Getting Started Stories: Creating Diagnostic Tools for Sickle Cell Disease
In this series, Karen Guzman talks to students and former entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.
Company: KovaDx is building a point-of-care monitoring device for rare blood diseases, starting with sickle cell disease. Using proprietary 3D phase imaging microscopy and deep learning algorithms, the company aims to reduce hospitalizations by preventing serious episodes through routine monitoring and informed care.
Founders: Song Kim ’20; Yaw Ansong Jnr, physician and scientist; Tim Adamson ’22
When did you get the idea for this startup?
KovaDx was inspired by Yaw’s work as a doctor in Ghana. He treated children he suspected of having sickle cell disease (SCD), but since their parents could not afford to be diagnosed, he simply did what he could to lessen the symptoms. In the United States, we have learned that diagnoses of SCD are universally made at birth. However, there has been underinvestment, both at individual and systemic levels, which has impeded progress in improving care.
We have recognized this with our skills—Yaw with his clinical and research experience; Tim with his IT expertise; and me with my background in program management – we could expand access to services by creating a new kind of business that uses innovative technology to transform the way SCD is treated.
What is the problem you are trying to solve or the gap you are trying to fill?
Sickle cell disease is a global health problem that has a significant impact on the length and quality of life. It is a genetic disease that makes red blood cells hard, sticky and sickle-shaped and leads to serious problems throughout the body including infection, excruciating pain, loss of vision, chronic organ damage, stroke brain and premature death. It affects 30 million people worldwide. In the United States, where 1 in 18 black Americans carry the trait, individuals have a life expectancy 34 years less than that of the average American. The average cost of treatment has been estimated at over $34,000 per year. Yet despite its prevalence, sickle cell disease remains one of the least well-funded diseases. Lack of funding translates into a lack of research and investment in health infrastructure, widening the already existing health gap between races.
What has been the most important resource that Yale SOM has brought to your startup?
Prior to SOM, I was an attorney providing services to marginalized immigrant communities. I had little business experience. Honestly, I hadn’t used a single formula in Excel until my first accounting class. Needless to say, everything I learned in the courses – from basic courses like sourcing and fund management to social entrepreneurship courses – helped me think about what it means to launch a sustainable startup with a mission of social impact.
Another of the most important resources provided by SOM is the network I tapped into every step of the way. From finding key advisors aligned with our values to helping me understand the nuances of the incredibly complex and fragmented healthcare system, I couldn’t have done it without friends, teachers and alumni. who generously offered their support.
What is the biggest milestone your startup has taken since graduating?
We set out to build a point-of-care monitoring tool that can measure patients’ blood health in real time. While this can be applied and customized to a number of diseases, we are obviously excited about our initial application as it will be the first point-of-care tool capable of measuring the blood health of people living with SCD. To put into perspective how transformative this would be, think of the impact glucometers have had on diabetic patients! Our next steps are to test our device and models in a clinical setting.