20 Jul 2017


Life Lab Nurtures Early Stage Startup Day Zero Diagnostics

Re: Jong Lee (MBA 1999); Steve Pagliuca (MBA 1982); Judy Pagliuca (MBA 1983)

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Melis Anahtar in the Life Lab

If you’ve ever been hospitalized with an infection and had to wait days for test results and a treatment plan, you understand the problems that Day Zero Diagnostics (DZD) is addressing. The company is one of the 14 inaugural startups in the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, a recent addition to the Harvard Innovation Labs ecosystem. DZD comprises a multi-disciplinary team of Harvard affiliates whose expertise in medicine, genome sequencing, and machine learning is helping doctors diagnose infectious diseases more quickly and accurately.

“Antibiotic resistance is on the rise. It’s one of the greatest threats that human health is facing today,” says Miriam Huntley, a DZD cofounder who focuses on computational approaches to genomic analysis. “Patients with severe infections can die within hours, but current diagnostics take two days or longer.” During that time, doctors often treat patients with powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics that can have negative side effects. Ironically, this can lead to more antibiotic resistance, requiring the creation of ever more powerful antibiotics.

DZD’s diagnostic is designed to help combat that cycle by giving physicians the ability to treat patients with targeted therapeutics within hours of being admitted to the hospital—on Day Zero. The five-member founding team includes two MD PhDs who specialize in infectious disease (Doug Kwon) and clinical pathology (Melis Anahtar), two PhDs who specialize in genomics (Huntley), and machine learning (Dougal Maclaurin), and Jong Lee (MBA 1999), a former consultant and startup executive with extensive experience in the medical technology space.

“There is a huge unmet clinical need for what we are doing,” says Lee, who serves as CEO. That potential has led to several early successes since the company’s founding in 2016. In addition to being accepted into the Harvard Innovation Labs, DZD has won several new venture competitions, including the New England HBS Alumni New Venture Competition, and was recently selected for the MassChallenge and MedTech Innovators accelerator programs. This summer, they also closed their first round of venture financing.

Day Zero Diagnostics founders Jong Lee (MBA 1999), Miriam Huntley (PhD 2016), Doug Kwon, MD PhD (HMS faculty), Dougal Maclaurin (PhD 2016), and Melis Anahtar (PhD 2015, MD 2017)

The team, which moved into the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab when the facility opened in November 2016, appreciates the state-of-the-art lab space and the community of innovators who are tackling important life science problems. “The question is always how to marshal resources that take on huge challenges in a meaningful way. The Life Lab and the i-lab have given us the opportunity to do just that,” says Lee, who explains that the amount of capital required to do complex wet lab science is an order of magnitude more than what a typical software venture needs. “The Life Lab bridges that gap for hard-science startups.”

(photos by Susan Young)

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