Richard Burghardt wasn’t walking into the unknown when he grabbed onto the opportunity to shake up the genetic counseling world with CancerGene Connect – in his younger years he’d spent long hours in the laboratory with his father, who was a reproductive cell biologist.
“I was comfortable in that world, at least I knew enough to have intelligent conversations,” said Burghardt, whose previous business move was starting software company that spawned the Charade Date app that sought to apply DNA technology to the dating world. “The software company was already in place.”
The new company is CancerGene Connect, which uses technology and processes created by and licensed from the University of Texas Southwestern that allows a patient to assemble their family medical history on a secure online platform.
The goal of that step is to apply predictive analysis to discovering inherited diseases early, which can help overworked genetic counselors treat the most risk-prone patients early ahead of the normal one-year wait time.
Burghardt said CancerGene Connect is has just over a dozen account currently active in something of a beta test phase, including two pilot programs in divisions of two of five largest hospital systems in the country.
A $700,000 seed round that helped the company form in 2015 has let the Dallas-based operation get its platform operating the way that can best serve the market. A $1.5 million round that Burghardt is starting to assemble now will help the company begin a sales and marketing push into both small specialist sites and large hospital groups and not cede any ground to the three competing companies in the field.
While the genetic counseling field is a small one that has let CancerGene Connect find early validation, there is large growth potential in general cancer detection and treatment, along with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases that can similarly cause chronic illness with expensive treatment costs. There is also a forecast for robust business in breast imaging and MRI centers, with client sites paying for the service that patients are then able to fill out online.
The sales push will see CancerGene Connect grow to around 15 employees from its current six by the end of 2017.
Burghardt said the company’s real growth opportunities will come from adding more hospital groups to its customer base and expanding from the pilot programs it is currently holding in major health care systems.
“Someone like an office for a single breast surgeon we can go in there and then be live in 30 days, but that’s just one account,” he said. “Selling to hospitals has a lot more steps because there are so many things they have to be careful about with security of patient information. Early on, we’d do a (Hospital group) demo that went great and I’d expect to have the money rolling in, but now it’s a year later and we’re still getting the deal closed.”
Looking longer term, Burghardt said there are business opportunities in leveraging the aggregated patient data the company will have the ability to compile, but said it will take years of business at many more sites to obtain that much useful information.