Meet the founder who wants to expedite Parkinson’s patient care with her tech

Bronwyn Bridges, PragmaClin
Bronwyn Bridges discusses her journey into healthtech with PragmaClin and her entrepreneurial “superpower.”

Bronwyn Bridges, a scientist and entrepreneur from Newfoundland, has raised more than $2.5 million to help people living with Parkinson’s disease get treatment faster. 

The ailment affects one in 500 Canadians, and approximately 6,600 are diagnosed each year, according to UCB Canada.

Bridges developed a platform designed to be used in doctors’ offices to assess patient symptoms that can be deployed in rural communities, which often lack specialized practitioners able to diagnose. In addition to the $2.5 million she’s secured through provincial funding and pitch competitions, Bridges is currently raising her first seed round of $750,000 for her company, PragmaClin

BetaKit hopped on a call with Bridges to learn more about the software she developed, why Canadian healthtech companies prioritize FDA approval over Health Canada, and her experience as a young, female founder. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start simply with you telling me who you are and more about your company.

I’m the CEO and co-founder of PragmaClin, and also a PhD pharmacy candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland. My research has spun out into a company, with my co-founder Gord Genge. [PragmaClin] is a clinical decision support tool for real-time assessments of Parkinson’s disease progression. We have a system and software that is able to analyze different symptoms.

How does it work?

There’s so much subjectivity in the way assessments for Parkinson’s are done and also, it relies on a very special practice. So we have a bottleneck of wait times and lack of clinical efficiency. 

The current patient pathway is that when the patient does come into the clinic for their neurological exams with a neurologist or a movement disorder specialist, they typically only get an appointment once a year. If they’re lucky, they might get a follow-up every six months with a nurse practitioner.

“Being a young, female entrepreneur comes with a lot of downfalls, but I also like to think it’s kind of my superpower.”

With the technology, a patient is able to stand in front of a 3D camera and be prompted and guided through the series of clinical questions and motion-capture assessments. It might be finger tapping, walking, gait, sitting, standing. It’s a whole scale that’s currently assessed in practice, but a lot of the time actually gets cut because of the lack of time that a clinician can spend doing it.

If you have sensors and you strap four sensors onto different parts of the body, you’re likely to collect a little bit more [data]. But by using the cameras, one unique aspect we have is we’re actually capturing that full body experience as opposed to a watch, for example, that only captures the data from one side of the body on one arm.

The patient completes our assessment, which takes about 10 minutes on average, and then that report is generated in real time for each and every symptom on the progressions, so a clinical decision-maker can then just review the report and finalize any details for treatment decisions for the patients.

How did the idea for PragmaClin come about?

The idea was originally inspired by Gord being involved in clinical research and because he is actually a Parkinson’s patient himself. Also, it came out of my PhD research in nutraceutical products, particularly blueberry work. 

We wanted to complete a clinical trial across Newfoundland and Labrador, where patients actually [took] blueberry supplements that we had planned for our clinical work on Parkinson’s. Then we realized that we had no way to actually assess patients that were in those rural communities that we wanted to have involved in the clinical trials. So we came up with PragmaClin and decided to focus on the tech, because there seemed to be a much bigger need in the market. 

What’s the response and uptake been like for your tech?

Right now we’re pre-revenue. We’re just undergoing the beginning of our first validation trials, and the response has been incredibly positive. We’ve created a plug-and-play model, but we can also adjust tests to fit a clinical practice. 

One of the biggest hurdles in the medical-device space is being able to fit into a clinical practice, and we wanted to create a benefit for [practitioners] where they don’t feel like there needed to be this massive adoption for them to be able to utilize this. 

What’s your experience been like as a young female founder in tech?

It’s definitely been a struggle. Because it’s maybe not the normal that we typically see, people question what expertise I have behind me, or where I come from and what background would make me have the expertise to bring things forward.

I’ve been asked multiple times, “Who is the owner or CEO of the company?” and I point to myself and say, “That would be me.” 

People go, “Oh, really? That’s interesting.”

Being a young, female entrepreneur comes with a lot of downfalls, but I also like to think it’s kind of my superpower. I feel like I’ve gotten so much life and business experience that I’ve been able to take that with me. I’ve been able to travel the globe, meet some world-renowned leaders in the space, and build up this massive knowledge base that I’ve been able to use to get me where we are today. 

After your trials, what’s the next step?

From there, we’re trying to really collect a source of data that is accurate, viable, and hits on those KPIs for FDA approval. We want to show that PragmaClin is safe and will be adopted by clinical decision-makers with no risk to the patient and no risk to the diagnosis.

Why do we often see Canadian healthech companies seek FDA approval?

I think there’s a different mindset of hustle and less bureaucracy in privatized areas within the US, so sometimes they’re first to adopt. In order to get approval and procurement in Canada, it’s this really long cycle. The FDA is a gold standard in approval and you have to go through a rigorous process to get it. If you have FDA, well, then you can probably make it in most markets when it comes to regulatory [approval].

Correction: an earlier version of this story stated PragmaClin’s seed round was $700,000. The story has been updated.

Feature image courtesy Bronwyn Bridges.

Bianca Bharti

Bianca Bharti

Bianca Bharti is the newsletter editor at BetaKit, where she spearheads coverage and analysis of tech news in related products. Before BetaKit, Bianca covered the nexus of markets, industries and policy in a variety of formats as a reporter for the Financial Post. There, she won silver in SABEW's 2021 Best in Business Journalism Awards in the personal finance category for one of her pieces. In her free time, she enjoys swapping her reporter hat for a baseball cap to hit up some hiking trails with her dog. She also weirdly loves debating monetary policy.

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