Former Apple exec launches at-home blood test startup

Bob Messerschmidt knows a little about health and wellness tech, having spent three years helping architect the Apple Watch platform after Apple quietly acquired his spectroscopy company, Rare Light, in 2010. (The terms were undisclosed.)

Messerschmidt also knew when he left Apple to found a new company that it would again involve smartphones. After all, he reasoned, they’re starting to help us track not just our general wellness but also our responses to medicine and other treatments. The bigger question was which chronic condition he would tackle and before long, he settled on Cor, a now two-year-old, San Francisco-based, consumer-facing startup that helps measure heart health, all with just a tiny drop of blood.

Before you start worrying that Cor is a young Theranos, the embattled blood testing company, it’s worth noting that there are many meaningful differences between the two companies. For one thing, Cor wants people to test themselves in their own homes, using an appliance the size of an electric toothbrush and disposable cartridges. Their blood chemistry information is then sent “into the cloud,” analyzed, and results are beamed backed to users within five minutes, along with helpful tips about how to improve them.

Which raises another important point: Cor isn’t trying to tell its users anything definitive. “Theranos is trying to provide diagnostic numbers,” notes Messerschmidt. “We’re not. We’re not a medical device company. We’re providing life style guidance.”

It’s trying to be as transparent as possible about how, too, unlike Theranos. To wit, though Cor’s product isn’t a medical device, Cor has validated its model and methods in a clinical trial run by a third-party clinical research organization. Cor is now publishing those results in order to allow peer review and promote understanding of its approach.

Of course, the companies’ funding pictures are also very different. Theranos has reportedly raised $400 million. Cor — which employs just three people but has an impressive advisory board that includes longtime investor Bob Bozeman and  Thomas Quertermous, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford — has raised $1.03 million in seed funding. (As for valuation, an Indiegogo campaign that’s kicking off this morning should help both Cor and potential investors understand a lot more about its value and whether the company is on the right track.)

Despite Messerschmidt’s background, Cor’s success is far from assured. For one thing, the device isn’t cheap at $299, plus another per $10 per month for cartridges. (Early adopters at its Indiegogo campaign are being asked to pay $149, which includes a three-month supply of cartridges.)

It’s also an open question of just how often people want insights about their own wellness, as well as how keen they’ll be to draw their own blood on a weekly basis. It’s a much bigger commitment than, say, slapping on a wearable fitness tracker like the FitBit.

Messerschmidt says Cor’s product features a “very fine needle” that gets poked in one’s arm, saying it’s “similar to what you use for glucose [testing]. It really doesn’t hurt at all.”

Messerschmidt acknowledges that people’s ambivalence about their own health is another issue to overcome. Still, he says, “For people who want to try, we provide support,” including via the feedback of Cor’s other customers, who will be asked to answer occasional, anonymized survey questions about their results and the ways they are improving on them. (Cor hopes that once it has a larger database of such insights, they can be used to help inform the lifestyle choices of its other users.)

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Certainly, it’s a huge market Cor is targeting. Roughly 25 percent of the adult population has one of the early warning signs of heart disease. Meanwhile, a much smaller segment of super-fit people might be drawn to the device to wring as much performance from themselves as they can.

Cor gives users a fibrinogen number, for example, that’s particularly helpful for people who are in intense fitness training. Other blood chemistries related to cardiovascular that Cor processes are HDL and LDL cholesterol levels (meaning users’ “good” and “bad” cholesterol) and a type of fat in the blood called triglycerides.

Cor measures the numbers but it doesn’t report them to users. Instead it gives them insights based on its analysis so they can make better choices in terms of supplements, diet and exercise.

“If you’re just reporting numbers, once [someone’s ] numbers are not improving, the device just goes into the sock drawer,” says Messerschmidt.

Messerschmidt is hoping they’ll keep Cor’s device on the bathroom counter instead.

To learn more, you can find Cor’s Indiegogo campaign here.