Disease Diagnostic Group

Disease Diagnostic Group: Saving lives with just refrigerator magnets and laser pointers

Boston, United StatesLagos, Nigeria
Year Founded:
2014
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

DDG is focused on saving lives by screening, tracking, and diagnosing highly infectious diseases that benefit from ultra-low cost and rapid detection for the purpose of early-stage diagnosis with portable and reusable devices that use our platform magneto-optical technology

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we told you we could save one million lives every year with just refrigerator magnets and a laser pointer?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

According to the WHO, Malaria affects half the world’s population, kills nearly a million annually, costs African economies $12B, and, in India alone, is responsible for 4.2 million disability­-adjusted life­ years. With only 1/8 infections properly diagnosed, there is a desperate need for simple and accurate diagnostics. Without such diagnostics, treatment cannot be administered for fear of resistance, costs, and potential side effects.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

DDG's flagship product, the Rapid Assessment of Malaria (RAM), yields a quantitative diagnosis, in less than a minute, from a drop of blood, at 1/4th the cost and 100x the accuracy of current solutions by malaria's inherent magnetic biomarker. RAM is a purely mechanical, reusable device that takes and ultra low-cost plastic consumable cuvette which offers a simple intuitive diagnostic requiring minimal medical expertise. Critically, RAM will be the only point-of-care device sensitive enough to diagnose early-stage infections, filling the void in the elimination setting, and offer $1.2B in annual cost savings while helping stabilize developing economies by saving lives, limiting hospital stays, and conserving resources.

Awards

MedTech Innovator Semi-finalist; Qmed Top 20 MedTech Breakthrough; Gifted Citizen; PATH 30 Innovations; NCIIA; MassChallenge diamond winner; MIT 100K grand prize; Cupid's Cup Winner; USC Marshall Innovation Winner
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

RAM's will fill the void in the elimination setting. RAM will be the only POC device capable of diagnosing the asymptomatic population. It can go to patients, as active screening tool, and, because of its speed and sensitivity, will allow NGOs and countries to screen and treat entire villages before the disease can spread and before the cost of treatment increases (treatment of symptomatic patients costs at least 6x more). Not only will this result in direct cost saving to these communities, but the saved lives and limited hospital stays will increase the productivity of the economy. In the future, our technology will be applied in a multiplex device capable of offering a diagnosis among a number of diseases, further increasing the value

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

RAM is not yet on the market, but once it achieves WHO approval following upcoming field trials, it is poised to make a huge impact because it merges the advantages and eliminates the disadvantages of current solutions. RAM matches the portability of an RDT while maintaining the accuracy, heat stability, and reusability of a microscope, without a need for expertise. And, while RAM is innovative and disruptive in nature, our business model and mechanical technology offer unprecedented partnership opportunities. In addition to saving organizations $100K over the lifetime of the device, lowering costs associated with treatment, and increasing economic productivity, the device is simple and label free, meaning that it can empower individuals in developing countries who don't have extensive training to use the device themselves and create a sustainable system for screening.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Based on being best-in-class in all 6 WHO metrics, RAM will become the standard, and at 1/4th the cost, will increase the ratio of tests to treatment from under 1:1 to 4:1, meaning that every infection will be diagnosed. More critically, RAM will interrupt transmissions, allowing eradication, and because RAM provides a quantitative assessment of the infection, DDG can quantify how many more diagnoses were made, how much money was saved in treatment, how many lives are saved, and how much productivity was increased by limiting hospital visits. We anticipate impacting 1 million lives by 2018.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We'll sell a reusable device that accepts a plastic consumable. The model balances profitability and social impact, and reduces lead-time and quality problems. Our $0.25 price point, equal to the COGS for RDT, is very favorable to NGOs and international institutions with whom we have spoken, saving them $100K over the lifetime of the device. Industry standard pays 30% upfront to sellers, making RAM, with COGS equal to 25%, immediately sustainable

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

We have no real direct competitors, as our RAM device matches or surpasses current best in class standards and will provide the only quantitative diagnostic tool with a portable footprint. Through our customer interviews we understand the public market to be interested in scaling up RDTs, but this is not a long-term solution, as RDTs cannot distinguish low-level infections, have prices that scale significantly with sensitivity, and are limited due to their heat instability and short shelf life.
Team

Founding Story

Diagnostics have been my passion since high school Science Olympiad and I got interested in malaria specifically after a childhood friend contracted the disease. As a Masters Student, I was working on a low­ cost ventilation system for malaria bed nets, when I became introduced me to the extent of the disease and began working with a team of physicists and biologists on the device, as I wanted to be a social entrepreneur to commercialize diagnostics for real impact. When I saw our first prototype, which we built with off-the-shelf components, work with for the first time with synthetic hemozoin, it was a very profound moment and I haven't looked back since.

Team

John R. Lewandowski (Founder/CEO) works full-time on DDG in addition to being a PhD student at MIT in the Mechanosynthesis Group underneath Prof. John Hart, focusing on low-cost diagnostics leveraging the physics of microparticles, optics, magnetism, and self assembly. His interest in disease diagnostics goes back all the way to high school, where he was a two-time state champion in Disease Detectives in Science Olympiad. He graduated in 2012 from Case Western Reserve University with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, entrepreneurship, economics, and business management, continuing on with a Masters of Engineering and Management degree from CWRU. He has experience in medical device design and commercialization with internships at Cleveland Clinic, General Electric, CWRU, as well as a drug-delivery start-up Recon Therapeutics. He’s also been Managing Partner at Lew & Dowski Capital, LLC for the past four years, scaling a boutique investment fund based on an innovative supply and demand model in a niche market with a quickly growing NAV of $500,000. He has been recognized as a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow, a NSF Graduate Research Fellow, a Hertz Foundation Fellowship Finalist, a Tata Fellow, a Don Richards Fellow, a Tau Beta Pi Fellow, a member of Phi Beta Kappa Society, a Forbes 30 under 30 nominee, distinguished in Think Magazine’s 30 under Thirty and Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Thinkers, and a Lemelson-MIT Prize Inventor. He’s been an author on a dozen papers and holds one patent on drug reconstitution. Mark E. Lewandowski (CTO) also works over 40 hours a week on DDG while doubling as a Mechanical Engineering student at Case Western Reserve University. Mark is currently conducting research in the Biomanufacturing and Microfabrication Laboratory at CWRU under Dr. Umut Gurkan. He is researching the behavior of thin film magneto-elastic materials installed in micro-fluidic devices with applied magnetic fields, excitation and interrogation for blood coagulative analysis, diagnostic, and point-of-care applications. His interests include researching robust mechanical solutions, featuring the effects of magnetic fields and photonics, to apply to innovations across various industries. He has been co-authored on a number of papers regarding his research on additive manufacturing and the effects of laser treatment on materials that share metallic and magnetic properties. Alphonse F. Harris (COO) is our third full time employee. He is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts, and a graduate of Boston College Law School and Denison University, where he double majored in physics and economics. Alphonse’s role at DDG overseeing operations and managing the Company’s contracts and IP combines his interests and experiences in the areas of law, work that furthers the public interest, and optics. He has experience working in a variety of legal settings, ranging from the in-house legal department at Northern Trust to the Cybercrime Division at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and is also familiar with international and European Union law, having studied international and comparative law at the King’s College Dickson Poon School of Law, London. Prior to law school, Alphonse spent a year serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA at a legal aid non-profit, helping the organization build its online intake system and database for grant reporting. As an undergraduate, he co-authored a paper published in the Journal of Applied Physics detailing the use of a thermoreflectance technique to determine cross-plane thermal diffusivity of a vertical cavity surface emitting laser. Additionally, DDG works with between 4-10 interns at any given time and has received support on specific projects from PhD and MBA students at Harvard and MIT who have experience and interest in global health and/or biomedical devices. We will be looking to expand our team by hiring researchers who have expertise in conjugating nanoparticles, a sales and project management team who are familiar with the WHO's bidding process, and engineers for manufacturing and prototyping.
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Personal connections

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Founder/CEO

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

I am confident that I have the entrepreneurial skills and resourcefulness to generate enough interest in the organization to sustain it. First, I have raised money for two other startups in the past, a hedge fund named Lew & Dowski that attracted investors into the fund and has healthy returns albeit on a relatively small net asset value and Recon Therapeutics, which commercialized a one­step reconstitution device for lyophilized drugs. I also have created a support network of partners and advisors around this magneto­optical device ranging from universities to companies that have previously financially and clinically supported us and will continue to do so in the future. The credibility in the malaria ecosystem that I have achieved is extremely important, especially for an early­stage diagnostic company. I am a terrific grant writer and have been very successful raising no­strings attached money that can allow for a flexible business plan.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Although we yet to finalize an official board of advisors, the promise of our technology has attracted many high profile individuals who are extremely happy to offer support on business, technical, clinical, and legal issues. Among our many informal advisors who we speak to every couple months are Scott Filler (Head of Malaria at The Global Fund), Theodoor Visser (Malaria Diagnostic Manager at Clinton Health Access Initiative), Martin Edlund (CEO of Malaria No More), David Bell (Previous Director of Infectious Disease at FIND), Paul LaBarre (Senior Technical Officer for Diagnostics at PATH), and Bill Rodriguez (CMO of FIND). Two of the key advisor sets to us are the management teams at Daktari Diagnostics and T2 Biosystems in Cambridge, MA. They have successfully commercialized a portable HIV/CD4 counting device for the developing world and have directed us on exact partnerships and funding opportunities to exploit. DDG is a member of the JumpStart Mentoring Program in Cleveland, OH and the Venture Mentoring Service in Cambridge, MA. Through various programs we have access to up to 30 hours of free legal, financial, and business consulting
services every month.