CEO Nick Traggis is working to scale manufacturing as the healthcare market demands faster point-of-care diagnostics.
Eric Peterson, November 8, 2021
Traggis started working with LightDeck Diagnostics founder Chris Myatt at a previous endeavor, Precision Photonics, a Boulder-based manufacturer of laser optics, in the early 2000s.
Originally named MBio Diagnostics, LightDeck began as a “skunkworks effort” inside Precision.
“I ended up taking over the reins there at Precision Photonics around the time Chris started focusing on the core IP that became LightDeck Diagnostics,” says Traggis. “We ended up selling Precision Photonics in 2012 and spinning LightDeck into a formal entity at that time.”
After serving as the chief technology officer of IDEX, the company that acquired Precision, and consulting for a stint, Traggis reunited with Myatt at LightDeck in 2017 and took over as CEO in July 2021.
LightDeck’s photonics-based technology accelerates diagnostic tests and ultimately reduces costs. “It’s really this laser-based illumination where we’re using what’s called waveguide technology,” says Traggis. “That waveguide technology allows us to illuminate the sample in a manner that is less sensitive to the typical junk that might float around in somebody’s blood. We’re able to illuminate the sample faster without the additional process steps that are typically required.”
Preceding point-of-care diagnostic systems have had trouble balancing accuracy and cost. “The trick is to meet the performance requirements of your central laboratory testing while still having the affordability and cost structure that makes sense to move to the point of care,” says Traggis. “That’s not a trivial challenge to solve. We think we have a platform that can do exactly that, but you see how long we’ve been working on it. It takes some time to get that to the point where we can truly offer a point-of-care test without compromise.”
After launching in the veterinary market with Heska and water quality with Hach, LightDeck’s products are in clinical trials for use in human patients, starting with COVID-19. “We’re in clinical trials right now for our COVID products, which will be the first human products that we launch,” says Traggis. “We expect to launch them at the beginning of next year . The big benefit we are bringing with those is our speed to test results. We’ll have the fastest COVID antigen test and antibody test on the market.”
The cartridge cost will be “in the $10 range,” and facilities will receive the hardware with contracts to buy cartridges. “Think of it as a razor/razor blade model,” says Traggis. “We’re happy to give away the razor if you buy enough razor blades.”
It often makes sense for the insurers that are often writing the checks for the testing, he adds. “The economics are quite favorable.”
Traggis became CEO in July 2021, days after the company announced a $35 million contract with the U.S. Air Force in conjunction with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
LightDeck is building out a new 65,000-square-foot manufacturing facility the company is leasing in Longmont; Traggis expects the company will be fully operational by fall 2022. The Longmont plant will produce the cartridges. The hardware — currently manufactured in-house ath LightDeck’s headquarters in Boulder — will likely be contracted out to a local partner for the long term.
“The cartridge manufacturing — which is the bulk of our volume — will move to this facility in Longmont,” says Traggis. “Our goal when this facility is up and online, is we’ll have the capacity to produce 1 million cartridges a month, or 12 million a year. That’s the consumable.”
“We like to own and be good at the consumable — that’s where our secret sauce is, if you will — and we decided it makes the most sense to outsource the instruments and maintain control of the cartridge manufacturing.”
With a supply chain that drafts off of manufacturers of consumer electronics and specialized optics, LightDeck will launch the Longmont facility with a staff of about 30 employees, but Traggis says he expects that will grow to about 200 by late 2023. “We more than double in output and all kinds of other metrics — number of cartridges shipped, revenue, et cetera — but one of the nice benefits of the award that we received from BARDA is it allowed us to apply a lot of automation to how we manufacture our cartridges a lot sooner than if we were just organically growing it.”
Challenges: “Obviously, getting this facility up and running is a key goal for us,” says Traggis. “The other one is simply navigating COVID. You’ve read the news. We have these variants and ebbs and flows in the present. We are making sure that we are making a test that is robust enough to cover all of that. You have to anticipate what the virus is going to do and make sure our test can handle future variants.”
He adds, “There are some tricks to navigating the regulatory process to make sure we’re putting the best test forward that we can without compromising the speed to getting it on the market.”
Opportunities: “COVID is how we get our foot in the door for human markets, but there are opportunities past that I’m frankly more excited about,” says Traggis. “There’s an absolute need to have good point-of-care testing for COVID. We’ve all lived it — trying to go back to work, or putting a kid back in school, and waiting for results to know if we can — but there are future tests that are frankly harder than a COVID test that are really where we want to be applying our technology.”
One is a test that detects inflammatory markers that arise with cardiac events. “We can tell if you are having a heart attack very, very quickly,” says Traggis. “That allows emergency rooms to do triage on patients and make the determination before they’ve admitted someone, whereas right now many of their test protocols require you to hospitalize a person for a period of time to get those results back. That’s very expensive, because the majority of those people aren’t actually having a heart attack, they’re having something else that you can treat them for at a much lower cost.”
Needs: “My focus as CEO is always on two things,” says Traggis. “I want to find really good people and I need to continue to find money to support them as we continue to grow as a high-growth company.” He says a Series C of about $30 million is expected to close by the end of 2021.