Matthew Rabinowitz, the founder of Natera Inc. never thought of the project until an unfortunate event shocked his family. His sister’s baby was born with Down Syndrome and passed away 6 days after birth, and this presented Matt with a problem worth solving. He recognized the inadequacies in prenatal testing, took his engineering background and concepts that were commonplace in the technological world and applied them to the field of biology, and that’s how Natera was born.
Natera (previously Gene Security Network) is a genetic testing company that operates a CLIA-certified laboratory in San Carlos, California. The company specializes in analyzing microscopic quantities of DNA for reproductive health indications to provide the preconception and prenatal genetic testing services largely to the OBGYN physicians and in vitro fertilization centers.
The company in 2013, launched Panorama, a non-invasive prenatal test for pregnant women that looks for the most common chromosomal anomalies in a fetus as early as nine weeks of gestation. In addition, they also provide services including tests for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and miscarriage testing to establish the cause of the loss of the pregnancy.
August 2011 witnessed the launch of a non-invasive paternity test based on Natera’s technology, via a partnership with DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), which holds a license to the technology in the United States.
Originally, they used vitro fertilization to test their technology and methods, taking samples from an embryo and samples of the parents and “filled in the blanks” of the chromosomal crossovers using data from the human genome project. With the success of IVR, they shifted into prenatal testing where they could come up with convincing data by merely drawing blood from the mother at 9 weeks.
Matthew touches on a lot of topics throughout his talk including his time at Stanford, his various start-ups, and his current business. Natera has done some amazing things in the field of prenatal testing, and the way it came to become a company and develop its technology has a sad beginning but an uplifting ending.
Matthew discusses the ethical side of the business consulting with top professionals in the fields to determine what should be tested for and what shouldn’t.
The most impressive thing is his resolve to solve a real problem that people were experiencing, including his own family. Before his company developed the technology and methodology, 1 in 6 cases of Down Syndrome was not diagnosed with conventional prenatal testing. Natera is able to diagnose it in virtually 100% if the cases. They were also able to develop tests that allowed intervention during the pregnancy to improve the chances of a healthy child for other diseases as well as inform parents of potential issues that would require specialized treatment. This would allow for pre-planning and preparation, especially if the delivery took place at a hospital specializing in the diagnosed disease.
Matthew in person is funny; engaging and an interesting character that people loved to listen to. Before Natera, Matthew co-founded an online merchandising firm and a location-based service technology company and knew exactly what he wanted to do next.
His California-based company is now a mainstream player in the field of noninvasive prenatal testing. According to Persistence Market Research, Natera has a $665-million-plus global market. Natera's flagship product, Panorama, is capable of picking up on fetal chromosomal issues at nine weeks, by analyzing traces of fetal cells that flow in the mother's blood. The screening test requires only a single drop of blood and can be performed at a much earlier stage in the pregnancy as compared to other invasive diagnostic procedures.
Panorama, at present, is responsible for about 60 percent of Natera's revenue, but the company has developed several other tests around pregnancy and prenatal health. It's also trying to develop a market for cancer diagnostics and is hoping that one of its tests for breast, ovary, and lung cancers will be available by the end of 2017.
Natera's technology relies on targeting what's called a single nucleotide polymorphism, a part of a DNA sequence that distinguishes mother and child.
Although, it is also said that these tests which are known as NIPTs, assess risk and are not as definitive when compared to other traditional diagnostics. As a result of which some false positives do occur.
Do you think that these prenatal tests will benefit the future generations? Let us know in the comment section below.
(Image Courtesy: 1. Natera, 2. San Francisco: Natera(Featured Image Courtesy)