Medical Innovations from Two Local Startups

Two Philly-based startups are developing innovative ways to print live cells and booking rides to the hospital.

Allevi (formerly known as BioBots) focuses on biomedical technology. The company was started by 28-year-old Ricky Solorzano in his dorm room, who now serves as its CEO. Allevi is located inside the Pennovation Center in West Philadelphia. RoundTrip is a health-meets-tech mashup that was founded by Mark Switaj, who has over 20 years experience in medical transportation. RoundTrip calls Fishtown home but is active in six states around the country. Both Solorzano and Switaj are content with the burgeoning-but-friendly tech scene here. We asked them what’s next in 2018.

According to Solorzano, the ability to print organs is far off, but the time to “print and pattern cells in 3D,” is here. He explains that, the scientific and medical communities have been studying cells for decades, most often using a petri dish, a method that doesn’t allow for design, or permit the cells to behave accurately outside the body.

Enter the 3D bioprinter, which has quickly generated a positive response and hundreds of customers, Solorzano says,

“We’re beginning to allow scientists, in an easy way, to think about design, recreate that on the computer, and then, instead of throwing cells in a dish, they can put it in the device.”

The Allevi 6, the newest bioprinting model offered by the company, can print up to six types of cells (cell types are innumerable, Solorzano says) and costs $80,000. A simpler version, the Allevi 2, retails for $20,000 and prints two types of live cells.

The device’s function is to “create the body outside the body,” which is useful to test pharmaceutical drugs and across fields of research. Roughly ninety percent of Allevi’s customers are academics, the rest are industry-based.

The 3D bioprinter, both a product and an experiment, is poised for a breakout, predicts Solorzano.

About Allevi’s platform, he adds: “We want more and more people to use it and continue to tell our story. ‘What is it that a bio-printer can do and why is that useful?’ We want to answer those questions by serving our customers.”

A Better Way to Get There

RoundTrip, a digital tool to book one-way and round-trip rides — even medically complicated ones — aims to make it easier to get to and from the hospital.

Founder Mark Switaj, once worked in the medical transportation industry and he saw first-hand the flaws in the system — and how some patients, particularly those without cars, were often left with few options.

“Every year, 3.6 million people miss or delay medical care because of transportation problems,” explains Switaj, using a figure widely cited in the industry. “Care is actually getting hindered because of transportation and the inherent barriers of the system, and that’s what we’re fixing.”

Launched last January, RoundTrip’s first clients were health care organizations — Nemours, Crozer Keystone, MD Anderson Cancer Center, to name a few. To meet demand, the company works with a network of transportation providers, including some household names.

For simple rides, RoundTrip dispatches Lyft or another local provider. For complicated transports, such as wheelchair-bound or medically fragile patients, “We can tap into a network to complete it,” says Switaj.

Patients or their loved ones can now book their own rides, via the website or the app (RoundTrip Healthcare Transport), which was released in last December. Users can track rides in real-time, rate their experiences, and pay — all from a smartphone.

The concept has caught on. The company experienced a growth rate of 40 percent last year and tripled its staff, according to Switaj. He estimates that 80 percent of RoundTrip’s customers are Medicaid-eligible; RoundTrip also tries to match the needs of the patient — such as specific language skills — with the transporter whenever possible.

Switaj is not entirely surprised by RoundTrip’s reception. “You should see some of the transports we do,” he says, describing the process of transporting sick children, particularly those with cancer, to receive treatment. “We’re making this whole process better for them. It brings meaning to us.”