The premise behind Tasso’s blood gathering device is simple: People will prefer an at-home collection process where they place a push-button device on their upper arm rather than somebody else in an office poking an intimidating needle at their vein.
Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic and a push toward more in-home medical care and the reasons the Seattle-based company just generated $17 million in funding quickly come together. Especially with hospitals and government agencies seeking ways to hasten home testing for COVID-19 and keep people away from hospitals dealing with more serious pandemic emergencies.
“I think the pandemic has really caused a fundamental shift in the way that people are thinking of services such as these,” Tasso co-founder and CEO Ben Casavant said ahead of his company’s Wednesday announcement of the better-than-expected haul from its latest funding round. “It really just changed the importance around this.”
Though the telemedicine market last year was valued at $6.61 billion and patients can meet with their physicians over video, most people still must drive to a hospital or laboratory for basic blood tests. Tasso, founded in 2011 by Casavant and Erwin Berthier, hopes to rapidly change that by using the new funding to ramp up production of its clinical-grade Tasso OnDemand testing kits — both at its current Interbay production facility and a soon-to-be-announced expanded site nearby.
Tasso has grown from 12 to 35 employees since January and anticipates reaching 100 later this year.
When the pandemic began, the company was producing about 1,000 testing kits a month. By year’s end, Casavant expects that monthly figure to reach 150,000 as medical professionals, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies increase use of the devices.
Overnight, he added, physicians went from viewing at-home care as “something nice, something interesting” to where one UW doctor confessed to him: “It’s unsafe for my patients to come into a hospital right now.”
The company’s testing device includes a red button about the size of a poker chip that sticks to the upper arm with an adhesive. When the button is pressed, a vacuum forms and a lancet pierces the skin and draws blood from the capillaries into a detachable sample pod.
The pod is then mailed to a lab.
Casavant said the three-minute process is relatively painless compared to a typical blood-drawing needle because that part of the arm has fewer nerve endings and no veins are being pierced.
Among those using Tasso’s devices are the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which in April began a CovidWatch program to track things like infection rates, how long it takes an infected person to shed the virus and whether a person can become re-infected by it. The study asks volunteers to submit monthly blood samples using the devices to perform antibody testing on them.
Last year, Tasso raised $6.1 million in a prior funding round. It has now raised a total of $38.6 million from investors and government grants.
The latest funding round, led by Hambrecht Ducera Growth Ventures, included participation from Foresite Capital, Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, Vertical Venture Partners, Techstars and Cedars-Sinai. As part of the investment, Elizabeth Hambrecht, partner at Hambrecht Ducera Growth Ventures, has joined Tasso’s board of directors.
The funding push began shortly before the pandemic struck in February. Casavant said the pandemic “changed the urgency around services such as these” and, in turn, boosted the company’s credibility with investors realizing the way people access medical care is changing dramatically. The company quickly pivoting to “get our product out and into people’s hands as quickly as possible to really demonstrate its potential” also swayed investor momentum, he said.