The Frontier of Precision Based Behavioral Health: SE Color Winner Spotlight: Polaris Genomics

Improving the antiquated,  inadequate “Gold Standard” for PTSD diagnosis and treatment


Charles Cathlin wanted to be a pilot. With a sister serving in the U.S. Air Force and a predisposition for science and technology, Colorado Springs was calling. But…


“It seemed like everyone knew I was color blind except me,” he said. 


Nevertheless, Charles served six years in the Air Force as a bioenvironmental engineer working to mitigate or eliminate environmental hazards in industrial arenas like aircraft maintenance facilities. After deployments to Albania, Mozambique and the Middle East, Charles joined the United States Public Health Service Corps’ division on emergency response and preparedness in August 2001. His department was responsible for the medical response to the terror attacks on New York and Virginia the very next month.


“We knew how to protect first responders and uniformed service members from the myriad environmental hazards they faced in response to the events of September 2001,” Charles said. “But there was no protection at all from the mental health impacts responders inevitably faced.”


In 2016, he learned of pioneering PTSD biomarkers and genomics research conducted by Dr. Rachel Yehuda at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in conjunction with Dr. Florian Holsboer at the Max Planck Institute.


An aging, inadequate “Gold Standard” for PTSD diagnosis

The current gold standard for PTSD diagnosis is a self-reporting survey, Charles stated in his winning pitch to the Southeast Life Sciences 2021 SE Color panel. Bias, stigma and the variety of symptoms are just three challenges to diagnosing PTSD. Currently, there are 22 veteran suicides daily.


“The current system lets people fall off the cliff while the ambulance waits at the bottom,” Charles said. “We’re building guardrails to intervene ahead of the tragic outcomes that come from undiagnosed, untreated behavioral health disorders.”


Charles co-founded Maryland-based Polaris Genomics to identify earlier and more effectively diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Polaris licensed the PTSD biomarker patent from Mt. Sinai and expanded its capability from 3 genes to more than 1,000 with correlating mental health conditions. The team then built the TruNorth Platform, a bioinformatics engine to ingest genomic information, analyze it and apply AI for predictive modeling and reporting for clinical use.


Editor’s note: At the end of his service with USPHS, Charles spent 10 years at the FDA including serving as the Chief of Neurology and Radiology Devices.


The frontier of precision based behavioral health 

Polaris is a veteran-owned business that remains committed to its founding mission of improving the lives of U.S. military service members and veterans living with behavioral health conditions such as PTSD. Over the last 18 months, an evolving behavioral health landscape amid the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the urgency for advances in diagnostics and treatment for many more populations. Answering a calling to serve, Polaris officially launches with an expanded mission addressing:


  • Veterans and active-duty US military service members,
  • First responders, frontline workers, and individuals in high-risk occupations, and
  • Trauma-exposed communities at large.

Building on research into the biological basis of PTSD and other neuropsychiatric conditions, the team at Polaris is working to develop the frontier of precision behavioral health with the first objective and evidence-based diagnostics and therapeutics.


“Experiencing PTSD is not exclusive to veterans,” Charles said. “Just look at the hand that healthcare workers and first responders have been dealt in dealing with Covid-19 and the mental health repercussions they will continue to face in the foreseeable future.”


As of this publication date, Polaris is completing validation on a clinical product in partnership with Sanford Health, while laying out a Series A funding strategy for an early 2022 push. 


Charles Cathlin

“We have goals set for science and product development, finance fundraising, team building, marketing and business development,” Charles said. “We want to form a company with the right people. Failing to do so can cause a lot of chaos with the wrong people in roles necessary to move the company forward. We spend a great deal of time on team building and development because we know how important it is to get it right.”


“Scientifically, unlike cancer, you can’t see or biopsy within mental health conditions. We’re doing some of the work needed to identify the biological underpinnings of those conditions with validation and research partners at Sanford Health and Defense Research and Development Canada.”


In addition to the fundraising plan mentioned previously, Polaris’s marketing and business development efforts center around gathering as much input from their network, including KOLs, as possible to position the technology for successful commercialization.


Finding the right, ripe markets for early commercialization, while building a path to providers

“Commercialization is a top area of focus at the moment,” Charles said. “We are talking to potential customers for feedback and input. There are some interesting therapeutic products being developed by the pharmaceutical companies. But identifying patients for clinical trials is proving difficult for them. Adding a genomic component to the PTSD diagnosis pathway could provide a significant boost for their recruitment efforts.”


“The provider community in the PTSD arena will be slower to adopt this technology,” Charles said. “Shifting from self-reported surveys, observation and conversation to utilization of genomic, bioinformatic data and AI will be a heavy lift in the clinical community. The research market and potential pharmaceutical market will support our work while we continue to educate clinicians.”


We applaud Charles and his team’s noble, novel approach to an unmet need that may well save thousands of lives and improve the lives of millions more that suffer PTSD. From their own story, “The team has garnered numerous awards, ranks, titles, and accomplishments, ranging from captain to engineer, Purple Heart recipient to medical doctor, virologist and immunologist, 9/11 responder to Iraq War veteran, and PhD to Homeland Security Public Health Officer amid the threats of SARS and anthrax.”


Watch Charles’s winning pitch here.


About Southeast Life Sciences

Southeast Life Sciences cultivates, convenes, and connects the Southeast entrepreneurial ecosystem to foster life science innovation & investment across the region for the greater good.


We’re the network that brings all southern life science innovation together in one place: for investors, we bring your next investable opportunity; for young companies, we introduce you to your investors and potential partners; universities & corporations, move your research or innovation into the commercialization pathway; for solution providers, we bring your next clients.


We are the proud creator and producer of the AdvanSE Life Sciences Conference, an annual gathering of the most innovative life sciences companies, researchers and discriminating, accomplished investors and corporations that want to do business with them. 


The 2021 AdvanSE Life Science Conference, Southeast Life Science’s flagship event, will be October 27-29, 2020 in Charleston, SC. 


In 48 hours at AdvanSE, investors can see the very best of what the southeast life sciences innovation ecosystem has to offer.



Here are the Highlights from the Virtual 2021 SE Color Pitches/Women@SLS Conference

On Thursday, June 24, Southeast Life Sciences hosted the virtual SE Color Pitches and Women@SLS Conference that featured a dynamic group of presenters and speakers discussing some of the biggest challenges that women and minorities continue to face in the industry today. 

Here are some of the key insights and takeaways from this year’s event. 


SE Color Pitches Summary

Keynote with Dr. Melanie Ivarsson 

Dr. Melanie Ivarsson, Senior Vice President & Chief Development Officer with Moderna, kicked off the SE Color Pitch event in a fireside chat with Dr. Jayne Morgan, Executive Director of the Covid Task Force at Piedmont Healthcare. 

Melanie and Jayne started with an overview of Melanie’s career, spanning her childhood to her current position at Moderna. Melania recounts her childhood through her PhD and path to Moderna. She makes a note to compare her parent’s education opportunities, particularly for her mother, stating that education for women has moved “from a luxury, to being in the room but the minority, to where we are today.” 

The discussion then turned to Moderna’s path from a relative start up to creating one of the most important products in our lifetimes. When Melanie first started at Moderna she was told that she would work on a “side project” on Covid, but within three weeks it would become the focus of the company. 

Moving on, Melanie and Jayne discussed Moderna’s leadership role in health equity in their Covid vaccine clinical trial, finishing with the highest percentage of minority enrollment of any company. Melanie noted, “ you don’t have to be one of the big giants to be the one who changes the way we do things” 

There was much more to the fireside chat, so be sure to watch it all here

SE Color Pitches 

The meeting continued with seven presentations from minority-led organizations based in the southeast. The winner of the event and the $10,000 prize was TruGenomix, led by Charles Cathlin. You can see the TruGenomix pitch here

To view all of the presentations, check out our YouTube page



Mentorship vs. Championship

Deanne Kasim, Executive Director of Health Policy for Change Healthcare, touched on the key differences between having a mentor and having a champion in the workplace during her opening keynote. While mentors are always good to have, champions go above and beyond when it comes to your success. In addition to sharing advice and giving guidance as a mentor, champions are there to open doors for you and put your name in the running, playing a much more active role in your success. 

“Men have evolved into natural champions and I feel like they’ve had more opportunity to do so, while women have become aces at mentoring each other,” Deanne explained. 

So, how do we cross-pollinate these roles and connections between men and women? Deanne’s number one answer was networking, whether it be in-person or online. Opportunities are increasing for women in the life sciences despite the fact that it’s still a male dominated industry, so it’s crucial to continue moving forward and challenging biases by building a community of allies for the current and future generation of leaders. You can watch the opening keynote here. 

Finding the right seat at the table 

Tiffany Wilson, President & CEO of The Science Center, moderated the panel discussion on expanding the representation of women in the boardroom. Although there is some room for improvement in the number of women on life sciences boards, there are opportunities out there.

Tara Kochis-Stach, Slone Partners President, shared that networking is critical to find these kinds of opportunities. Being bold about what you want to do and reaching out to the people that can help you get there will create opportunities for yourself. However, making sure you’re joining the right board for you is just as crucial. 

“Don’t pick whatever board offers you a position just because you want to be on a board,” stated Valerie Darling, CEO & Chief Business Officer of Life Science Management Consultants. “It needs to match with your lifestyle and current job in terms of time commitment.” 

Arlene Morris, Board of Director Member for the MUSC Foundation for Research & Development, also suggested, “Interview with everyone on the board to make sure you gel with them and get along. If you know people on the board already, reach out to them to see what the environment is like.” 

Watch the full panel here. 

Identify the champions of your technology, and fast  

The panel discussion on what early-stage companies should know as they begin sourcing their first customers, moderated by Jesse Goodwin, PhD, featured insights from Vice President of Client Success at Pieces Technologies Lehanne Doyle, Senior Director of Clinical Operations at Moterum Technologies Lauren Rashford and ASKBio CEO Sheila Mikhail

Lehanne stressed the importance of finding several key champions in the facility to help support the change in process when your new technology is implemented. Identifying the procurement or IT personnel is also critical, as projects can easily fail because they weren’t involved early on. 

Lauren agreed that relationship management is key during this process. Finding these individuals that will be doing the day-to-day tasks and having their support will help leverage and drive your technology through the system smoothly. Click here to watch the full panel. 

Breast cancer treatment has come a long way, but there is always room for improvement 

This year’s conference ended with a closing keynote on the evolution of care and opportunities for improvement in breast cancer, featuring presentations from Regina Hampton, MD, FACS, Medical Director of Breast Center at Doctors Community Hospital, and Nikki Jensen, Vice President at Essentially Women. 

While Dr. Hampton illustrated the progress made in breast cancer treatment with the shift to patient-centered care and the passing of the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act in 1998, Nikki touched on some of the necessary steps that have not yet been taken when it comes to fully protecting and accommodating breast cancer patients and survivors. This includes breast prostheses and how they have not yet gotten the same treatment from the CMS that other breast cancer treatments have received. Watch the closing keynote in its entirety here. 

Southeast Life Sciences would like to thank everyone who participated in or attended this year’s SE Color Pitch/Women@SLS Conference, and the event sponsors who made it all possible. If you were unable to attend the live event, visit our YouTube channel to watch the recordings.

Southeast Life Sciences Announces the winner of the SE Color Pitch


July 6, 2021 – The first SE Color Pitch event, hosted by Southeast Life Sciences, was held on June 24, 2021, featuring top minority-led, early-stage life science companies from the southeast United States.

We’d like to congratulate the winner of the SE Color Pitch event, TruGenomix, which will receive the $10,000 prize, sponsored by Moderna. Presenting for TruGenomix was Charles Cathlin. CEO & Founder.

TruGenomix is a precision behavioral health company focused on advancing the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our behavioral health platform incorporates our core products, TruGen-1and TruBase. TruGen-1 is a 1000 gene neuropsychiatric panel, designed in collaboration with Illumina, that includes our patented markers for PTSD predisposition. TruBase is our custom-built machine learning and bioinformatics engine, which is designed to support behavioral health research, clinical decision-making, and biomarker discovery.

See the presentation HERE

Congratulations Charles & TruGenomix!

About SE Color

SE Color, a division of Southeast Life Sciences, was established in 2020. SE Color is an organization designed to support minority life science entrepreneurship, increase investment in minority-owned life science businesses, and improve minority access to information and clinical opportunities. 


About Southeast Life Sciences

In 2019, the Southeastern Medical Device Association (SEMDA) and Southeast BIO (SEBIO) officially merged to form Southeast Life Sciences. The merger created a single, unified platform for medtech and bioscience innovation, partnering and investor relations.