Huntington Insights: West Michigan | Business Spotlight | Spring 2018

Improving genetic screening with NxGen MDx

How NxGen MDx innovates to better serve patients and physicians

By By Brooke Bilyj

When NxGen MDx launched in 2012, genetic screening laboratories were immersed, says CEO Alan Mack, in an “ongoing arms race.” As technology rapidly advanced, labs leapfrogged one another by introducing new tests, each looking at a few more genetic mutations than the last. One test might have better screening sensitivity for cystic fibrosis carriers within the Hispanic population, while another had better screening sensitivity for the African-American population.

Mack set out to build a comprehensive arsenal of genetic screening tests that offered a more complete assessment of disease risk to allow people to make informed decisions about reproduction.

“Eventually, somebody was going to come up with a test that looked at the entire gene, so we pushed to do it at NxGen,” Mack says. “We were the first company to use next-generation sequencing to do carrier screening on the whole gene.”

Rather than just looking at specific genetic sequences associated with certain conditions, NxGen screens the entire gene to analyze overall risk and has applied this technology to more than 118 diseases. As a result, NxGen’s clinical detection rate exceeds 99 percent accuracy, and its tests find more disease carriers than the competition – in some cases, up to 75 percent more. This comprehensive approach to genetic screening helps couples understand their risk of passing hereditary conditions on to their children, ultimately guiding them to make more informed family planning decisions.


Culture of innovation

Innovative technology is critical to NxGen’s service, but Mack believes that the people behind the technology are the company’s true competitive advantage.

"We hire people who are experts in what they do,” Mack says. Whether they are Certified Molecular Medical Technologists who work in the lab, or genetic counselors who work closely with patients and physicians to explain test results, he relies on them to keep NxGen on the cutting edge.

For example, lab techs take turns researching and presenting ideas to the rest of the team in monthly meetings. “One thing that really puts us ahead of our competition is that our techs come up with amazing ideas to push the limits of how we do things in the lab,” Mack says.

Clinical innovation is one thing, but the key to NxGen’s service is having “an army of genetic counselors that are readily available to help physicians and patients understand test results,” he says.

NxGen constantly innovates to make its service easier for patients and physicians to use. Instead of expecting physicians to explain genetic screening results to their patients, for example, NxGen takes charge of that conversation.

"We call the patient and say, ‘We’ve got your results back. Do you have any questions?’ If they do, we schedule a meeting with one of our genetic counselors,” Mack says. “That takes the results off the physician’s hands; they don’t have to sit down with the patient because we put them in the hands of our experts.”

NxGen also eliminates the need for follow-up testing if a test comes back positive. “If a patient tests positive, most of our competition requires the physician to bring the patient or their partner back in to have blood drawn, which is more difficult than you’d think,” Mack says. “We send a collection kit directly to the patient’s home. It’s usually a cheek swab or a mouthwash; they do it, pop it back in the envelope, and it’s overnighted back to our lab. We try to make it as easy as possible for everyone.”

“One thing that really puts us ahead of our competition is that our techs come up with amazing ideas to push the limits of how we do things in the lab.” – Alan Mack, CEO, NxGen MDx

Growth potential

By simplifying the process to make advanced genetic screening technology easier for clients, NxGen has seen rapid growth averaging between 40 to 50 percent annually. With nearly 100 employees, NxGen is licensed in every state except New York, which Mack expects to add. The company currently works exclusively through physicians’ offices but is exploring opportunities in direct-to-patient testing.

“The biggest challenge we have right now is growing at a pace that’s sustainable,” Mack says. “If I were to hire 10 salespeople right now, the testing volume would overwhelm my laboratory, so we have to grow at a pace that the laboratory can continue to scale with. We’ve taken a more conservative approach to growth; instead of ‘build it and they will come,’ we are building it as they come.”

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Taking a chance

Without Huntington, NxGen MDx might not exist. “Huntington is part of the reason I’m here,” says CEO Alan Mack. “It was through their lending that I was able to launch NxGen. They took a chance on me when other banks wouldn't.”

Thanks to Huntington, NxGen experienced quick success. The genetic screening company was cash-flow positive within 10 months, profitable within 11, and debt free within the first year.

Now six years in, this financial relationship is still critical to NxGen’s growth. The company meets with Huntington bankers every few weeks to review its deposits, receivables financing, line of credit and future acquisition plans.

“Huntington has frequently proven themselves an excellent business bank,” Mack says. “They know what’s going on in our company, they know how we’re growing, and they’re looking to the future to make sure our borrowing needs are being addressed. They really help us in every aspect on the financial side of the business.”

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