April 12, 2023

Episode 1: Revolutionizing How Clinicians Detect Infections in Immunocompromised Patients 

Karius’ story is all about equipping doctors with the right information, for the right patient, at the right time. For most immunocompromised patients, it’s a matter (quite literally) of life or death.
When Alec Ford’s daughter was just a toddler, she suffered with asthma and caught a viral infection that led to secondary bacterial infections and was hospitalized multiple times. Alec says he watched doctors try to help his daughter, but the tools they had to figure out exactly how to provide the best anti-infective care for her were all a failure. “They couldn’t find the cause, they’d get the antibiotic wrong. I held her hand as they put her to sleep through multiple bronchoscopies, which as a new parent, you can imagine, just terrifies you to no end,” Alec says. “That’s why I’m at this company. It was this chance to be a part of changing something that was very personal to me.”
Alec, who graduated from Stanford University and has more than 30 years of experience at top biopharma companies, including Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, Nektar Therapeutics, and Myriad Genetics, is now CEO of Karius. Karius developed the trademarked Karius Test, a non-invasive liquid biopsy that can identify more than 1,500 pathogens—including the monkeypox virus—and helps clinicians identify the source of an infection in an immunocompromised patient, such as people who have cancer. Alec says that out of the 630,000 or so cancer deaths that occur every year in the U.S., over half of them are actually due to infection. And if the cause of something like pneumonia in someone who has cancer isn’t identified early on, their mortality rate goes up dramatically.

The Karius Test uses genomics and AI technologies and—from a single blood sample—can dramatically decrease the turnaround time to identify and diagnose an infection. “Infections in the body shed fragments of their DNA into the bloodstream. We actually find those little fragments of DNA in your bloodstream that are from the site of infection, whether it’s your brain or your spine or your pelvis or your gastrointestinal tract, or your heart. And we find those fragments and we tell people what that organism is that’s causing the infection,” Alec explains.

The test can also prevent patients from undergoing invasive procedures, such as nasal pharyngeal swabs, providing sputum samples, or having live organisms collected from their lungs, that can delay treatment for the most vulnerable hospitalized patients. While the test is currently only available for in-patient use in hospitals, the company is on the road to offering it on an outpatient basis in the future.

Karius recently raised $165 million from a Series B funding round and was recently named to the Forbes AI 50, a list of the most promising artificial intelligence companies. You can follow Alec Ford and Karius on LinkedIn.

Interested in becoming a member or joining us on the LifeLines podcast? Email [email protected].

Host: Chris Conner
Executive Producer: Marie Tutko
Senior Producer: Vincenzo Tarantino
Associate Producer: Lauren Panetta
Program & Research Coordinator: Katy Burgess
Transcripts By: Jessica Schneider
Senior Director of Marketing: Heather Ramsay
Graphic Design By: Raquel Papike