Ann Arbor cancer testing startup continues adding employees, sites to meet COVID testing demand

When COVID-19 finally appeared to be slowing down last summer, LynxDx CEO and co-founder Yashar Niknafs and his company were faced with a choice. They could scale down their COVID testing operations and return to the Ann Arbor startup's original focus: prostate cancer detection tests. Or they could prepare for what turned out to be the case: a new wave of COVID-19. Niknafs chose the latter, anticipating that the community testing needs LynxDx had pivoted to meet in 2020 were not going to disappear. 

"For me, the writing was on the wall that this was going to come back with fury, and it did," Niknafs says. "And we were strongly positioned to rise to the need. If I was a betting man, I would bet that this isn't going to go away anytime soon."

When Niknafs and his former University of Michigan (U-M) advisor Arul Chinnaiyan started LynxDx at the beginning of 2020, it was intended to be a small medical technology startup built around commercializing an innovative new prostate cancer diagnostic method. But when COVID hit that spring, they felt they were in a unique position to provide the kind of fast local testing that Michigan was short on. 

A few new pieces of equipment later, they found themselves partnering with local and state agencies and rushing to keep up with the extreme growth required to fulfill COVID testing demands across Michigan. 

Now, they are busy running drive-through testing sites in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Brighton, and Lansing in addition to massive testing initiatives for both U-M and Detroit Public Schools. 

"Detroit Public Schools is a really meaningful initiative for us," Niknafs says. "I think testing schools is something that could really make a difference, but speaking firsthand, the project is immense."

Niknafs says 130-140 LynxDx employees are working on the Detroit Public Schools project alone. The company recently hit a grand total of 303 employees – up from just four at its inception. 

"Hiring has been one of the biggest challenges," Niknafs says. "I wish we were at 403, but it's extremely hard to find people fast enough." 

He adds that LynxDx is currently seeking employees "from entry level to executive level" on the company's website.

LynxDx is also still devoted to its original cancer diagnostics mission.

"We're in an exciting phase of that, and we're having a hard commercial launch soon," says Niknafs. "In Q1 of this year, we'll be rolling the test out."

In the meantime, Niknafs says LynxDx doesn't plan on scaling down any time soon, and he doesn't see an end in sight for COVID yet. 

"Every step of the way, I've banked on COVID not going away, and so that's why I think we're in the position we're in," he says. "We've never shrunk away."

Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at

Photo courtesy of LynxDx.