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Building ‘Bridges’

School of Pharmacy PhD student and PragmaClin on upward trajectory

Research

By Kim Devlin

Bronwyn Bridges is on a winning streak.

In the past six months, the PhD candidate in the School of Pharmacy won $125,000 at various competitions — many of which are for university student entrepreneurs and initiatives.

It’s just the beginning for PragmaClin, her innovative company, and PRIMS, its flagship software.

Pragmatic and clinical

PragmaClin started two years ago when Ms. Bridges met Gord Genge, a Parkinson’s patient who was diagnosed in 2019.

Both Mr. Genge and Ms. Bridges wanted to help patients get the care they needed faster than Mr. Genge had experienced with his own diagnosis and catch disease progression earlier.

The name PragmaClin comes from “pragmatic” and “clinical.” In other words, a realistic way to provide clinical care.

PRIMS, PragmaClin’s flagship software, allows a patient to be assessed virtually through sensors and bio-wearables.

PRIMS is currently used for Parkinson’s, but Ms. Bridges is interested in making it useful for other neurodegenerative diseases.

It allows clinicians to monitor, analyze and rate the severity of a whole range of symptoms in real time.

The information gathered can be sent in a secure digital transmission when required by the patient’s health-care team. It has the potential to change the way we access health care for the better.

This past July, Ms. Bridges competed in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) National Championships, held in Halifax, N.S. The GSEA competition is open to Canadian student entrepreneurs.

Ms. Bridges finished second overall, receiving $25,000, after delivering a live, 30-minute pitch to a panel of three judges.

According to Ms. Bridges, the judges loved the story of how she met Mr. Genge and how they both wanted the same thing: better clinical care and outcomes for Parkinson’s patients.

“I met Gordon while doing my research and he came to me with a brilliant idea to be able to help Parkinson’s patients,” she said. “And then our idea actually progressed into PRIMS: Parkinson’s Remote Interactive Monitoring System.”

She says the judges appreciated the dedication they saw in them as a team, working together to make a difference.

Bronwyn Bridges is leaning against a railing with a body of water, trees and grass in the background.
Bronwyn Bridges is a PhD candidate at the School of Pharmacy.
Photo: Submitted

When asked if she knew why she didn’t receive the first-place prize, Ms. Bridges says that her fellow competitor, David Hodgson, the top-prize winner and a third-year medical student at Dalhousie, also had an “amazing” product through his company, Hollo Medical.

Ms. Bridges says the GSEA bases its decision on the competitor’s background story as much as the product they pitch.

For her next pitch, Ms. Bridges says she’ll spend more time sharing her background story with the judges, so they have a better understanding of how she got to where she is now.

Personal tragedy

Ms. Bridges grew up in Summerside, PEI, where she frequently volunteered in hospitals and long-term care facilities as a teenager. Her mother was a nurse.

“When I was 14, I lost my cousin, who I was very close with . . . And then, shortly after, I witnessed a family suicide. I found my grandfather after he took his own life.”

These tragic events eventually led to a diagnosis of PTSD.

Following her diagnosis, she kept busy with volunteering to help her cope. Together with her own experience with loss, led to a fascination with the brain and mental health.

She attended St. Francis Xavier University to earn an undergraduate science degree, specifically in biology and psychology. She also joined the cheerleading team and sustained three major concussions, which only encouraged her to learn more about the brain.

“I was nervous about it, but it’s exactly what I was already doing.” — Bronwyn Bridges

Ms. Bridges then decided to look into master’s programs in science. Although she wasn’t planning to be a pharmacist, she knew Memorial had an excellent program.

She found her supervisor, Dr. John Weber, and moved to St. John’s in 2019 for the master of pharmacy program. With Dr. Weber, she studied the antioxidant properties of blueberries and their potential to protect against Parkinson’s disease.

She had already spent two years in the master’s program, and was told at the School of Pharmacy that PragmaClin was “way too big” to be a master’s project.

“So, I just transferred over to the PhD program,” she said. “I was nervous about it, but it’s exactly what I was already doing.”

Upcoming challenges

In spring 2023 Ms. Bridges will present at the global competition, along with Mr. Hodgson.

The last two years have been virtual, so she is hoping she will have a chance to present in person, which could be anywhere in the world.

She’s got plenty to do before then, but if her recent successes are any indication, Ms. Bridges and PragmaClin might just continue her winning streak.


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