science and technology and how they are applied to build a sustainable economy for Arizona's future. The start-up award is presented to a technology company that has achieved significant business success and technical innovation or scientific achievement in the past year.

HealthTell was recognized for developing technology to test a person’s immune system for changes in health status. Company founders are Arizona State University professors Stephen Albert Johnston and Neal Woodbury, who lead the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Innovations in Medicine. Bill Colston, CEO of HealthTell, accepted the award and thanked all the HealthTell employees, two of which are recent ASU graduates, for making the award possible.

Their method of detection, called immunosignaturing, is based on profiling the total antibody repertoire in an individual from a drop of blood. This profile is sensitive to health status and changes when disease develops. 

“This diagnostic is designed to alert us that we are sick before symptoms appear,” says Stephen Albert Johnston, co-founder and director of the Biodesign Institute at ASU’s Center for Innovations in Medicine. According to Johnston and Woodbury, there is no comparable technology in the diagnostic field.

Combining its ability to profile the immune system, HealthTell has added its ability to make chips to read these antibody profiles. These chips are made by adapting the computer chip production systems to make peptides – slivers of proteins – on the surfaces of the chips.

“Our challenge was to take this research technology used so successfully at ASU and make it into a scalable, reliable one that could meet the diagnostic vision,” says Neal Woodbury, co-director with Johnston at Biodesign’s Center for Innovations in Medicine.

The company has patented and proprietary methods to make high-density peptide libraries on the chips, the key element in reading the immunosignature.  The chips are projected to be low-cost, with the ability to develop an immunosignature from a drop of blood sent through the mail on a filter paper in a standard envelope. 

HealthTell is currently supplying chips for two ASU projects funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and its Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

So far, HealthTell has provided $1 million in chips to ASU and is part of an ASU collaboration that recently received a DTRA contract for $9 million in chip purchases over three years. DTRA is interested in using the diagnostic test to check the health of soldiers in the field.

Last year, HealthTell earned $1.1 million in revenues. It hired its first employee in October 2011 and now employs six full-time and four part-time employees from the diagnostic application and computer chip production sector. HealthTell is headquartered at the ASU Research Park in Tempe, and leases space in the Chandler Innovation Center.

In addition to their roles at HeathTell and Biodesign Institute at ASU, Johnston and Woodbury are ASU professors. Johnston is a professor in the School of Life Sciences, and Woodbury is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.