Ask for feedback early and often. Focus not just on the people who are going to buy your product, but the people who have done it before. You want to start your communications with experienced folks as early as possible.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Chiarello, Ph.D.
Ron Chiarello, Ph.D. has had a 25-year career designing, developing and manufacturing cutting-edge micro-fluidic, micro-electronics and semiconductor technologies. He founded Alveo Technologies in 2015 to develop innovative healthcare solutions that empower individuals around knowing their own health. Alveo recently won the $6M XPRIZE Rapid COVID Testing Competition for its be.well™ COVID-19 Test, an at-home infectious disease test initially focused on upper respiratory infections that can be adapted to detect a wide range of infectious diseases, saving countless lives and medical resources globally. Dr. Chiarello earned his Bachelor of Science in Physics at UC Santa Barbara and his Ph.D. in Physics from Northeastern University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a young boy watching the original Star Trek television series, I was fascinated by Dr. McCoy, who is on some exotic, far away world, and he’s got this medical tricorder that’s telling him everything he needs to know about humanoids. And I remember thinking, well, that’s really cool but we need that tricorder on Earth and everybody should have one. And that really stuck with me…this notion of empowerment of individuals around knowing their own health and having technology that can do that. And that’s why I launched my company, Alveo Technologies, in 2015.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’m a car buff and I attend car shows every so often. One day it hit me: my car has 200 sensors. I know everything about my car: tire pressure, fluid levels, brake wear. Just yesterday it told me, “I need an oil change. Take me to the dealership.” And it won’t stop bugging me until I do it! Every time I turn my engine on, it says, “Your attention and energy need to be here. Take me to the dealership to get new oil and a microfilter change.” Imagine if we had a similar system for our body where we could know at the molecular level whether we have a disease and, if so, what is the disease? What actions should I be taking? We treat our cars better than we treat our own bodies!
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I believe in growth, both for individuals and for organizations, be it a company, a university or a family. A system becomes the best version of itself through the collective manifestation of those individuals. Philosophically, we should be doing everything to help each other be the very best versions of ourselves. A specific example: Blame and criticism typically do not help someone become a better version of him or herself. Rather, we need constructive coaching, mentoring, making people feel aspirational, and giving them the space to be creative but balanced with routines and habits.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
I am passionate about using diagnostic technology for people to know their own health in real time and on their terms. And I want this for everybody, not just the elite or people who can afford it. Everyone should be able to know their health earlier and take steps to intervene so that a particular health event doesn’t worsen. You get, let’s say, a virus that’s connected to the common cold, and then that develops to the flu, which becomes pneumonia. No good, right? You’re getting worse and less and less healthy because you didn’t have early knowledge and an early intervention. And this applies to any disease, whether it’s cardiovascular, diabetes, dementia, infectious disease. Right now, my team and I are focused on developing a low-cost, high-performing and easy-to-use infectious disease testing platform, which we hope will empower people to test at home and obtain treatment at the earliest possible time — saving countless lives and medical resources globally.
How do you think this will change the world?
Being able to self-test early and often to know if you are sick will hopefully lessen the stress which leads to anxiety and depression around the fear of not knowing your health nor the health of people around you — elderly people, your family, your loved ones — who may infect you or be infected by you. We just witnessed a dual pandemic in terms of a mental health crisis along with an infectious disease crisis (COVID-19). We already had increasing suicide rates before the pandemic. The social isolation did not help. We are social creatures. We must interact with others. So again, being able to test, knowing your disease or health state so you can safely interact as a human is very critical in preventing mental health issues.
There is a potential drawback as we put people’s health data on record. For example, the segregation of people based on their health state (e.g. vaccinated vs. unvaccinated) could be an example of an unintended detrimental effect. We need to be aware of that and get out in front of it. Privacy and choice are key to how individuals share their data and how it can help the great good. We don’t want healthcare data to be used solely for profit. It has to circle back to the benefit of the individual.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The tipping point was when I discovered that Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is the number one killer of kids under the age of five worldwide. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children younger than one year of age in the United States. I have children and it touched me profoundly because this is something we can address and we can be part of the solution to prevent death.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
You cannot market an at-home, multiplex infectious disease testing platform without regulatory approval globally. So that means FDA in the U.S., CE mark registration in the European Union, and so on. Countries like India have their own process for regulatory approvals as well. So our vision is to make our infectious disease test kits simple enough, low-cost enough, and easy enough to manufacture that different regions can have their own supply. In addition to regulatory approvals, we need more capital to build manufacturing and distribution facilities so people who most need our test can access it.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I wish someone had told me:
- Big ideas are capital intensive. They need development, they need top talent, they need resources to be fully realized.
- Regulatory approvals take time. The approval process differs by region and can be unpredictable.
- Get out in front of clinical trials and regulatory approvals. Before you even have the product ready, hire experts in clinical trials and regulatory approvals and get their input on your product and your process very early on. Don’t wait.
- Be proactive with your partnerships. In our case, it’s with pharmaceutical companies and distribution partners. Be aggressive. Tell them what you’re doing early because you’re going to need their channels for your products.
- Ask for feedback early and often. Focus not just on the people who are going to buy your product, but the people who have done it before. You want to start your communications with experienced folks as early as possible.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
There are three main things: vision, discipline and service.
- Vision: You’ve got to stick with it. When I started Alveo in 2015, before the pandemic, at-home testing was a hard sell. Now, everyone’s like, “How soon can I get it?”
- Discipline: This covers everything from get up early, make your bed, clean your workspace, to the corporate rituals around how you execute on product development, manufacturing, regulatory approvals. Have the discipline to do the things that move the big idea forward every day.
- Service: Be of service to your employees, your customers, your strategic partners. That will then be returned to you because investors and strategic partners, your law firms, media firms, they all work for the company and the company works for them. At Alveo Technologies, what we’re trying to do is help relieve suffering, help people to be healthier, help people to live their best lives. That’s service.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
The market for rapid COVID-19 tests has thus far been defined by high costs, low accessibility, long times to treatment and inconsistent performance. We have the best technology that enables us to develop a high-performing, low-cost, easy-to-use infectious disease testing platform. High performance means it gives a result that allows either a treatment or an action. And that’s very, very important. For example, if you take an antigen test and you’re positive, nothing happens. You’re in quarantine until you get a molecular test like ours, and then you get the right treatment. Or if your results are negative for COVID or any other infectious disease, then you can get on a plane or go to a sports arena. Accurate, reliable performance is very important and is key to early intervention.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on [email protected] or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ron-chiarello-ph-d-529056127/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.