As Dr. Stephen J. Meltzer was speaking at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Daniel Lunz took note.
Meltzer, a professor of medicine and oncology at the East Baltimore institution, was reporting on the results of research into the early detection of esophageal cancer. What further caught the ear of Lunz, who as an MBA student at the time, was Meltzer’s passion that the technology could make an impact for patients if it were expanded beyond Hopkins.
So Lunz approached Meltzer about helping to expand access to the technology. As they explored potential avenues, they connected over what Lunz called a “servant’s spirit” — Meltzer practices as a physician as he continues to lead research, and Lunz is a Marine Corps veteran.
They soon decided that starting a company was the best way to move forward, and became cofounders of Capsulomics in 2019. After working with Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures to license technology last year, the three-member team based out of the LifeBridge Health Bioincubator at North Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital is working to bring early detection tests to market for esophageal cancer, and a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus (BE).
“We’re working with all of the stakeholders we can to better serve patients,” Lunz, who is CEO of the company, said. “We want to develop a company that can really get out there and help save lives.”
The startup was recently named a collaborator on a $3.7 million project through a five-year NIH Academic-Industrial Partnership grant awarded to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The collaborative research study will expand testing to more patients. It will also provide important information to further develop the technology, Lunz said.
It is developing a DNA test that can be administered in a typical doctor’s office. A particular focus is on patients with chronic acid reflux, which number 18 million in the U.S. Patients with this condition are recommended to undergo a preventative screening since there is a risk of developing BE, but less than 10% currently do, according to the company. The currently available procedure to test for the conditions, called upper endoscopy, is often not undertaken unless specific symptoms are present. That means that most patients do not receive an early diagnosis.
Catching cancer early improves the chances for effectively treating it. With the ability to detect a precursor condition, Lunz said it could also mean preventing cancer from developing altogether.