Thomas Dunlap has been known to do some
Life outside of billable hours
Burmese kickboxing, fly airplanes and scuba dive.
In college, he wrote a few plays—which eventually
led to a script-editor credit for Assault on Wall Street.
Then he was a banker and an Army officer before
landing at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig.
But it was his interest in biotech that helped revo-
lutionize Lyme disease testing.
“We are the only company right now, as far as
I know, that if you pee in a cup, I can tell you with
a high degree of certainty that you have or do not
have Lyme disease,” says Dunlap.
In the early-’00s, Dunlap started a firm and
practiced law during the day; at night he pursued
a biotechnology degree. By 2007, he co-founded
Ceres Nanosciences, after a friend introduced him
to Drs. Lance Liotta and Chip Petricoin. The doctors
were doing university research and had patents that
Dunlap negotiated a deal to out-license their
technology, brought the doctors on as Ceres
shareholders and, because of the conflict of interest,
outsourced the patent work. “It was based on the
idea that we could detect exogenous human growth
hormone in athletes,” he says. “Nobody on earth
could do it accurately, except us.”
The work landed them on the front page of USA
Today. However, the politics surrounding doping in
sports, and the limited scope of applicability sur-
rounding the patent, prevented HGH testing from
being Ceres’ breakout.
“We shifted gears,” Dunlap says, “to do something
called a ‘biomarker discovery toolkit.’” While typical
tests focus on amino acids and are time-intensive,
Dunlap says, Ceres found a way to pass body fluids,
like urine and blood, through mass spectrometers.
The result, he notes, was that tests that took days to
run could now be run within an hour.
Ceres explored grant projects, many for the
Department of Defense. “[Along with a few other
companies,] we’re developing a blood patch for
the Army that you slap on your arm,” Dunlap says.
“You peel it off and can see, based on the color
45 percent accurate,” Dunlap says. “Nobody else
our nanoparticles turn, what the blood state of the
Ceres’ biggest tech claim to fame, however, is the
Lyme test. “The best, most sensitive scientific test,
called ‘western blot,’ takes weeks, and they’re only
In the Lymelight
IP lawyer and biotech company co-founder Thomas Dunlap helped
create a test for Lyme disease BY TREVOR KUPFER
Thomas M. Dunlap
DUNLAP BENNETT &
can see the antigen for Lyme because it is so diffuse,
but we can actually see the antigen.”
Ceres’ tests center around the Nanotrap, which is
essentially round particles that attract something
they want to detect. Dunlap likens it to a Wiffle ball
with adjustable holes so only the thing you’re look-
ing for sticks to the particle.
“If you had everybody in New York City, and you
had 100 people wearing red hats, if you looked
down with a helicopter, you couldn’t see them all,”
Dunlap says. “What our product does is stick all
those people with red hats to the inside of our ball
and we size feed, so anybody who’s bigger doesn’t
fit through the hole. But we also take all the par-
ticles and stick them all the way down at the bottom
of Manhattan. You can look and see in the middle,
‘Oh, there are the red hats.’”
The company is seeking FDA approval for the
test. “We are offering this test in a large number of
clinics in the metro D.C. area,” Dunlap says. “We’re
doing 400 tests a month—we physically can’t do
any more at our labs [right now].”
In Ceres’ early days, Dunlap was a hands-on CEO;
now he serves as legal counsel and board chairman.
“The first three or four years, [Ceres] was at least
half of my day, every day,” he says. “Now it’s every
couple days, an hour or so.”
That’s not to say he’s going to have free time on his
hands anytime soon. He notes he just added eight
more attorneys to his firm and started a tech company
to provide a cloud-based legal services platform.
Ceres’ unique Nanotrap
is “like a Wiffle ball, with
adjustable holes so only
the thing you’re looking
for sticks to the particle,”