Before 2011, up to one-third of thyroid biopsies came back inconclusive, requiring healthy patients to have unneeded surgical procedures. Then Veracyte’s first product came along–measuring the expression of 142 genes through a biopsy to determine if a thyroid lump is benign–and cut that figure in half. By the end of 2014, Veracyte had saved 15,000 patients from having their thyroids removed and had persuaded the insurers of more than 145 million Americans to cover the test. “Many companies in our space are founded because someone did a scientific experiment and found a result that might be useful,” explains Bonnie Anderson, who led the company to a successful IPO in 2013. “The science drives the product, and often that product doesn’t fit the clinical need. We started our company by [identifying] the clinical need, and then going back and saying, ‘Now we have to build the science.’” Veracyte has now developed a similar test for lung cancer, which debuted in April of this year.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to reflect new patient and insurer statistics, as well as the date of the lung cancer test’s launch.
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
It starts with building a network and creating connections to people that can really challenge you to think out of the box. I have surrounded myself with people here who are like that. I recently recruited a couple of new members to our board of directors who have a history of a lot of creativity in the business world. And I think just being comfortable reaching out to people who have accomplished amazing things, and taking them to lunch, and getting to know them, often really just gives you the inspiration to think differently and achieve things that don’t seem like they can be achievable.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I am the grandmother of two new baby girls, and they are just the light of my life. They are both just over one year old. One is on the East Coast and one is on the West Coast. Every morning when I wake up, I check my phone, and I usually have a picture or a video from each of them. It puts a smile on my face every morning. Technology is an awesome thing.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
People would be surprised how many really talented smart people I get to interact with everyday. People know that when you have an R&D organization that they are really smart people because they all have to get PhDs, and all of this and that. But I think what is amazing is that in every single level in an organization like ours, where every hire matters, and every person has to be able to achieve success almost every day to keep the job, you find that level of talent.
When you’re a small and growing company, you really don’t have the opportunity to hire around people who aren’t performing, which often happens in big companies. So every day, I am inspired by the great work of all the people that I get to work with.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
While I currently do not actively engage on Twitter, following are some of the thought leaders whom I am always interested in checking out: Atul Gawande, Eric Topol, Bruce Booth, Sally Church, Craig Venter, and of course a number of journalists covering biotech.
Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?
The person outside my field whom I am most inspired by has to be the masterful entrepreneur Steve Jobs, because I remain utterly amazed at his ability to create an open-content framework for apps we use every day of our lives, and hardware that gets smaller and smaller but is so constantly used they are part of our being . . . tools and apps that we never knew we needed. He had just incredible vision, leadership and tenacity. Brilliant.