Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Isentio: Bacterial DNA Hunters

New technology from iSentio® saves lives and money by rapidly identifying bacteria

 The Isentio Team (left to right): CMO Oyvind Kommedal, CEO May Kristin Roen, Chief Product Officer Bjarte Karlsen and CTO Oystein F. Sabo

The Isentio Team (left to right): CMO Oyvind Kommedal, CEO May Kristin Roen, Chief Product Officer Bjarte Karlsen and CTO Oystein F. Sabo

Imagine that you wake up one morning with a nasty bacterial infection. It could be one of many bacteria – meningitis, pneumonia, staphylococcus, tuberculosis, etc…

What if your doctor could more accurately identify the source of a complex bacterial infection in a few hours instead of the 3-10 days it currently takes? Might this save lives, ease suffering, eliminate harmful side effects and reduce doctor and hospital costs?

What if patient analysis results were anonymously registered and documented in an online database, and made freely available so that other patients might benefit? Might this make it possible for researchers and governments to monitor and trace outbreaks and contamination in real time, eliminating the threat of global pandemics?

These are the questions that the iSentio team asked.  Their solution is truly novel – more accurate, less expensive and faster than all other pathogen DNA identification methods.

What is Isentio?

iSentio is Pathogen Identification as a Service.  

Traditional methods for identification of bacterial infection are both slow and imprecise. A clinician will have to try out different types of antibiotics and hope for the best. With Isentio`s software as a service and validated database, laboratories and hospitals can identify the bacteria causing an infectious disease within the same day – regardless of contamination by previous antibiotic use.

The principal method for identifying bacteria today is growing the bacteria (culturing) and performing chemical testing. This takes 3-7 days, often gives an incomplete answer, and it fails completely 30% of the time. Broad spectrum antibiotics are then the typical fallback solution, resulting in more side effects, suffering, prolonged hospital stay and increased health care cost. Use of broad spectrum antibiotics also adds to the growing numbers of resistant bacteria, aka “superbugs”.

The story of iSentio AS began as a laboratory mistake in Norway in 2003. The microbiologist Øyvind Kommedal (now CMO) sent a patient sample through a DNA analysis machine. Out came a data file not possible to interpret. He contacted a childhood friend Bjarte Karlsen (now CPO), who worked as an IT consultant.  They discussed different approaches to identifying DNA in mixed samples, and realized they needed to talk to an algorithm expert, Oystein F Saebo, to help develop this solution? Bjarte and Oystein (now CTO) worked for two years in their spare time to crack the code. In 2005, the prototype was ready for testing and the first test provided a 100% accurate mixed sample result.

“I got to know the pain of traditional bacterial identification personally,” said May Kristin Roen, CEO of iSentio.  “I acquired sepsis at the hospital after a routine appendectomy. I fell into a coma for 4 days, and the doctors said I had had 25% chance for dying, 25% permanent side effects. Luckily I was among the 50% and I was out of the hospital in 3 weeks.”

This story is not unusual – 1 in 20 patients at the hospital today acquire an infectious disease while in the hospital. On average these patients stay 5-6 days longer in the hospital, and more than 100,000 die every year in the U.S. after acquiring a hospital associated infectious disease.

This is only part of the problem – bacterial infections are the leading cause of death among children and elderly in the U.S.

iSentio aims to do something about this by enhancing existing DNA sequencing technology with a SaaS product for clinical use, creating value where speed and accuracy are a matter of life and death.

So far Isentio has raised $4.1 million from investors and received $2 million in public grants.

The iStentio team has recently moved operations from Norway to the U.S., and has set up offices in Santa Cruz and Sunnyvale. We have 60 customers worldwide today, among them Mayo Clinic, ARUP laboratories, New York State Department of health, St Jude Children`s Research Hospital and Stanford Hospital, as well as 18 published articles in the most important industry journals such as the Journal of Microbiology.

For more information about Isentio please visit or email

May Kristin Roen
CEO, iSentio

Sara Isenberg curates and publishes Santa Cruz Tech Beat for the benefit of the extended business and technology community. When she is not volunteering her time for the tech scene, Sara makes her living by managing software projects, web strategy planning, and providing development team services (including account management, vendor management, strategic partner management, beta project management, referrals to qualified technical team members, and more). Please visit or contact Sara by email at if you have any project management, account management, or Development Team leadership or service needs.


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