Cunningham has hired Shruti Bagla, a former research scientist and genomics consultant at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, to lead RapidBio's product development and expand the company's reach beyond COVID-19 testing.
In recent months, the company has expanded to 65 employees and is attempting to ramp up to 130 in the first quarter of this year.
Bagla is performing R&D with the company's PCR machines — which are able to find five genomic copies of the coronavirus among hundreds of thousands of cells — to find alternative uses for different infection testing.
PCR machines can sequence the samples in only a matter of days, compared to the traditional validation methods that take upward of two weeks. This presents the ability to find genetic mutations in cells and identify diseases in fetuses earlier, among other uses.
For now, though, the company is signing contracts with physicians' offices and nursing homes to identify STDs and urinary tract infections, a surprisingly lucrative business due to the aging population.
Competitors Orchard Laboratories in West Bloomfield, which performs COVID testing for the Oakland County Health Department among others, also expanded into the same area.
Its non-COVID-related growth has also been exponential. For example, in the first quarter of 2021, COVID infections fell after the fall and winter surge in 2020, and testing needs plummeted. But Orchard Labs managed to have the best first quarter in its eight years in business, Crain's reported in September.
"We always segregate the COVID numbers out of our planning," said Faisal Ahmad, vice president of Orchard Laboratories. "We know that's not sustainable, but we continue to use it as a way to leverage relationships."
The company is looking toward major expansion efforts, including a direct-to-consumer product similar to the genetic testing for 23andMe, but for medical conditions such as high cholesterol or other common lab tests.
RapidBio expects to stay in the diagnostic testing lane, Cunningham said. "We want to be a precision diagnostics company and grow it much, much larger," he said.
Those new molecular tests could shorten the time it takes to grow bacterial cultures, which could, for example, help long-term care facilities more precisely treat infections like UTIs and avoid antibiotic resistance.
"We can help physicians diagnose what the disease is and what the bug is and what antibiotic will work and what won't work, Cunningham said. "That has a huge impact on reproductive health."
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.