Posted: May 01, 2011
Tech startup: KromaTiD Inc.Eric Peterson
INITIAL LIGHT BULB: Four professors from Colorado State University - Susan Bailey, Joel Bedford, Edwin Goodwin and Andrew Ray - and Michael Cornforth at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, spun their decades of research into a startup to make it easier for their peers to identify genetic abnormalities.
"There's a specific aberration known as an inversion of DNA," says CEO Christopher Tompkins, a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry. "It is simply inversion of DNA in a strand, and it's very difficult to detect. It can indicate any congenital genetic disease" - i.e. anything from autism and other developmental disorders to cancer.
KromaTiD's technology - in a sense an intelligent dye - allows scientists to visually see where the DNA is - and isn't - normal.
IN A NUTSHELL: KromaTiD's innovation involves glow-in-the-dark chromosome paints that can be used to analyze a single strand of DNA at a time, ultimately delivering higher quality results at a lower price.
"What KromaTid is doing is putting together a set of tools to find specific chromosome damages," Tompkins says, describing a dye that visually indicates DNA inversions when excited under an electron microscope. Normal DNA glows, but inverted sequences do not. "If there's no damage, you have a beautiful solid purple color. Where you have damage, there's a gap. The corresponding spot lights up on the opposite strand."
Tompkins says the technology allows medical researchers "to look for a damage they've never looked for before," ultimately allowing for the development of narrowly targeted therapies.
"Once you know the gene the cause is stemming from, they can track that back to a specific enzyme or specific mechanism," Tompkins says. "We're giving (researchers) a tool to pull back one more layer."
Tompkins points to HER2-positive breast cancer as an example in which tests for the genetic marker determine the most effective therapeutic response. "They've found a very successful method of treatment," he says.
Customizable for the analysis of one to all 23 chromosomes in a single strand, KromaTiD's kits will sell for "hundreds to thousands of dollars," he adds.
THE MARKET: "The chromosome imaging market is probably $150 million a year in the U.S.," Tompkins says. He estimates a worldwide market double that figure - roughly $300 million - in turn a big piece of the "billion-dollar-ish" international market for molecular diagnostics.
FINANCING: After launching primarily with Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants (as well as some funding from the state and CSU), KromaTid is currently in the market for outside capital.
"We're looking for investors right now," Tompkins says, noting that the SBIR grants and other funding will last the company at least through year's end. "We've had a lot of support."
"We're using the power of the Human Genome Project. We know what those sequences are and should be. The dark ages of this field were just 20 years ago." - KromaTiD CEO Christopher Tompkins
where: Fort Collins | FOUNDED: 2007 | www.kromatid.com
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com