Polaris BlogPostDecember 11, 2023 - What if there was a diagnostic test that could confirm or predict post-traumatic stress disorder? 

And what if people from diverse backgrounds participated in clinical trials for its development?  

That’s a goal of Polaris Genomics, a Black- and veteran-owned resident company at JLABS @ Washington, DC. Its mission is to develop objective, genomics-based molecular diagnostic tools to accurately identify mental health conditions beyond the symptoms-based classifications laid out in the DSM-5. 

Charles Cathlin, CEO of Polaris Genomics and US Air Force veteran, first crossed paths with Tshaka Cunningham, Ph.D., and Chief Science Officer at Polaris Genomics in Washington, DC. Cathlin was Chief of Staff at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, while Cunningham worked as a Scientific Program Manager at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. 

Cathlin observed the deteriorating mental health conditions of veterans and first responders during his time in the military and at Ground Zero following 9/11. Additionally, the historic mistrust of the healthcare system by Blacks has pushed them to conceive a way to also better support this historically marginalized patient demographic and to help prevent them from suffering in silence. 

“Equipping businesses with tools that consider all of the different factors that feed into health disparities is essential to move forward, not only from a public health perspective but also from a healthtech business lens, creating a sustainable solution with the wellbeing of our future population in mind,” said Cathlin.  

Polaris Genomics recommends all who work within the healthcare and biotech space complete the Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Health Equity Assessment Tool (HEAT); it’s a survey and eLearning module designed for early-stage start-ups to assess areas of opportunity in integrating health equity into their innovation.  

Companies that complete the HEAT then receive an output report with a composite score, an explanation of their standing, and resources for continuing education around health equity and ways to build it into business models. 

“For many companies, especially startups, you're strapped for resources. You often have to do what's expedient rather than what’s in the best interest of science,” said Cunningham. “My message to companies who don't have diversity baked into their DNA is to consider the long-term utility of the product you're developing. You want everybody to be able to benefit from your product, not just a percentage of your target population. Implementing diversity and inclusion isn’t just a do-good thing, it also makes for better business. Especially, if you want to help more people and make the broadest impact possible.”  

All are encouraged to complete the 'Unlocking Innovation through Health Equity’ e-learning module at https://jnjinnovation.com/JJIHealthEquityElearning/. JLABS companies in residence can access the Health Equity Assessment Tool at https://jji.jnjinnovation.com/jjiheat .

About Johnson & Johnson Innovation 

Johnson & Johnson Innovation works across the pharmaceutical and medical technology sectors to accelerate early-stage, transformational solutions by catalyzing the best ideas, wherever they are in the world. We do this by harnessing our deep scientific capabilities coupled with a wide range of tools, including customized deal structures, company creation, incubation and startup services, capital investments, and other innovative business models that aim to meet the diverse needs of entrepreneurs, scientists, and emerging companies. Our goal is to help life science and health technology innovations thrive through collaboration and partnership with the global ecosystem so that together we can change the trajectory of human health. Meet our passionate team of science and technology experts and learn how to collaborate with us at www.jnjinnovation.com