A startup currently on the Accelerate Cambridge programme at the Cambridge Judge Business School Entrepreneurship Centre is developing a system to help kidney patients monitor their blood potassium levels on the go.
Kalium Diagnostics was established in Summer 2018 by four co-founders following a request from patients in a clinic who struggle to manage unstable potassium levels. Co-founder Dr Tanya Hutter says the startup is now in the process of working on the business plan and aiming to raise seed-funding.
Our kidneys keep salts and minerals in balance in the body. Abnormally high or low levels of potassium are particularly dangerous and can be fatal, so patients with kidney disorders need to have their levels regularly checked at the hospital or GP surgery.
So Kalium, a University of Cambridge spin-out company, is now developing a simple finger-prick test for patients to monitor blood potassium levels instantly in their own home. The company was recently named Cambridge’s Best Healthcare Start-Up in the AstraZeneca Start-Up Science competition.
“Patients were asking me why they couldn’t monitor their own blood potassium levels in the same way that people with diabetes monitor their blood sugars, and the idea for a home test was raised via Addenbrooke’s Hospital’s Patient-Led Research Hub,” says Professor Fiona Karet, from the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research and Honorary Consultant in Renal Medicine at the hospital.
When Karet met Hutter, an expert at building miniature sensors, the idea began to become a reality.
“The technology is based on an electrical signal,” says Hutter, from the Department of Chemistry. “This allows the sensors to be low cost and disposable, as well as miniature enough to measure potassium in a tiny drop of blood.”
Proof of concept was developed by the researchers with funding from Kidney Research UK, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust and Addenbrooke’s Kidney Patients’ Association, and commercialisation was helped by Cambridge i-Teams and Cambridge Judge Business School. Dr Liz Norgett, a research associate, has been doing most of the lab work.
Kalium Diagnostics was also one of the winners of Accelerate@Babraham. With business mentoring plus lab space at AstraZeneca and Babraham Research Park, the team is now working towards sensor manufacturing and clinical trials.
“Patients know their own disease needs and it’s exciting to think that we’ve been able to respond in this way,” says Karet. “It can also be used by other patient groups and healthcare professionals. If patients can better manage their health away from hospital, it will improve their lifestyle and reduce the costs of healthcare.”
Gaynor Fryers, a coach at the Accelerate Cambridge programme who is working with Kalium Diagnostics, said: “We all know how important it is for diabetic patients to accurately measure their insulin at all times. Without injecting insulin at the correct times, patients run the risk of coma and death. What we don’t know so much about is that many kidney patients run the same risks but are not able to easily monitor their potassium levels, having to make journeys to GP clinics and hospitals. Kalium is making excellent progress and it is a pleasure working with this skilled team.”
A version of this feature was originally published in Research Horizons magazine of the University of Cambridge.
This article is part of Venturing Forth, our new series on the aspirations and challenges of ventures connected to students, alumni and others associated with Cambridge Judge Business School.