The mission of MyDx - put chemicals testing in the hands of consumers

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed August 4, 2016
MyDx is a startup on a mission: give consumers portable abilities to test chemicals and toxins in their air, water, and food. Here's a look behind their plans, and the obstacles that lie ahead.

I don't write about startups often - mostly because I find their ambitions limited and uninspiring. That goes double for consumer tech startups, but I'm making an exception for MyDx. The mission of MyDx, aka "my diagnostic," is to put toxin/chemicals testing in the hands of consumers. Or, as they put it:

Empower you to live a healthier life by revealing the purity of what you eat, drink and inhale in the palm of your hands and in real time.

They do this via a device, called the MyDx, and a series of testing sensors, several of which are in production now. At a time when the water supply for American consumers has grabbed disturbing headlines in Flint Michigan and elsewhere, MyDx's pending AquaDx sensor can't come soon enough.

What's the MyDx secret? "MyDx leverages the latest in electronic nose nanotechnology to accurately measure chemicals of interest in nearly any solid, liquid, or gas sample, anywhere, anytime." There's no dancing around the "inhale" part of the business. MyDx's first commercial product - and the sensor that is available now - is CannaDx, which as you already guessed, is for the testing of cannabis.

Now is not the time or place for my own views on cannabis, but if this product were limited to the cannabis market, I would not be writing about it. However, MyDx's long-term mission is much broader, with testing sensors for water, food, and air quality on the way. So I seized the chance to talk with Daniel Yazbeck, founder and CEO, to find out how a former Pfizer Pharmaceuticals scientist took this bold career turn, and what drives his mission.

From Pfizer to a chemical testing startup

So how do we get from Pfizer to MyDx? Yazbeck:

I started at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals as an R&D chemist, looking to automate how you analyze chemicals. Then I went over to Panasonic. It was part of that whole shift of going from the lab to the point of care, in terms of diagnostics, and diagnostic devices. I came across a technology during my time at Panasonic that I eventually licensed and funded to start up MyDx.

But why not pursue that within Panasonic?

I really liked this technology we licensed with Panasonic to detect chemicals in your breath for certain diseases. I don't think Panasonic had the stomach at the time to go into a seven year diagnostic FDA approval process to develop a product. Then I stepped in and licensed the technology for marijuana. Which Panasonic's family wasn't in a place to pursue.

Regulatory agencies fall short - why not empower consumers?

When you can't trust your water and food supply, life gets pretty scary. It would be nice to think regulatory agencies have it under control, but that's a pipe dream Yazbeck isn't buying into:

The cannabis industry had no solution for chemical testing, really, when we launched. You couldn't even find a lab that could test your cannabis samples. People had no clue. They still have no clue in many parts of the world. Our device becomes very imperative. The EPA will test for certain things. Of course, we depend on the EPA, and the government bodies to help us test for these things, but they don't do all of it. Sometimes they don't have access to it.

Can you test the water in your house if you wanted to test the faucet? Do I just trust the city that this is safe to drink? People just don't know. That's the bottom line.

I think contaminants in our food and water will be defining stories in the next ten years. His response?

Mothers can't drink water in Alabama - this is crazy. Right, or people who are pregnant. The infrastructure is falling apart; it's going to be a common issue... I'd like to take this water analyzer, go across the country, and start testing.

The pending release of AquaDx has the MyDx team fired up: "We recently cracked the R&D on those [new sensors', and so we're very excited." So how will AquaDx work?

There's a series of pesticides that we'll look for. For water quality, you look for lead, nitrates, as well as certain pesticides. Pesticides are not only in your food; they could be in your water tap.

Yazbeck believes consumers will embrace this approach, and perhaps, regulatory bodies as well:

I would love to see municipalities buy for the citizens, especially the ones that are at risk. They owe it to the people, so that they know what they are drinking.

MyDx gets this done with under ten employees, based out of its San Diego offices. They are publicly traded (OTCQB:MYDX), and count up to 30 contributors including contractors (see MyDx investor presentation PDF). They have a full manufacturing line for MyDx devices in their contract manufacturing headquarters in Fremont, California. Their 5,600 square foot San Diego location includes a lab for research and development. Yazbeck says he's still "very much involved" on the R&D side.

My take - lots of work ahead, and pricing riddles to solve

I went looking for reviews of MyDx. Though not all of them were positive (this one has been contested by MyDx), most reviewers seemed to find the results as accurate as lab tests and easy to use in conjunction with the mobile app.

During our chat, Yazbeck acknowledged several barriers to widespread user adoption, the first of which is the "ignorance is bliss" mentality. It's not always much fun to learn you've been consuming crud.

The second adoption barrier is ease of use. MyDx mobile apps will help with that, but Yazbeck knows consumers won't have much patience for complex sample gathering:

Our whole mission is dumb it down in that sample measure. Do you add it here, does it leak, does it do this, is it sloppy? That's what we do. We try to make things easy.

Advancing the science matters also. Yazbeck told me that of the three major pesticides that the WHO (World Health Organization) linked to cancer in a March 2015 report, the AquaDx sensor currently identifies two of the three: malathion and diazinon. Detecting the third pesticide, glyphosate, is a work in progress:

We'll be helping consumers look for the things that have reported by the WHO to be cancer causing. We're aggressively trying to detect that. We haven't had a good success with accuracy yet on glyphosate. The other two, the diazinon, and malathion, we have those, and we can detect those on our AquaDx and OrganaDx sensors.

Monsanto, the worldwide leader in sales of glyphosate, disagrees with this assessment, claiming the WHO report is "junk science." But the point of MyDx is not to settle disputes between WHO and Monsanto; it's to give consumers the chance to conduct their own mobile testing. Then they can make their own decisions on consumption. You can see the applicability while traveling overseas; I'll bet some Olympic fans and athletes would love to have an AquaDx available at these water-contaminated Olympics.

Yazbeck knows he'll have to get the MyDx and sensor prices down if he wants to scale the business and have a major impact (right now, the MyDx device is $699 and you can get the CannaDx included for $899). MyDx will look to ease the pricing burden with multiple sensors running on the same device. But Yazbeck knows that's not enough:

We know not everyone is going to afford a $699 device.... We're not naive to the fact that we've got to get this thing closer to the $400, $300, even $200. Then maybe one day we'll get it under $100.

There may be creative ways to get there, such as municipalities subsidizing the devices, a possibility Yazbeck says MyDx is pursuing. Yazbeck didn't offer an exact timeframe for the release of AquaDx, but he did express certainty it would be available within the next three months (shoppers can pre-order it).

The obstacles for MyDx are not small. Nor are their products a remedy for better regulatory oversight. Still, it's not hard to get behind their mission. Consumers, over to you.

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