Arkansas Genomics Shifts to Molecular Medicine to Find New Customer Base

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Apr. 8, 2013 12:00 am  

Arkansas Genomics was founded to be the state’s first and only dedicated forensic DNA testing lab. But despite filling a niche, the business has had trouble turning a profit, and founder Jimmy Threet is pushing the lab in a new direction: personalized medicine.

The 6,000-SF lab in Little Rock came into being in 2011. Threet is a veteran chemist, having worked for the Arkansas Department of Health and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. His first experience with DNA testing was at the FDA, where he started doing research on mad cow disease by examining animal proteins found in cattle feed.

During this experience he realized there was a market for labs that analyze DNA samples from crime scenes for use in criminal investigations. Having no business training at all, Threet went to the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and took two $25 classes.

“I bought three new suits, this projector and a laptop,” Threet said. “I wrote a business plan and started pitching it to people.”

Threet found a handful of private investors willing to support his project. He sold about 40 percent of his project for $780,000 and secured a $600,000 Small Business Administration loan from the Bank of England.

Threet had to spend the lab’s entire first year on the expensive and time-consuming process of accreditation.

“From 2011 to 2012 we were basically under the radar performing a year’s worth of accreditation studies,” Threet said. “In the forensic world, you have to do thousands of DNA tests on sample matrices.”

Sample tests could be semen on a bedsheet, blood on cotton, blood on a linen shirt and so forth. So because the lab couldn’t make any money that first year, Threet depended entirely on his investors.

“We needed a lot of money to do a lot of testing that wouldn’t generate any revenue at all just to do DNA testing for state crime labs,” he said. “It was a huge, huge mountain to climb. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Testing kits are expensive, and we had to do testing to prove that instruments and staff can do what they need to do to generate probative DNA results.”

Once everything was ready, Arkansas Genomics had a staff with about 50 years of combined experience and was prepared to perform about 23,000 forensic tests per month.

The Challenge

Unfortunately, finding clients proved difficult.

 

 

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