Six million dogs are diagnosed with cancer annually, so Raleigh-based Animal Cancer Dx sees a potentially big market for its early detection test. It’s the latest venture of Raleigh investor Chan Namgong, who is a former chief operating officer at the Johnson Automotive dealership group and owner of two startup businesses, Commercial Space Management and HomeCloud.
Namgong worked with Daniel Midkiff, a North Carolina State University research assistant, to develop the test. About 30 Triangle clinics and hospitals use the technology.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Seoul, South Korea, then moved to Raleigh when I was 15 in 2000. I’ve lived in Raleigh ever since. I went to Ravenscroft and got a business degree from UNC Chapel Hill.
You’ve called your dad your biggest influence. Tell us about him.
He started young as an entrepreneur, and sold furniture parts and made real estate investments in Korea. When we moved to the U.S., he bought a struggling clothing store, and made it very successful.
What has been your dad’s best advice?
He’s always believed in me and encouraged me to take risks. He would point out opportunities that I would dismiss otherwise. Had I not taken his advice, there could have been many times I would have regretted so much. His best advice has been “work hard and stay humble.”
What sparked your interest in animal cancer?
After my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I read a lot about cancer detection and cancer treatment. One day, I came across a peer-review journal where a group of scientists used C. elegans (a small nematode roundworm) to detect cancer in human urine. It sounded too good to be true, and sparked my interest.
Instead of going straight to the human space, I wanted to run a proof-of-concept in the veterinary space, which didn’t have any cancer screening test options at that time. A veterinarian friend and I found a company in Oregon that can run the proof-of-concept experiments. They came back with promising data, and the rest is history.
Who else works at the company?
We have another full-time lab technician. We have a team of 13 scientific advisers. They are veterinary professors, clinical veterinary oncologists, and general practice veterinarians.
How did you convince 30 Triangle clinics to use your product?
It wasn’t too difficult because it’s a tool that they had been needing for a very long time. We have a competitor called PetDx that also has a multi-cancer screening test. They are a venture capital-backed biotech company based in San Diego.
You can think of them as Goliath and us as David. We are bootstrapped and haven’t raised any money yet. We have two major advantages over PetDx. We only need 1 milliliter of urine whereas they require 15 milliliters of blood. And our retail price is between $99 to $199 depending on the hospital, while there’s is $1,000 to $1,200.
We’ve added two clinics in Knoxville, Tennessee. We are talking to a couple of clinics in Charlotte.
People love their pets. Will they keep spending more on them?
Absolutely. Morgan Stanley published a study about the growth of the pet industry. There are more innovations happening in the industry, and they are going to bring down the costs overall.
How much capital have you raised? PetDx has raised $62 million.
We haven’t raised any yet. I personally put in $500,000 and have gotten $60,000 grants from NC IDEA and $100,000 from the N.C. Biotech Center. We are looking to do an angel round in early to mid-2023, and a seed round in 2024. I’ve been very thoughtful about raising capital given the economic environment.
How can your test be more effective than more expensive rival?
Our mission is to make our test reliable, affordable, and accessible to as many pets as possible. In order to achieve our mission, the cost is very important. We are trying very hard to keep our overhead costs down and not waste money on corporate bells and whistles. ■