Daniel Lunz has always had a passion for serving others. After seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he took this passion in a totally new direction: developing a potentially life-saving cancer detection test.
Daniel’s bachelor’s degree is in kinesiology (the study of human movement) and exercise science, and his interest in the life sciences was confirmed when he spent a few months recovering from the stress of his service in a veterans hospital.
There, Daniel ran exercise classes for his fellow veterans. “I found I have a real purpose serving others, and that gives me an enormous amount of fulfillment,” he notes.
Daniel’s second passion is entrepreneurship, which he discovered after founding a precious metals company during his bachelor’s degree program.
“I learned so much starting and developing the business, but I eventually felt a void because there was no higher purpose beyond building a profitable business,” he recalls.
A desire to fuse his two passions led Daniel to an MBA at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School (JHU Carey).
Studying at a university renowned for its medical school and hospital allowed Daniel to further pursue his interest in health care.
A new partnership
Besides studying for his MBA, Daniel walked away from his business and took up an entry clinical research assistant’s role at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, working with lung cancer patients. It wasn’t long before Daniel was recruited to a new position, working with Hopkins investigators to develop multisite clinical trials.
While in this job, Daniel attended a medical faculty meeting, where he made an important connection.
“While I was there, I heard Dr. Stephen Meltzer speak about the technology he’d developed, which he believed could save many lives,” Daniel recalls.
It was a simple test, consisting of a small capsule on a string that patients swallow. In the stomach, the capsule releases a sponge, which gathers about half a million cells.
When the sponge is retrieved after three minutes, the DNA inside these cells is analyzed by patented technology.
“We can detect esophageal cancer, and more importantly, we can detect people who are pre-cancerous and even predict the likelihood of their condition becoming cancerous,” Daniel explains. “The hope is we can totally prevent the cancer in these people.”
Although Stephen’s research was impressive, he faced an enormous challenge: how to get this technology into the hands of doctors.
“That resonated with me,” Daniel reflects. “His passion for serving others really spoke to me.”
Inspired by Stephen’s work, Daniel decided to approach him. He offered to work with Stephen to evaluate the market potential of this technology.
“Originally, we had no plan for starting a business,” says Daniel.
But after a few months looking into the needs of physicians and patients, as well as the medical device market, Daniel and Stephen saw some real opportunities.
Rather than license Stephen’s technique to an interested public medical company, they decided that starting a business themselves would be the best way to get this potentially life-saving technology to patients. They decided to call the business Capsulomics.
Bringing innovations to market
Brining a new cancer test to market is a huge endeavor, Daniel reveals. One of the biggest challenges he faced was getting to know the medical- tech ecosystem intimately.
“There are so many stakeholders to consider: regulators, insurance providers, physicians, and patients,” Daniel notes. “And then there are normal challenges that come with starting a business.”
Faculty at JHU Carey and the wider university have been an important source of support in overcoming these challenges, Daniel says.
He and Stephen have been working with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV), an organization that aims to make innovations at the university accessible to society, throughout the development process.
The Discovery to Market course offered in the JHU Carey MBA program was another valuable resource, Daniel says.
This experiential learning course takes students through the journey from scientific discovery to market entry.
“That covers FDA approval, your business model, competition, opportunities, sizing the market, and developing partnerships—a lot of pieces I now use in practice,” Daniel explains.
Discovery to Market also introduced him to one of his most stalwart supporters, Associate Professor Toby Gordon.
“She always called our business ‘SpongeBob,’” Daniel says with a laugh. “She was such a supporter. That has been really valuable, because she’s so well-connected throughout the medical ecosystem.
“Having people like her really sets Johns Hopkins and the JHU Carey Business School apart,” Daniel says.
The future of Capsulomics
Capsulomics has received several grants, investment funding, and has received plenty of attention. For Daniel, though, the most fulfilling aspect of his work is the feedback he gets from patients and physicians.
“Nothing beats receiving a cold call or an email from a patient or physician saying they want to be a part of this, or asking how they can gain access to this tech,” he says.
“We’re focused on meeting some important milestones, right now, such as conducting a few different multisite clinical research studies, and meeting with regulators and insurance payors,” Daniel explains.
He says he hopes this work will make the technology widely available in the near future. “At the end of the day, the reason we started this business was because we wanted to build a business that can make a positive difference; and working with such an amazing team on this has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life” he concludes.