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Seattle brothers expand billion-dollar biotech company's focus to include COVID

Akash Pasricha, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

"Harlan will build it and Chad will sell it," Karen Robins recalled her late husband, Larry, often saying.

After college, Harlan pursued science and research at "The Hutch," while Chad went into finance and real estate. At a San Diego conference in 2009, Harlan presented a discovery he made on how to analyze the genetic content of the immune system. After dozens of professors flocked to ask him about the technology, Harlan called Chad from the hotel pool and pitched him on starting a business.

While the company is losing money on every COVID-19 test it does, it sees this work as an "obligation." The entire company is still "a few years" from profitability, Chad Robins said.

Adaptive primarily sells its technology to academics and drugmakers. Dr. Whitney Harrington, an infectious disease researcher at Seattle Children's Research Institute uses Adaptive to study the transfer of immune cells from mothers to babies through the placenta and breast milk. Other tools offer her details about immune cells that Adaptive can't. But Harrington said a key advantage to Adaptive's service is she can readily access results online and is less dependent on a computational biologist to generate initial insights.

Another category of customers includes physicians who help diagnose diseases. They are a "growing proportion" of the company's revenue, said Chad Robins. For example, Adaptive can help cancer patients detect lingering tumor cells well after they have undergone treatment.

One challenge with diagnostic testing is obtaining reimbursement from "an insurance system that is not designed to favor preventive care and screening," said Evan Lodes, a partner at New York-based Senator Investment Group, which invested in Adaptive in 2015.

 

"Ultimately, what we hope to do is get this blood test into primary care," said Chad Robins. Still, he noted that was likely still five years away.

Lodes isn't worried. He said therapeutics for immunology and infectious diseases today sell more than $100 billion annually. "The opportunity set is so large ... it would be a shame to prioritize near-term profitability" over growth, he said.

'Astonishing' entrepreneurship at Fred Hutch

Juno and Adaptive's tremendous growth has prompted Fred Hutchinson to find ways to replicate their success.

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