After Nassar Hassan recognized the impacts of genetic disorders on childhood patients from his 30 years in the life sciences industry, he set out to create a startup that addressed his concerns about the uneven quality of screening he had witnessed.
He said that after working in fields where he developed gene therapies and biotechnology, he noticed an unmet need for a fast, easy and universally available diagnostic tool to detect genetic disorders in pediatric patients. That was his inspiration to launch Morrisville-based MGeneRx as Founder and CEO.
“I haven’t seen anything like this at all for what we’re trying to do,” he said.
The Triangle tech community will be able to see for itself when Hassan pitches at CED’s Venture Connect summit on March 29-30 in RTP.
By using MGeneRx’s simple mobile interface, early detection of genetic disorders in newborns can be done using the camera on any phone or similar device. Biometric data points on the child’s face are compared with the application’s reference models, determining if a child is at a high, medium or low risk for a genetic dysmorphology.
Within 30 seconds, the software will detect the probability of the individual having a genetic disorder. Over time, Hassan said the number of possible detections can increase, which he hopes will reach his goal of being able to flag some 3,000 different genetic disorders.
He said that three neural networks—image standardization, facial morphology detection and genetic syndrome risk standardization—help identify if the child needs to be referred to a specialist or undergo further testing.
To prevent parents self-diagnosing their children, Hassan said they plan to market towards health care providers.
“It really takes an education,” he said.
Compared to other screening programs that require a blood sample and can only detect up to 32 rare diseases, Hassan said MGeneRx can already detect 128 without anything extra being needed.
With a prototype that has already been used by thousands of patients, Hassan said they are trying to push forward their application as quickly as possible because he knows there are people interested in its immediate use.
“Every time you talk to a pediatrician, it’s like ‘I want this tomorrow,’” he said.
Although intended to be used for those ranging from a newborn to an 18-year-old, Hassan said this application has been tested on those up through age 21 to provide a full scope its abilities.
Hassan’s background developing multi-million- and multi-billion-dollar products for companies like Glaxo Smith Kline and AstraZeneca make him well-suited to lead MGeneRx.
“I’ve helped build a number of companies for many individuals,” he said. “But this one drives my passion because of the social impact it can have and the lives it can change.”
Hassan said that it can be difficult to find those with rare diseases for clinical trials, so by identifying these patients early through MGeneRx, they will be able to get the help they need as soon as possible.
The next goal for the startup is to continue to talk to venture capitalists to help them produce a minimum viable product.
“The next step is really getting this into an application and getting this out there and then generating additional data that we can use to help patients all over the world,” he said.
According to Hassan, the company has been in contact with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which seems open to using MGeneRx as a diagnostic screening tool for genetic dysmorphologies.
He said they have also been having discussions with companies like FDNA, who use differential diagnosis for pre-selected patients, so that they can combine their company’s similarities with one another.
“I think there’s a lot of people really passionate about helping is move this forward,” he said.
For Venture Connect, Hassan said that he hopes his company’s presentation provides enough time to tease investors and potential partners, which will hopefully get people interested in what they have to offer.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “I think it’s really wonderful that we have this environment that we can connect with different investors, different partners, different people, that can potentially help move products like this into the world.”