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NeuroQure Targets Earlier Autism Detection

A skin sample could detect autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children as early as when they’re newborns, allowing for earlier treatment.

NeuroQure, an Irvine-based biotech startup, acquired a patent portfolio last month from the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Autism Research and Translation (CART) with this patented technique.

“The investment that we’ve made in this technology reflects the potential impact that these patents have on advancing the field of autism diagnostics and treatment,” Chief Executive Dave Justus told the Business Journal.

The portfolio contains over eight years of research developed by John Gargus, co-founder and scientist at NeuroQure, during his tenure as director of CART.

With the acquisition of the patents, NeuroQure says it’s on track to bring a set of diagnostic tools for ASD to market sometime this year.

Terms of the acquisition were undisclosed.

Patented Technique

The average age of ASD diagnosis in the U.S. is 5 years old, according to Justus.

“Current diagnostic technologies are either delivered too late or are not accurate,” he said.
NeuroQure’s patented calcium signaling technique is said to have an 85% accuracy rate for determining probability for ASD within a few weeks of birth.

The technique was developed at UCI’s CART, which launched in 2012 with $14.8 million in funding from the William & Nancy Thompson Family Foundation and the Children & Families Commission of Orange County.

The research in the patents centers around the neuroscience behind an ASD diagnosis.
Calcium plays a large role in neurons communicating with one another. This calcium signaling process also drives a host of other cell functions related to learning and memory, among others.

Children with a high probability for ASD were seen to have a low calcium signal, according to Gargus.

Gargus and his team discovered that you could see this mechanism not just in neurons but also skin cells from biopsies or discarded foreskin, a readily available resource for researchers.

“It’s exactly the kind of cells we need and right now they just throw it in the garbage can,” Gargus said.

While there is no known cure for ASD, Justus says it is treatable.

The other half of NeuroQure’s mission focuses on treatments for ASD in addition to diagnostics.

NeuroQure works with nonprofit organizations like The Autism Community in Action that provides education and support to individuals and their families post-diagnosis.

“The earlier that treatment begins, the better the outcomes for the children and families affected by this disorder,” Justus said.

Tebra CFO

Prior to NeuroQure, Justus spent his career growing software companies and sold three businesses in the last 15 years.

He brings five years of experience as former chief financial officer for Newport Beach-based healthcare software company Tebra Technologies Inc., previously Kareo Inc., where he helped increase the company’s valuation from $196 million to over $1 billion.

Justus made the decision to leave Tebra to start NeuroQure with Gargus early last year.
“I think this is the culmination of my life’s work, combining my passions for technology and healthcare,” Justus said.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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