Indian American grad student’s team wins Wharton Startup Challenge

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Sanguis founders Prateek Agarwal, Daniel Zhang, and Divyansh Agarwal first met back in 2015, when they came to Penn for medical school. (Photo by: Eric Sucar/PennToday)

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business’ team Sanguis, featuring two Indian American graduate students Divyansh Agarwal and Prateek Agarwal along with Daniel Zhang, was named the winner of its annual Startup Challenge, formerly known as the Wharton Business Plan Competition.

According to a university press release, the team won the $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize plus $15,000 in legal, accounting and strategy services, and they have used their engineering, medical and business backgrounds to create “the world’s first hand-held, portable and inexpensive blood cell counting device” for cancer patients going through chemotherapy.

“The next step for us is to make this a reality. We’ve launched ourselves well; this is a very good platform which we are excited to have, but our journey only begins here,” Agarwal said in a press release.

But the idea originally came into Zhang’s mind when he saw his grandmother develop severe pneumonia while she was undergoing chemotherapy for late-stage lung cancer.

One of the side effects of chemotherapy is depleting the body of the key infection-fighting cells called neutrophils, which leaves the patient vulnerable to serious, life-threatening infections.

Every year, about 650,000 patients in the United States undergo chemotherapy, out of which 15,000 die from these infections and complications.

Chemotherapy outpatients get their blood tested every time they go to visit the doctor, but those appointments are several weeks apart and the hand-held blood cell counting device allows them to test their blood at home on a daily basis.

Thus patients can use the hand-held blood cell counting device to check their levels of neutrophils, and if are low then they should call their doctor in order to prevent the possibility of an infection or even death as neutrophil levels can drop within days.

“It should be as easy as a finger prick, where you place the blood onto the microfluidic chip, insert it, and get your numbers right then and there,” Agarwal explained.

The device will also save money by preventing emergency admissions due to neutropenia, costing the healthcare system over $2 billion annually.

“Every patient needs to be monitored, because every single patient is at risk for these complications,” Agarwal stated in the press release, adding that the standard, usual advice to patients is to call the doctor if they develop a fever, but the infection has already taken place by then.

According to a press release, Sanguis’ revenue model is prescription-based, and the product costs $600 for use over a 120-day course of chemotherapy.

The team expects to achieve a gross margin of 20 percent in year one, 60 percent in years two and three, and earn at least $24 million in annual revenue by the end of year five.

Sanguis, meaning “blood” in Latin, beat out a total of 30 teams.

Agarwal said that the team would use the prize money mainly to refine the prototype before they test it on clinical samples to establish and validate the technology.

“We imagine that Sanguis will be every patient’s personalized chemotherapy companion, and the idea is that it’s something you use every day for the course of chemotherapy,” Agarwal added.

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