A pregnant mother diagnosed with HIV needed her liver function tested, but without results, doctors were unable to adjust her medication before she left the clinic. Although they discovered that the patient required further care, they were unable to reach her for six months. By then, harmful complications had developed. This is one of many scenarios that Brianna Wronko observed while working at a Philadelphia HIV clinic.
It was a window into a vast problem.
Wronko was struck by the difficulties patients had getting results, the dangers of patients getting lost in the system and the myriad delays and complications that often follow when patients are required to go to an outside lab for tests.
Diving deeper, Wronko discovered that two-thirds of clinical decisions are based on lab results. Yet a staggering 77% of abnormal results are never communicated to patients and a healthcare provider never reads nearly seven percent. “The long care chain and amount of time, as well as the increasing costs of diagnostics, make this one of the forefront problems in our healthcare system,” she says.
In 2016, while still a bioengineering student at the University of Pennsylvania, Wronko set out to find a solution. With the encouragement of some mentors, she says, “I decided to do more than just publish my research and start the entrepreneurial pathway to commercializing a technology with the ultimate goal of helping patients.” Her senior design project was a first pass at the diagnostics platform she had been mulling.
Now, less than a year after graduation, she is CEO and founder of Group K Diagnostics, which is developing a low-cost, “point-of-care,” paper-based system that can deliver results in minutes using blood, urine or sputum samples.
As its website explains, “Group K’s multi-diagnostic device is used in conjunction with software that that allows the diagnostic results to be read with no human error. By simply taking a picture, our software used on an iOS phone translates color to actual quantitative results in seconds.”
Those quick results at the point-of-care, the company adds, allow healthcare providers to take immediate therapeutic action. “Providers will no longer face the risks associated with delayed results such as losing contact with a patient or not altering a care plan on time,” the company says.
Wronko reports that Group K is gearing up for clinical trials with Penn Medicine, using resources from the health system’s research blood bank and conducting a patient study run in its Liver Disease Clinic, and expects FDA approval by the end of the year for liver function testing. Other tests are in the R&D pipeline, including the comprehensive metabolic panel frequently ordered in physicals.
Group K took up residency in September at the University City Science Center’s Port Incubator. “We had been searching for lab space for a long time, and found a home at the Science Center because of its amazing facilities, great resources, and supportive environment,” says Wronko.
She’s bullish, too, on Philadelphia: “I think there’s far greater opportunities in the area right now than challenges. You have access to several amazing universities and medical centers, as well as a community of other wonderful health care focused startups.”
This article was produced as part of our Writer in Residence Program with the University City Science Center.