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Every week, the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute elects a Startup of the Week. We invite the founders of these startups to share a blog post with our community. These posts can be inspirational, educational, or entertaining.
This blog post was written by student blog contributor Koko Xu (Courant '25), based on an interview with Glennon Simmons (Dentistry Staff), co-founder of Portable Diagnostic Systems.
Driving under the influence of alcohol has been a big problem worldwide for as long as automobiles have been around. It can have a profound impact on victims and their loved ones. While driving under the influence of alcohol has declined in recent years, driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is on the rise. “Multi-substance impairment is a leading killer on the roadway,” says Glennon Simmons, CEO and founder of Portable Diagnostic Systems, “...and only about 8% of patrol officers have advanced training to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug impairment in a routine traffic stop.” The Standard Field Sobriety Test is a series of divided attention psychophysical tests that a police officer can administer on the roadside to prove that a driver is too impaired to drive a vehicle. But a driver might fail the Standard Field Sobriety Test and pass the breathalyzer test, then the law enforcement officer is in an awkward position. Tools for roadside drug testing have not yet been widely adopted in the United States, but that is changing. “Impairment is not just caused by alcohol anymore, ...it might be a combination of multiple drugs,” explains Glennon, “that has made impaired-driving enforcement very complicated.”
Glennon is currently the Lab Manager of the McDevitt Group at NYU’s College of Dentistry, Department of Biomaterials & Biomimetics, where he leads the McDevitt Research Group in developing cutting-edge lab-on-a-chip diagnostic tools for a variety of clinical diagnostic applications, including novel drug abuse tests. Glennon received a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin and has worked for Dr. McDevitt for nearly 20 years as a researcher, project manager, and lab manager. Dr. McDevitt is a Professor in the Department of Molecular Pathobiology, Biomaterials Division, in the NYU College of Dentistry.
After Glennon came to NYU in 2015, he took full advantage of NYU’s entrepreneurial resources including the Startup School, Tech Venture Workshop, and VC Pitchfest in the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. He also participated in the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneurs Challenge, where his startup made it to the finals. Glennon participated in the YC Startup School and received a $35k investment from NextFab’s RAPID Hardware Accelerator, a state-of-the-art makerspace and accelerator in Philadelphia focused on helping hardware entrepreneurs jump-start their business, as well.
Glen founded Portable Diagnostic Systems (PDS) in August 2019. PDS is developing a next-generation drug testing technology for law enforcement that takes the guesswork out of impaired driving stops. “Our drug test uses a lab-on-a-chip approach, which is unique in the industry,” describes Glennon. He added, “Competing drug testing technologies are based on lateral flow test strips, a technology that has been around for almost 50 years.”
PDS’s Integrity-1 Analysis System is a sleek, black, handheld box that somewhat resembles a thicker iPhone. It has a touchscreen and a portal on the bottom for cartridges to be filled with saliva or blood. “Our sensor can detect over one hundred different [substances] simultaneously,” Glen describes, “leading products on the market only detect between six to eight different drug classes.” The device also uses custom-engineered antibodies for select drugs for enhanced accuracy and thermostability. The Integrity-1 Analysis System will be capable of both in-field oral-fluid tests and evidentiary whole-blood tests. The in-field oral fluid drug tests will allow law enforcement officers to quickly screen for drugs on the roadside, adding to probable cause for arrest. The evidentiary blood tests will save law enforcement money by cutting out transportation to the hospital, phlebotomy, and toxicology testing. Instead, the entire process can be simplified to a finger prick. “[Law enforcement] can just have one tool that can be operated at the police station or jail,” Glen concludes, “and we’ve calculated it could save them up to a thousand dollars a test.” The switch between oral fluid and whole blood testing is just a matter of changing cartridges, which makes the Integrity-1 Analysis System very flexible and efficient. Once the product is done, Glen expects to sell each device for $3,500, and the cartridges for $25 apiece, but the final price is yet to be determined. PDS has a law enforcement agency partner who’s doing a pilot test with the Integrity-1 Analysis System in January 2022. Data generated from the pilot will be used to establish the device’s accuracy and to compare the PDS technology with leading technology on the market, namely the Abbott SoToxa Mobile Test System.
Glennon and his Co-Founder and CTO Michael McRae, a Bioengineering Ph.D. from Rice University, along with other team members, are working to finalize their minimum viable product in the next three months. Glennon is working on the microfluidics and immunoassays, while Michael is developing the custom circuit boards and optics. NextFab is helping PDS develop their electronics and is providing significant engineering support. PDS is also working with Spatial Dynamics to complete its enclosure prototype. Glennon recently brought on Igor Muravchik, a Stern MBA, to find opportunities and help with fundraising, and PDS is looking to continue expanding its team.
The pilot test is very important for PDS. “Our expectations are really high,” says Glennon, “...if we do well and we can move quickly, then we have other state-level enterprise clients that are interested.” Glennon says his goal is to have the product on the market by the end of 2022, with a stream of customers and a mature manufacturing chain. Once PDS has found its footing in the law enforcement market, its next step is to expand to the workforce and clinical drug testing.
Coming from a technical background, Glennon has been learning a lot to accommodate the business side of PDS. “‘Chief Everything Officer’ is the best way to think of the CEO,” Glen jokes, “...I just look at learning the business aspects of having a company… [as] one more challenge to overcome.” Balancing a full-time job, a startup, and a family life with twin boys is no easy task. “It’s been nuts,” describes Glennon, “I think I sleep a lot less than I used to, ...I work in any pocket of time that I have, and I have to be very efficient. Perfection is the enemy of good, I just try to make constant progress.” Glennon’s advice for other startup founders is to persevere through the constant challenges that come with being a founder.
If PDS is successful, their technology will save lives by aiding law enforcement to identify impaired drivers and remove them from the road. Their technology will have the added benefit of reducing subjectivity and bias in making the arrest decision. This will lead to a future where police officers can be confident in making an arrest and drivers will think twice before driving under the influence of any drug.