Wednesday, August 15 , 2018, 2:53 pm | Fair 77º

Your Health
A Noozhawk partnership with Cottage Health

Aptitude Medical Systems Revolutionizes Molecular Technology

UC Santa Barbara’s Technology Management Program churns out medical-technology companies

Scott Ferguson, CEO of Aptitude Medical Systems, and fellow UCSB graduate students formed the company which now works out of a Bath Street laboratory in Santa Barbara.
Scott Ferguson, CEO of Aptitude Medical Systems, and fellow UCSB graduate students formed the company which now works out of a Bath Street laboratory in Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is one in a series on the impact of technology on medicine in Santa Barbara County. Click here for related stories.]

The earlier you can detect cancer or heart disease and other ailments, the better.

That was the way Scott Ferguson and two fellow UC Santa Barbara graduate students approached a scientific problem four years ago, and the solution they came up with helped launch them into an ever-changing medical technology field.

A huge chunk of the health-care world uses antibody technology to detect diseases or issues in patients, with an antibody helping to identify and neutralize pathogens like bacteria and viruses before they can spread.

Ferguson and his classmates, Qiang (Jackson) Gong and Jinpeng (JP) Wang, formed Aptitude Medical Systems to create their own synthetic version of molecules that could better do the trick at a fraction of the cost.

“Basically we’re trying to tackle some key needs in healthcare at a really fundamental level,” said Ferguson, who’s CEO of the Santa Barbara-based startup.

“If you’re trying to detect certain diseases, you need to interact with molecules. There are some key limitations with antibodies that make it difficult for them to detect certain (bio) markers. Special molecules we create can detect certain targets.”

The research was solid, and the business plan Aptitude Medical put together for the startup competition at the UCSB Technology Management Program New Venture Competition was thorough enough to earn Ferguson’s team best business plan and most fundable venture.

A short time later, Aptitude Medical incorporated as a company to develop real-time detection technology, joining a slew of other tech startups flowing from the university’s popular TMP program.

The co-founders of Aptitude Medical Systems were winners of TMP’s New Venture Competition. Click to view larger
The co-founders of Aptitude Medical Systems were winners of TMP’s New Venture Competition.  (Aptitude Medical Systems photo)

TMP, which was created in 1998, is known for its annual New Venture Competition that allows students from any major to present venture ideas to compete for cash prizes.

The program this year also began offering its MBA-like degree to foster entrepreneurialism and management training.

Because TMP is open to any student — not just those interested in business  — UCSB is seeing unique, gutsy approaches to certain issues, said Robin Campbell, a former executive at Amgen with 25 years of pharmaceutical and biotechnology experience and a sometimes TMP teacher and student mentor.

Over the past 10 years, Campbell said he’s spied a trend of more med-tech companies coming out of UCSB.

“All these life science programs take a while,” said Campbell, who sits on Aptitude Medical’s advisory board.

“You do need people willing to take the risk. How do we turn this into a real product? That’s where the TMP program has come in. The things that are happening in healthcare in general are gong to drive a number of innovations.”

People are living longer than they used to, with an average U.S. life expectancy of 79 years old, meaning they have more time to develop diseases of aging.

It’s no surprise then, Campbell said, that some 70-80 percent of health-care costs are driven by chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. 

Companies such as Aptitude Medical are capitalizing on the desire for early detection of those ailments.

Another TMP winner, ActiveLife Scientific, Inc., chose a similar vein, making medical instruments to test the quality of people’s bones and tissues to develop better treatments and results.

The 2007 winner has stayed in Santa Barbara and is now branching into the veterinary medicine space, especially for horses, according to co-founder and CEO Davis Brimer.

Aptitude Medical Systems co-founders Jinpeng (JP) Wang, left, Scott Ferguson and Qiang (Jackson) Gong started their business as graduates students at UC Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Aptitude Medical Systems co-founders Jinpeng (JP) Wang, left, Scott Ferguson and Qiang (Jackson) Gong started their business as graduates students at UC Santa Barbara.  (Aptitude Medical Systems photo)

In 2013, Asta Fluidic Technologies, Inc. took home top TMP honors for a non-invasive technology aiming to better diagnose fetomaternal hemorrhage (FMH) during pregnancy.

The most famous success out of TMP’s startup contest falls into the same med-tech category with Inogen, which was founded locally in 2001 by three UCSB students but has since gone public as a company developing lightweight and travel-safe portable oxygen concentrators.

A recent surge in Santa Barbara-area startups has led to an influx in the number of incubator spaces to help them thrive, including the Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet, which is a partnership between UCSB, the city of Goleta and the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“The good thing about med tech companies is that even though they’re risky, they’re great jobs,” Campbell said.

“They build a great-paying economic climate. Places like Santa Barbara really like these kinds of companies. It’s great for the whole area. The more the entire area can embrace these small companies, the more that will want to start here.”

Aptitude Medical has grown to 10 employees and is working with large diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies to get synthetic molecules approved.

Ferguson said the company is also using grant funds to develop a device that would help diabetes patients manage conditions by providing real-time glucose levels, since insulin injections vary from person to person.

They hope to commercialize products by 2018, ever thankful to have attended a university that encouraged interdisciplinary research.

“I think we’re really thrilled to have been supported by the local entrepreneurial environment,” Ferguson said.

“Things are going pretty well. A lot of people really believe in us, and we do, too.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.


Special Reports

Heroin Rising
<p>Lizette Correa shares a moment with her 9-month-old daughter, Layla, outside their Goleta home. Correa is about to graduate from Project Recovery, a program of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, and is determined to overcome her heroin addiction — for herself and for her daughter. “I look at her and I think ‘I need to be here for her and I need to show her an example, I don’t want her to see me and learn about drugs’,” she says.</p>

In Struggle to Get Clean, and Stay That Way, Young Mother Battles Heroin Addiction

Santa Barbara County sounds alarm as opiate drug use escalates, spreads into mainstream population
Safety Net Series
<p>Charles Condelos, a retired banker, regularly goes to the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics for his primary care and to renew his prescription for back pain medication. He says Dr. Charles Fenzi, who was treating him that day at the Westside Clinic, and Dr. Susan Lawton are some of the best people he’s ever met.</p>

Safety Net: Patchwork of Clinics Struggles to Keep Santa Barbara County Healthy

Clinics that take all comers a lifeline for low-income patients, with new health-care law about to feed even more into overburdened system. First in a series
Prescription for Abuse
<p>American Medical Response emergency medical technicians arrive at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with little time to spare for victims of prescription drug overdoses.</p>

Quiet Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Taking a Toll on Santa Barbara County

Evidence of addiction shows an alarming escalation, Noozhawk finds in Prescription for Abuse special report
Mental Health
<p>Rich Detty and his late wife knew something was wrong with their son, Cliff, but were repeatedly stymied in their attempts to get him help from the mental health system. Cliff Detty, 46, died in April while in restraints at Santa Barbara County’s Psychiatric Health Facility.</p>

While Son Struggled with Mental Illness, Father Fought His Own Battle

Cliff Detty's death reveals scope, limitations of seemingly impenetrable mental health system. First in a series