Pricking your fingers to check sugar levels might become a thing of the past for diabetics thanks to two University of California San Diego alumni – scientists both, whose startup business may completely transform the way people monitor their glucose.
Founded in 2022, Alan Liu and Lu Yin’s Persperion Diagnostics, Inc., last June secured $4 million in venture capital seed to commercialize their diagnostic platform technology, a noninvasive test that uses sweat to measure glucose levels and other biomarkers, including hormones as well as the presence of drugs and alcohol.
The company founders made the 2024 Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the Science category, even as they were still working on Persperion’s product development phase, continuing to improve on its prototype as it scales up manufacturing for clinical trials.
Liu said the company’s pilot trial is beginning in Q1 of this year with a plan to start its clinical trial for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval later this year. The company will raise its Series A this year, then will look to raise Series B in 2025 to launch the product in the market in 2026.
Persperion is a spinoff from licensed technology developed in the nanoengineering lab of UCSD Professor Dr. Joseph Wang, who earned his D.Sc. from the Israel Institute of Technology in 1978. Wang is also a partner in Persperion, the only time he has committed to be a co-founder in a company, Liu said.
Sweating with the Fingertips
Working through a sensor that picks up sweat on fingertips, Persperion uses a proprietary enzyme interaction to detect biomarkers in the blood. An initial finger prick is needed for the first use to calibrate the system, but no further finger pricks are needed after that.
Users insert a test strip inside a handheld device, place their finger on the strip to obtain a glucose measurement, and in less than a minute, the device reads out the glucose measurement and stores historical data.
“Instead of going through the hassle of disinfecting and finger pricking, users can easily lay a finger on the sensor of the ConTAQ Sweat Glucose Monitoring (SGM) System for 30 seconds for an accurate glucose reading,” Liu said.
“ConTAQ SGM has no pain or the risk of causing infections, encouraging more frequent testing toward improved compliance. Additionally, the cost of testing will be at the same level as traditional SMBG, making the technology accessible to people with different insurance coverages.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 37.3 million Americans, or 1 in 10, have diabetes, and of those, 28.7 million people have been officially diagnosed. About 1 in 5 people with diabetes don’t know they have it. In addition, 96 million American adults, or more than 1 in 3, have prediabetes, the CDC reports.
In Persperion’s beginning stages, Liu and Yin interviewed more than 100 people with diabetes, industry experts, nurses and endocrinologists about their needs.
“We realized that our technology can make millions of people’s lives better by removing the need for the painful and messy finger pricking,” Liu said. “Our touch-based noninvasive glucose monitoring technology enables people with diabetes to check their glucose levels accurately, easily and affordably. Moreover, our technology can sense more than just glucose in the natural sweat of fingertips. We can also sense biomarkers including ketone, vitamins, cortisol, hormones, alcohol and many more. We aim to redefine personalized healthcare using fingertip natural sweat.”
Liu said that as a startup, Perpserion is “never short of challenges.”
“In the beginning, we only knew about one piece of the whole puzzle which is the technology and we need to learn about the market, the regulation, the commercialization path, the fundraising and everything else,” he said. “We kept our heads down to talk to as many people as we could and learn from them. We started to meet our first advisor and the second and the third.”
Accelerators Before Challenges Begin
Liu and Yin also joined accelerators like NSF I-Corps and MiraclePlus (previously known as Y-Combinator China), then faced the challenges of lack of resources – namely money and people.
“We participated in many pitch competitions and talked to more than 80 investors,” he said. “After more than six months of work, we finally raised our seed round of $4 million from venture capital firms. Now, we are racing to our pilot trial.”
Liu earned his bachelor’s degree in 2015 at UCSD, earned a business degree at Duke University and became a product manager at Swift Navigation in San Francisco. He said he returned to San Diego for Persperion Diagnostics.
Yin, who met Liu when he was a research assistant for Dr. Wang, was the actual developer of the noninvasive glucose monitoring technology, the core of Persperion, and started talking about commercializing the technology in late 2021 and in 2022. Yin was also the cofounder of a flexible, stretchable battery startup called Ocella; Liu was the VP of Business Development at the company.
“Persperion is a great example of translating innovative technology from research labs in universities to products that benefit millions in the real world,” Yin said. “I am inspired by many peers transitioning from researchers to founders of tech startups at UC San Diego, and I am extremely excited to join them to make an impact.”
The company has grown to 10 employees and recently needed to expand its business home. Previously housed at the UC San Diego Design and Innovation Building, the venture capital seed funding allowed them to move to a hybrid lab and office space in Kearny Mesa in October.
Persperion Diagnostics, Inc.
CO-FOUNDER AND CEO: Lu Yin
CO-FOUNDER AND COO: Alan Liu
HEADQUARTERS: Convoy District, San Diego
BUSINESS: Medical device
SOCIAL IMPACT: Asian-owned company employs a diverse staff; diabetics with financial challenges may have more affordable access with the monitors.
NOTABLE: The ConTAQ Sweat Glucose Monitoring system from Persperion is not just for diabetics, it’s used by people interested in monitoring their blood sugar