Science / Startups / Venture capital

‘The Theranos fiasco’ didn’t stop Group K Diagnostics from raising $800,000

“I walked into a meeting with investors and I happened to be wearing a black sweater,” said Group K CEO Brianna Wronko. “They asked if I was the new Elizabeth Holmes.”

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An $800,000 angel round, funded by a mix of private and institutional investors, will let Group K Diagnostics expand its team and fuel clinical trials for its point-of-care diagnostics tool.

The funding, CEO and founder Brianna Wronko said, will help Group K evaluate its liver-function testing device in a clinical trial setting, as well as advance the work needed to obtain a 510(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration.

Lehigh Valley Angels and Exton, Pa.-based FHA Holdings participated in the round, as did private investors. Driving the company’s tech is a team of 11, split between Philly and a four-person dev team in India.

Now with a new office at 3025 Market (after a major rent hike hit its previous University City offices), the Dreamit company is focusing on getting its product in the hands of healthcare providers, which the CEO said could happen as early as July 2019, pending FDA approval.

“Our technology is as simple to use as a glucometer,” Wronko said, when asked to describe her company’s flagship technology platform. “We created a point-of-care testing device with a test strip that uses microfluidics and can be read by a mobile app.”

The hope is that the strip delivers accurate, quick test results using a very small amount of blood. Its liver function panel, currently undergoing a clinical trial at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, needs only two drops of blood.

If the pitch reminds you of Theranos, the fraudulent Silicon Valley diagnostics startup that sunk over $1 billion in VC money, don’t worry: Wronko’s heard that one before.

“I walked into a meeting with investors and I happened to be wearing a black sweater [much like former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes frequently donned],” Wronko said. “They asked if I was the new Elizabeth Holmes.”

As the embattled San Francisco company continues its path towards dissolution, Wronko said she’s become more confident in that Theranos had a good vision, but lacked both the science and integrity to deliver on its promises.

“Let’s just dismiss it entirely,” Wronko said. “Let’s focus on data that we do have.”

Group K has its roots in a research project at the University of Pennsylvania, where Wronko got her bachelor’s in Bioengineering.

Brianna Wronko.

Brianna Wronko. (Courtesy photo)

“When I started the company I just wanted to publish research, and you don’t publish smoke and mirrors,” the CEO said. “The Theranos fiasco really put a mark on the point of care diagnostics space. They weren’t built on science. It was a fairy tale with no real tech inside it. That’s were we really differ.”

Her company’s impact, Wronko said, is in helping healthcare shift from responsive to preventive care, while lowering costs and improving speed of access to care.

“My dream would be that we’re not sending patients out the door to get bloodwork and then just never seeing them again,” Wronko said.


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