By: Stephanie Aviles
Photos By: John Horta
Entering the Cardwell Collaborative Center, you are greeted by the warmth of the natural lighting coming from the glass walls surrounding their lobby. You are also greeted by polite security detail with the most infectious smile as you are escorted to the elevators that will take you up to the third floor. There you will find the first residents of the Minerva Genetics .
Minerva Genetics, or rather the idea for it, first came to El Paso six years ago, when co-founders Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Bryan moved here and Dr. Mitchell worked as the senior director of genomics at Texas Tech University. After working for Texas Tech for three years, and for a clinical diagnostic lab in Las Cruces for nearly two, Dr. Mitchell decided that El Paso needed a clinical diagnostic lab that could offer prompt turn-around times and employ graduate students from UTEP and other local institutions who are frequently forced to move outside El Paso to find employment. Being self-funded, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Bryan wanted to prove their metal by utilizing their own personal savings, along with working with good friends out of Houston, to get started.
Being a start-up of six, who consider themselves jacks of all trades, Minerva Genetics is a Next Generation Sequencing clinical diagnostic lab that reaches out to hospitals and personal physicians as clientele to provide them with genetic test kits for their patients. The client then submits that kit back to Minerva Genetics for analysis and processing. Dr. Mitchell observed how being isolated geographically, since the closest labs are in Phoenix and Albuquerque, would be beneficial to the patients and the employment rate in El Paso to run those tests locally and in a timely manner.
As many may know, if family members suffer from diseases like breast cancer, you might fear whether or not it will affect your own life as well. With this being the case, this testing can also mean the difference between catching these diseases just in time or catching them when it is too late. This type of information can help make decisions on whether extreme measures are necessary, like mastectomies, or whether a simple additional visit every year is all that is needed.
Some patients might hesitate at the financial aspect of such a test. However, since Minerva Genetics implements Next Generation Sequencing, that is not the case. NGS provides a clinical diagnostic setting that has ushered in an era of personalized medicine that was impossible in the past, doing what took fifteen years to analyze in one day. Because of this, Minerva Genetics can provide inexpensive tests for patients. Minerva Genetics was built because of the local need for better, faster and more personalized medicine. NGS lends itself to offer fast and comprehensive genetic analysis, which can improve treatment safety and minimize health care costs.
Even as a start-up faculty, they have already made world-changing developments in the medical field. For the last several years, Dr. Bryan’s research has focused primarily on treating an aggressive and commonly misdiagnosed cancer called angiosarcoma. His research into the
repurposing of propranolol as treatment has had huge impacts on patient survival and is now considered the standard of care in the European Union. Wanting to make similar impacts here, Dr. Bryan is currently working on publishing additional work in this area of research in the next few months.
Despite these advancements, Minerva Genetics is still looking to flourish, and are looking for new members right here in El Paso. Many highly-trained individuals are graduating each year from amazing graduate programs at UTEP and other institutions, and sadly many of these individuals are leaving El Paso to search out suitable employment elsewhere. Minerva Genetics aims to offer high quality employment options for these individuals to encourage them to remain here in El Paso.
Dr. Bryan has already begun to cherry pick top students at UTEP, and this method is how he found their current clinical analyst, Thuraieh Khayou. After seeing Dr. Bryan’s brilliance and passion, Thuraieh asked to volunteer for the company and was later offered a part time job while she finishes her master’s degree at Texas Tech.
Some of Thuraieh’s personal observations are that, since moving here, she has seen a lack in pharmaceuticals or biotech businesses like Minerva Genetics. “It all starts with a thought like Minerva Genetics. We must support something that starts locally, especially in a place like El Paso. Nothing is more beautiful than something that blooms in the desert.” Seeing the passion and intelligence first hand has driven Thuraieh to make El Paso healthier.
This is what ultimately makes Minerva Genetics unique. They have room to grow with such passionate goals. With quotes like, “If you can dream it you can do it” by Walt Disney and “Starting and growing a business is as much about the innovation, drive and determination of the people who do it as it is about the product they sell,” by Elon Musk being painted outside Minerva’s office space, there’s no shortage of motivation. In the end, what the team would like the people of El Paso to remember when they think of Minerva Genetics, is that health comes from knowledge. Having a clear understanding, even of your genetic composition, can lead to better health for not only you, but for those who love you.