Erica Barnell (MD/PhD Candidate, Washington University School of Medicine) and Andrew Barnell (MBA, The Wharton School) are siblings who co-founded Geneoscopy, a startup focused on developing diagnostic tools to prevent, detect and treat digestive diseases. Erica developed the idea for the company on her first rotation in Barnes-Jewish Hospital after meeting a 52-year old woman who arrived at the hospital with Stage IV colorectal cancer. The woman had never been screened for colorectal cancer because she could not take time off work to have a colonoscopy. Erica’s previous research experience on the gastrointestinal biome inspired her to find a solution to this compliance problem and she partnered with Andrew given his background in business. Andrew and Erica had never envisioned starting a company together, but given their complementary skills, mutual passion for healthcare, and close friendship, they took the leap to start Geneoscopy in February 2015. Recognizing the need for an individual proficient in data analysis to advance their scientific research, Yiming Kang, a PhD Candidate in Computer Science at Washington University in St. Louis, joined Geneoscopy as the third co-founder to create the perfect trio.
Geneoscopy was founded on the belief that a noninvasive diagnostic test using human RNA biomarkers in stool samples would provide a screening alternative that could improve colorectal cancer screening compliance, facilitate early-stage detection of colorectal cancer neoplasms and reduce morbidity and mortality associated with the 2nd deadliest cancer in the United States and the 4th deadliest cancer worldwide. However, no methodology existed to reliably isolate and preserve human RNA from stool.
Over the past two and a half years, Geneoscopy has developed a nucleic acid extraction method that amplifies the human signals and degrades bacterial noise in stool. This allows for sensitive extraction of human RNA that can be used as biomarkers to noninvasively evaluate gastrointestinal health. Geneoscopy has filed three provisional patents and one utility patent to protect this technology and has leveraged it to develop a multi-target RNA biomarker panel for the detection of precancerous lesions and colorectal cancer. Geneoscopy has executed two clinical trials and tested over 340 patients, and the results of these studies have demonstrated our test’s differentiated accuracy profile, particularly for the identification of advanced adenomas (95% sensitivity). Geneoscopy is currently enrolling patients in a 1,000-patient trial to complete the development of this colorectal cancer diagnostic test, and has formed partnerships with two academic medical centers to leverage its extraction platform to develop diagnostic tests for other digestive diseases.