Startup Stories: Developing Diagnostic Tools for Sickle Cell Disease

In this series, Karen Guzman talks to student and graduate entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact in their startups.

Venture: KovaDx is developing a point-of-care monitoring device to monitor rare blood disorders, from sickle cell disease. Using proprietary 3D phase imaging microscopy and deep learning algorithms, the company aims to reduce hospitalizations by preventing severe episodes through routine monitoring and data-driven care.

Founders: Song Kim ’20; Yaw Ansong Jnr, physician and scientist; Tim Adamson 22

What was your idea for this startup?

KovaDx was inspired by Yaw’s work as a doctor in Ghana. He treated children who he suspected had sickle cell disease, but whose parents could not afford a diagnosis, and did what he could to alleviate the symptoms. In the US, we learned, SCD diagnoses were universally performed at birth. However, there has been low investment at both the individual and system levels, which has hindered progress in improving care.

We know that with our skill sets-Yaw has a clinical and research background; Tim with his computer science expertise; And with my experience in managing programs—we can expand service access by building a new company that uses new technologies to change the way SCD is handled.

What is the problem you are trying to solve or the gap you are trying to fill?

SDD is a global health problem that significantly affects life expectancy and quality of life. It’s a genetic disorder that causes red blood cells to become hard, sticky, and sickle-like, leading to serious complications throughout the body, including infection, severe pain, vision loss, chronic disability, stroke, and premature death. It affects 30 million people worldwide. In the US, where one in 18 black Americans carry the trait, life expectancy is 34 years shorter than the average American. The average medical cost is estimated to be over $34,000 per year. Yet despite its prevalence, SCD remains one of the most poorly funded diseases. A lack of funding leads to a lack of health infrastructure research and development, which is widening the already widening racial health disparities.

What was the most important resource that Yale SOM contributed to your startup?

Prior to SOM, I was an attorney serving marginalized immigrant communities. I didn’t have much experience in business. In fact, I had never used a single formula in Excel before my first math course. Everything I learned in class—from core courses like Sourcing and Managing Funds to social entrepreneurship courses—helped me think about what it means to start a sustainable startup with a social impact mission.

One of the most valuable resources SOM provided was the network I tapped into every step of the way. I couldn’t have done it without my friends, teachers, and alumni who generously provided their support, from finding key mentors who aligned with our values, to helping me navigate the incredibly complex and fragmented health care system.

What is the biggest milestone your startup has achieved since graduation?

We set out to build a point-of-care monitoring device that measures patients’ blood health in real time. Although this can be applied and adapted to any type of disease, we are very excited about our first application because it will be the first point of care tool that can measure blood health for people with SCD. To see how much of a difference this makes, think about the impact of glucose monitors on diabetics! Our next step is to test our tools and models in a clinical setting.

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