Alicia Wang

January 27, 2020

Cornell Biotech Startup Makes Big Strides in Medicine Thanks to $2.4M Investment

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Cornell Tech-founded startup, Biotia, recently raised $2.4 million to expand its team and focus on new infectious disease diagnosis technologies.

The latest cash infusion will help the company — which aims to leverage artificial intelligence to more effectively fight infectious diseases — develop and introduce its products to a broader market, according to company founder and CEO Dr. Niamh O’Hara.

After “probably present[ing] to 100 investors,” O’Hara said, Biotia was able to secure a seed round — an initial investment round for startups— from Falcon III Ventures, a Boston-based biotechnology venture capital firm that specializes in backing early-stage companies.

Biotia was first founded through the Runway Startup Postdoc Program, a University-affiliated accelerator that provides funding and training to support selected post-doctorates to launch their own start-up company.

Before the seed round, Biotia had built an early-stage, minimum viable product to diagnose diseases that was already in the market and working with a few hospitals. But the multi-million dollar raise will now allow the startup to validate — and, ultimately, expanding — its technology.

“For this kind of technology you need a lot of validation because you are selling to clinicians,” O’Hara said.

Biotia uses a variety of new technologies, such as next-generation DNA sequencing and artificial intelligence software, to diagnose infectious diseases, profile the microbiome, identify pathogens, drug resistance markers and virulence markers.

While many of those advanced technologies have previously been used in mainly laboratory-based research, Biotia aims to introduce them directly to hospitals, where their benefits can be more immediately felt by patients.

“Right now hospitals basically use technology from the 1800s to diagnose infectious disease[s],” O’Hara said.

One such outdated practice, O’Hara said, is the use of culturing to identify microbial species, a process that involves growing a sample on a plate. Because “there are a lot of microbes that can’t grow,” she explained, the approach proves limited in a clinical setting, sometimes taking days to weeks to get results back.

But, according to O’Hara, Biotia’s technology resolves many of these flaws — cutting down the time it takes to complete a full microbial profile to only about 24 hours.

“This technique can provide higher level clinical interpretation of what’s going on for a patient,” O’Hara continued.

Beyond engineering a more efficient microbe cultivation process, Biotia has also turned its sights towards developing a database of pathogens found in various medical settings. To do so, the company has tested and swabbed different surfaces in patient rooms, allowing the startup to build a “microbial map” of hospitals in order to help staff develop improved sanitary practices.

The goal of the endeavor, according to O’Hara, is to fight back against hospital-acquired infections — a growing phenomenon, tied to increasing antibiotic-resistance, that causes upwards of 100,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone.

Biotia’s long term strategies include launching a clinical diagnostic product which it can sell directly to doctors. The product, slated to be launched within the next few months, can be used by doctors to provide a clinical interpretation to inform patients on treatments based on urine and stool samples.