In one of the top biohealth regions in the country, Reginald Seeto sits atop one of the top companies. Seeto is the CEO of Gaithersburg-based CareDx Inc., whose research and products aim to improve the lives of transplant patients.
A native of Australia, Seeto, 51, also has had executive leadership roles at Ardylix and AstraZeneca/Medimmune. He lives in Gaithersburg with his wife and three children. Montgomery Magazine spoke to him via Zoom while he was visiting Australia.
Montgomery Magazine: How can everyday people relate to the work you’re doing?
Reg Seeto: Almost everyone knows someone who’s pre-transplant or someone who’s had a transplant. As recently as a month ago, [Mississippi State football coach] Mike Leach passed away, unfortunately, and he donated one of his organs. We had Anne Heche, who passed away and donated one of her organs. Last June, the University of Maryland did the first pig living organ transplant into a human patient.
Q: You’re working on non-invasive testing of post-transplant patients. Why is testing needed and how does non-invasive contrast with standard testing?
A: For many years, what was done was an invasive procedure called a biopsy to assess the organ post-transplant or monitor organ rejection. The failure rate of organs is still very high — at five years it is estimated that one in two transplanted lungs will fail, which means patients will need a new lung transplant at five years. One in three heart transplants will fail at five years. And one in five kidney transplants will fail at five years. So it’s an area that requires monitoring.
Unfortunately, there is an organ shortage so our tests are critical because they monitor the health and rejection of the new transplanted organ so the patient’s doctor can intervene earlier to help prevent rejection.
When you do these biopsies, they’re really invasive procedures. For example, our head of sales — his daughter is a heart-transplant recipient. Normally they access the biopsy through a vein in the neck. They go down to the heart and they take four to six pieces of tissue — not one — and it is very common for doctors to do 10 to 12 biopsies in the first year. That could be over 50 pieces of your heart taken out. She’s actually now moved over to non-invasive testing, which is what we offer.
There’s also complications associated with this invasive procedure. For example: In heart patients there may be blockage of the vein, which results in subsequent biopsies being performed through another vein, such as in the groin. There is often a lot of bruising and discomfort after these procedures.
We believe we can offer an alternative of a non-invasive test. We think we can keep improving these tests so they then become the standard.
Q: CareDX has a headquarters in the Bay Area as well as Gaithersburg. What do the two sites do?
A: We’re actually worldwide and we also have sites in Australia and Europe. San Francisco is where we have the lab, R&D, and where we have corporate functions.
What we have in Gaithersburg is the head of our products business. We have the head of business development. And we have the head of marketing and program project management. About 25 percent of the leadership team is based in Gaithersburg.
Q: You’re in close proximity to biohealth companies like AstraZeneca, Emergent BioSolutions and Novavax. Are you a close community?
A: The reason I’m excited about what Montgomery County can offer, and also Gaithersburg — I led the effort to make Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to be the Top 3 by 2023. [The Biohealth Capital Region is currently rated fourth.] There’s always been a goal to make this region a Top 3, and so I led this initiative. So I created the slogan “Top 3 by 2023” – which is this year, by the way [laughs]. It’s been a decade since I started this through AstraZeneca.
So there’s a lot of camaraderie here. You’ve also had success stories like Novavax, which was quite prominent during the vaccine period. There’s a lot of smaller companies and they all have some linkage back to Medimmune.
Q: If you have a life outside work, what do you like to do?
A: When I do get time off, it’s all about family. My kids are, a daughter, 15; and two boys, 12 and 10. For me, any spare moment I’ll be with them. And we do have a ritual. We have a small beach house in Delaware, so we’ll often go down there on the weekends. My wife does the driving, so I get another six hours of work done.
I also like watching Netflix, or some of those HBO TV shows.
Q: What are your favorites?
A: Recently I saw on HBO “White Lotus,” which I thought was quite a good show.
Q: Technology is moving so quickly. Can you project ahead – in the future, what is something we’re going to look back and wonder how we did without it?
A: With transplants there were two things that I think were transformative. The first is xenotransplants; that is, creating genetically modified organs for the organ shortage that exists today. In a five- to 10-year period, I think you may see more routinely transplants that do not come from human sources.
Number 2 is we’re a big fan of artificial intelligence. We’re one of the few companies that has invested heavily in algorithms. There are a couple of algorithms that we’re working on to be either predictive or prognostic — that is, how can you predict the outcome of the organ based on some tests that we do. Can you tell if the organ needs some intervention. And how is it looking in three, four, five years’ time? Those two are fairly disruptive and innovative approaches.