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He Felt Your Pain

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Brian Meshkin sought a way to help doctors make better decisions in the specialty of pain management, acting on the desire in 2009 when he created Irvine-based Proove Biosciences Inc.

Meshkin, Proove’s founder and chief executive, was one of five winners honored by the Business Journal at its 15th annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards at a March 10 luncheon at Hotel Irvine (see profiles of the other winners, pages 6, 10 and 13).

The company performs genetic testing in a laboratory on its Irvine Spectrum campus, examining samples primarily gathered through patient cheek swabs to analyze their DNA.

“[We] provide proof, or information, to help doctors to make better decisions, more informed decisions. We do that by collecting information on a patient and analyzing their genetics,” Meshkin said, adding that Proove is able to show such things as patients’ pain thresholds and response to medications.

Meshkin said Proove’s testing, besides allowing for better pain management and proper medication choices, can prevent potential addiction to prescription opioid painkillers.

“My wife, [Catherine], and I, she would oftentimes talk about her pregnancies—we have three children—and how she didn’t respond to pain medications,” he said.

Meshkin, who previously worked at companies such as New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson and Johnson and Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly & Co., said his wife’s experience led him to realize that the biggest problem in the healthcare system wasn’t cost, quality or even access. The challenge was in “the way we make decisions. So I figured there’s got to be a way to be able to improve the way doctors make decisions. That became the genesis of Proove.”

The company started in the Meshkins’ home. “Our employees would all work around the dining room table, doing data entry, processing on specimens that were literally shipped to our door,” Meshkin said of the early days.

Proove’s company name is “intentionally misspelled. We put two Os in Proove—it’s because we provide proof to improve healthcare decisions,” Meshkin explained.

Proove is tackling a big market.

“Pain is the most prevalent healthcare condition in the United States. It’s also the most expensive healthcare condition in the United States, more expensive than cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined,” Meshkin, wearing a purple-checked shirt, sweater, jeans and driving loafers, said last week during an interview in his corner office on a recent rainy morning.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that the annual cost of pain to U.S. society, including healthcare costs, ranged from $560 billion to $635 billion in 2010 dollars. That easily eclipsed heart disease, at $309 billion; cancer, at $243 billion; and diabetes, at $188 billion.

Proove has grown fast over the past four years. It has gone from three workers and 150 tests in 2011 to 200,000 tests and 250 workers last year.

The privately held company has been profitable every year since its inception, according to Michelle Burt, Proove’s manager of corporate administration. Meshkin estimates its 2016 revenue will be $35 million to $45 million.

It bills commercial insurers, Medicaid, Medicare and other government programs for its services, which are ordered by doctors as part of a patient’s treatment plan.

Meshkin funded Proove out of his own pocket, choosing not to raise outside capital in its early stages.

“After about 18 months, I had spent about all the money that I had. It was really stressful and really tough. My wife had just finished law school, we had three young kids, and I had exhausted a lot of the consulting that I had set up to pay the bills,” he said.

The family moved from Maryland to California in 2011 to take advantage of worker skills and expertise. Meshkin said he often spent 20 hours a day driving throughout Central and Southern California to sell Proove’s concept to doctors and to collect samples, leading him to another “seminal moment”—a chat with his wife as he sat with his back against the bathtub.

“My wife was like, ‘We’ve risked so much time and money to make this happen that you’ve got to do it.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do it.’ She’s like, ‘Well, then do it for me, and do it for the kids, and do it for the mission that you said you have,’” Meshkin recalled with a chuckle. “That gave me that extra oomph that I needed.”

Proove got its first outside financing last year when it obtained a $3.5 million convertible note from Leavitt Equity Partners, a firm founded by company director Michael Leavitt, a former Utah governor and U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services.

The company is now raising a Series A round of capital that Meshkin said he hopes to close on this summer.

Meshkin holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Maryland-College Park. He was recently selected as president and executive director of the Ladera Ranch Education Foundation, which promotes arts, innovation and education achievement for schools in the south OC community.

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