Genes That Fit


Should doctors insist on a genetic test for each patient before prescribing a new drug? They don’t today, but if a new generation of low-cost, easy-to-use gene testing systems comes to market, such tests could become standard fare.

There are already a number of companies in the Puget Sound region selling products that combine laboratories and information technology to offer the potential for improved health care, including Bothell-based Iverson Genetics, Seattle-based Genelex, and Natural Molecular Testing Corp. of Renton. Meanwhile, Stratos Genomics of Seattle is focusing on ways to sequence genes more cheaply while Seattle-based Spiral Genetics is offering a service to improve the way in which genetic information is stored and processed.

Iverson Genetics shows both the promise and the gamble involved in this market. It is a genetic sequencing and information technology company that sells a program to help doctors or hospitals interpret the results of those tests. CEO Dean Sproles says Iverson’s products and services will vastly expand the use of genetic testing by making results easier to read and interpret.

“What we are providing with Physicians Logic [proprietary software] is an easier operating system—the Windows of genetic medicine,” says Sproles.

One of Iverson’s genetic tests can be used by doctors before they prescribe a blood thinner to a patient. It is well-documented that patients differ in their responses to Warfarin, which is among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. Adverse reactions to drugs are listed as one of the top 10 causes of death in the country, and genetic testing can identify some patients who would respond atypically to Warfarin. The hope is that doctors can prevent adverse reactions by filtering patients based on genetic information.

Genelex and Natural Molecular Testing also sell a variety of gene-testing products. Genelex has its own version of a Warfarin test and sells software to create a better user experience for health care professionals.

Whether the market will embrace these products and services is still unclear. While there are 1.9 million hospitalizations annually due to medication side effects or errors, many are not because of genetic differences but because patients don’t follow directions or there are dosing errors. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) has a nationwide clinical trial under way using the Iverson test to try to determine its clinical effectiveness. Seattle’s Group Health Research Institute will soon begin a study of the effectiveness of such tests. Meanwhile, the institute’s director, Eric Larson, remains skeptical.

“So far, the gain [in health] from genetic information has not been as dramatic as we would all like it to be,” he notes. While he recognizes that, over time, genetic tests may make a significant difference, developing such tests and proving their effectiveness could take a long time.

The Seattle area has a long history of innovation in sequencing and genomics. Leroy Hood, who helped design the first machines that sequenced DNA while he was at California Institute of Technology, moved to the University of Washington and later created the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, where Sproles once worked. Sproles started Iverson in 2007, and Hood is on Iverson’s advisory board. Hood believes that a greater understanding of the genetic makeup of individuals will result in huge improvements in health care.

But the health care system has been slow to adopt “personalized medicine,” as the approach is often called. One challenge is that it’s often unclear whether health care providers will be reimbursed for such tests. And many physicians remain doubtful about the tests’ effectiveness.

Another Seattle spinoff from the Institute for Systems Biology is NanoString Technologies, which announced in September that it would seek European approval to sell a testing system for breast cancer that shows what is known as a “gene expression analysis.” According to a recent story in the online magazine Xconomy, CEO Brad Gray predicted NanoString would also seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013.

An additional challenge to adoption of personalized medicine is the high cost. New technology could quickly drive down some of those costs. Stratos Genomics, which has about 15 employees and is housed inside of Seattle-based Stratos Product Development, believes it has developed a machine for reading an individual’s genetic makeup more quickly and less expensively.

Allan Stephan, founder and CEO of Stratos Genomics, says the system, called Sequencing by Expansion, first expands the DNA molecule (made up of about 3 million base pairs) and then threads it through what is called a nanopore that reads the sequence. Two of Stratos’ competitors in this space are Oxford Nanopore Technologies in England and Ion Torrent of Guilford, Connecticut, and San Francisco.

Spiral Genetics, by contrast, has developed a service that makes it easier to store, access and analyze genomic information. CEO Adina Mangubat admits that the field of genetic sequencing is littered with bold claims that have not panned out, but she thinks she can help the prospects of the entire industry by allowing researchers to analyze more genetic data and understand its impact faster.

For all the skepticism about the promise of genetics research, few doubt the sector will have a huge impact over the longer term. But at this early stage, it’s far from certain what companies will survive and thrive. Makers of genetic tests and equipment think they are in the right part of the business. As Allan Stephan of Stratos says: “During a gold rush, you want to be selling tools.”


Smart Glasses Improving Workflow for HVAC Projects

Smart Glasses Improving Workflow for HVAC Projects

Wearable technology increases productivity for HVAC technicians

Sponsored by MacDonald-Miller

XOEye technologies created a smart glasses tool, built specifically for field technicians to capture real-time documentation. When MacDonald-Miller heard about the new wearable technology platform, they saw it as an opportunity to be the first mechanical contractor in the Pacific Northwest to implement these smart glasses into their services.

We interviewed MacDonald-Miller’s Chief Information Officer, Bradd Busick, to hear first-hand how this new technology will be integrated into services and how it will streamline HVAC projects.

What are the capabilities of the smart glasses? 

The smart glasses, MacLens, capture and stream high fidelity audio and visual content, enabling first-person point-of-view (POV). MacLens includes a camera, earpiece, and microphone — all built into a single headset, capturing real-time documentation of equipment, work performed, and recommendations being made. 

How does it work for technicians?

Once service techs arrive onsite, they put their MacLens glasses on to create an intro video communicating where they are, a brief diagnosis or repair identification, and a summary recap for the customer. After the site visit is complete, the tech then uploads the content to the call summary report on the customer portal, where customers can access it at their convenience.

What is the benefit for the end-user?

Building owners and property managers have to trust their maintenance provider is actually doing the work they claim. Most building owners will never see the work being done on their properties, but they will receive a list of recommendations for changes and a bill. It’s a relationship built on trust. MacLens adds a level of transparency and customer experience where we are able to show in real-time what is happening on roofs and in mechanical rooms. MacLens embeds audio and video content into each summary report, providing customers with the peace of mind that comes with unbridled transparency.

What is the vision behind this technology roll-out?

The goal is to enhance the customer connection to the services provided and also enable technicians to connect with each other. There are incredible operational efficiencies that enable mobility and collaboration through telepresence and increased accountability.

How will they affect the next wave of HVAC technicians?

Not only will MacLens increase workflow productivity, but it also offers training opportunities and safety benefits without adding any additional work to service technicians. This is a major educational advantage. Now expert journeyman can train apprentices simply by walking through their daily tasks, recording those sessions and sharing them in our learning management system — it’s the next evolution of training!

See MacLens in action here.

MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions is a full-service, design-build, mechanical contractor in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more about MacDonald-Miller’s recent projects.