San Diego-based Confirm BioSciences manufactures and distributes the kind of products that bring either peace of mind or confirmation of a suspicion for many parents of teenagers across the country -- diagnostics test kits such as HairConfirm that discreetly test for drugs using a hair follicle, thereby eliminating the need for arguments and trips to a laboratory.
It began as a garage business in 2001, founded by husband and wife team Serhat Pala and Zeynep Ilgaz, who came to San Diego from Turkey. The idea for the business came when Pala was doing a research project as an intern at a medical device company. He felt that the home testing market was growing and ripe with opportunity.
"Diagnostic test kits for the home health care market are a $700 million industry and growing. The main reason for this is convenience -- it allows individuals to take the test within the privacy of their own homes and secondly, it is cost effective," Ilgaz said.
The couple began their business as a medical test kit distributor, using their garage as a warehouse. They sold pregnancy test kits and HIV test kits, among others, to businesses and to end users via the Internet, through eBay and Amazon.
"Back then, the Internet was booming. It was a really good time to get started," Ilgaz said.
The distribution end of their business has now grown to $2 million to $3 million, overseen by Pala. In 2006, Confirm branched out into the manufacturing side, developing and branding its own line of test kits, with Ilgaz in charge.
"As we learned how the business works, we actually partnered with labs around the country and commercialized their technology and took it to market. It was easy for us to get started without any capital, since we partnered with them," Ilgaz said.
The company produces the test kit locally, outsourcing a majority of the manufacturing to facilities in San Diego and parts of it to other locations within the United States. Confirm now employs 28 people and has annual revenues in the range of $3 million to $4 million.
Ilgaz explained that hair follicles retain traces of drugs up to 90 days after usage. HairConfirm tests for seven illegal drugs, and the company provides results within two days of receiving the sample in its affiliated laboratory.
SalivaConfirm is a new product the company developed, a revolutionary one-step oral fluid drug test kit that uses a spoon-like device inserted in the mouth.
"The saliva travels up a tunnel inside the spoon device, it is then screened and within five minutes, the user gets the results," Ilgaz said.
This noninvasive procedure is ideal for workplace drug testing as well. Other products being marketed by the company include LeadConfirm, which is an oral test kit to confirm levels of lead in our bodies, caused by the presence of lead in the environment from sources like water, paint and soil.
SteroidConfirm enables sports trainers, employers and parents to test individuals who they suspect may be abusing steroids, by using a urine test kit which they then mail to the company.
Confirm BioSciences is well positioned for growth, having chosen to focus on a lucrative niche market. A recent Deloitte Consulting report on opportunities in the life sciences industry noted that the home-based diagnostics market is expanding.
Plans for the future include a line of new products, such as test kits for diabetes and cholesterol. "We are talking to major drug stores like Walgreens and CVS to distribute our products in their stores. Currently, our products are available on several Web sites and on Amazon.com," said Ilgaz.
Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance business writer.