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Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

– By Shraddha Easwaran and Hiranjith GH

Prostate cancer, also known as carcinoma of the prostate, is the development of cancer of the prostate gland – a gland present only in the male reproductive system. Most prostate cancers are slow growing, though some do grow quickly. The cancer may metastasize to other parts of the body – especially the bones and lymph nodes(1) .

Globally, prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer and the sixth leading cause of deaths resulting from cancer among men. In large Indian cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Pune and Trivandrum, prostate is the second leading site of cancer among males, and the third leading site of cancer in cities like Bangalore and Mumbai. The worldwide prostate cancer burden is expected to grow by 1.7 million causing a death of ~5 lakh people by 2030, which can be directly correlated to the growth and aging of the global population(2). This increase in population size and the proportion of elderly persons due to improved life expectancy has also caused an increase in the absolute number of new cancer patients in India(3).

Prostate cancer has become a major health problem in the industrialized world during the past few decades of the 20th century contributing to around 75% of the registered cases across the globe. Incidence rates of prostate cancer vary by more than 25 fold worldwide, the highest rates being in Australia/New Zealand, Western and Northern Europe, and North America. Although incidence rates of prostate cancer are considered low in Asian and North African countries, demographic and epidemiological transitions in developing countries like India have shown an increasing trend in the burden of various cancer cases including prostate cancer(2).


There are several risk factors that have been implicated in the risk for prostate cancer.  A history of diabetes mellitus, height, weight and obesity, smoking and physical activity,  body mass index (BMI),  and a vasectomy  have correlated to a prostate cancer risk(4). Studies have shown family history as a strong risk factor. A small percentage of all prostate cancers have the tendency to cluster in families. These hereditary cancers are associated with inherited gene mutations. Hereditary prostate cancers tend to develop earlier in life than non-inherited (sporadic) cases. Inherited mutations in particular genes, such as BRCA1BRCA2, and HOXB13, account for some cases of hereditary prostate cancer. Men with mutations in these genes have not only a high risk of developing prostate cancer, but also life-threatening forms of it, andpossibly, other cancers as well during their lifetimes.


MedGenome, a provider of clinical genomics solutions for personalized healthcare,offers comprehensive genetic diagnostic solutions for early detection of prostate cancer. MedGenome screens for the most prominent and unique genes implicated in the inheritance of the disease, like BRCA1, BRCA2 and HOXB13. Prostate cancer is a disease which if diagnosed and treated early, very often is completely curable. Hence genetic testing is highly recommended, so as to allow for timely prophylactic and/or surgical intervention.


  2. Jain, S., Saxena, S., & Kumar, A. (2014). Epidemiology of prostate cancer in India.Meta gene2, 596-605.
  3. Lalitha, K., Suman, G., Pruthvish, S., Mathew, A., & Murthy, N. S. (2012). Estimation of Time Trends of Incidence of Prostate Canner-an Indian Scenario.Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention13(12), 6245-6250.
  4. Ganesh, B., Saoba, S. L., Sarade, M. N., & Pinjari, S. V. (2011). Risk factors for prostate cancer: An hospital-based case-control study from Mumbai, India.Indian journal of urology: IJU: journal of the Urological Society of India, 27(3), 345.


– By Shraddha Easwaran and Hiranjith GH

August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). The objective of NIAM is to increase awareness about immunizations across an individual’s lifespan, from infancy to old age.

Vaccinations prevent susceptibility to illnesses which can result in serious complications and even death. If exposure to a disease occurs in a community, there is little to no risk of an epidemic if people have been immunized.

Recent advances in medical science have resulted in enhanced protection bestowed by vaccination. Some diseases that once killed thousands of children, have been eliminated completely and others are close to extinction– primarily due to safe and effective vaccines. Polio is a prime example of the great impact that vaccines have had in India. Polio was once India’s most-feared disease, causing death and paralysis across the country, but today, thanks to vaccination, as of 2014, India has been declared polio-free by the WHO, and has been removed from the list of endemic countries. Another example of the benefits of vaccination is the eradication of smallpox worldwide, because of which immunization against the disease is no longer a necessity. Regular and effective immunization may be able to ensure that many such diseases that plague us may be eradicated soon.

Even though some diseases, such as polio, rarely affect people in developed nations, all of the recommended childhood immunizations and booster vaccines are still needed. Travellers may inadvertently bring these diseases into developed nations and infect people who have not been immunized. Without the protection via immunizations, these diseases may quickly spread through the population, causing epidemics. The same is true the other way wherein a traveller is entering a new country and immunization can help fight the common disease agents at the destination. Non-immunized people living in healthy conditions are not protected from disease. The immune system can fight a disease better and faster if the individual has had the infection before or has been immunized.

Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities and can take a financial toll because of lost time at work, medical bills or long-term disability care. In contrast, getting vaccinated against these diseases is a good investment and usually covered by insurance.

A small number of people may be susceptible to diseases, such as those with impaired immune systems. These people may not be able to get vaccinations or may not develop immunity even after having been vaccinated. Their only protection against certain diseases is for others to get vaccinated so the illnesses are less common.

Vaccines are only given to children after a long and careful review by scientists, doctors, and healthcare professionals. The benefits of vaccination cannot be emphasized enough, and it is safe to say the discomfort or pain caused by the side effects of the vaccine pale in comparison, to the tremendous pain and illness caused by the diseases that these vaccines prevent.


– By Shraddha Easwaran and Hiranjith GH

August is National Cataract Awareness Month*. Cataract, which can be defined as any opacity of the crystalline lens, results when the refractive index of the lens varies significantly over distances approximating the wavelength of the transmitted light. This variation in the refractive index can result from changes in lens cell structure, lens protein constituents, or both. Cataract development may be influenced by factors like overproduction of oxidants, or smoking. They are often categorised by the reason for formation – age-related cataracts, congenital cataracts (these are often hereditary), secondary cataracts (possibly caused by disease/medications), traumatic cataracts (from injury to the eye), or from radiation (after radiation therapy for cancer) (1,4).


Age-related cataracts develop when progressive opacities begin to form in the lens around the onset of middle age. Lens proteins are known to undergo a wide variety of alterations with age, and many of these are accelerated in the presence of oxidative, osmotic, or other stresses. These stresses are themselves known to be associated with cataracts (1).

Congenital cataract is one of the major causes of childhood blindness in India. Approximately 25% of non-syndromic cataracts are inherited(2). Hereditary cataracts are estimated to account for between 8.3% and 25% of congenital cataracts. The lens alone may be involved, or lens opacities may be associated with other ocular afflictions, such as microphthalmia, aniridia or retinal degenerations (1). Cataracts may also be part of multisystem genetic disorders, such as chromosome abnormalities, Lowe syndrome, neurofibromatosis type 2, Down’s syndrome, Wilson’s disease or myotonic dystrophy(3). In some cases this distinction is blurred. Inherited cataracts may be isolated in some individuals and associated with additional findings in others, as in the developmental abnormality anterior segment mesenchymal dysgenesis, resulting from abnormalities in the PITX3 gene (1).

Congenital cataracts are also genetically heterogeneous. It is known that different mutations in the same gene can cause similar cataract patterns, while the highly variable morphologies of cataracts within some families suggest that the same mutation in a single gene can lead to different phenotypes. To date, more than 25 loci and genes on different chromosomes have been associated with congenital cataract. Mutations in distinct genes, which encode the main cytoplasmic proteins of human lens, have been associated with cataracts of various morphologies, including genes encoding crystallins (CRYA, CRYB, and CRYG), lens specific connexins (Cx43, Cx46, and Cx50), major intrinsic protein (MIP) or aquaporine, cytoskeletal structural proteins, paired-like homeodomain transcription factor 3 (PITX3), avian musculoaponeurotic fibrosarcoma (MAF), and heat shock transcription factor 4 (HSF4) (3).


MedGenome offers genetic testing solutions for cataracts by way of the extensive gene panel that screens for the numerous genes implicated in the development of congenital cataracts. Some of the genes screened for are EPHA2, GJA8 ,CRYGD ,CRYGC ,CRYGB ,CRYBA2 ,FYCO1 ,BFSP2 ,CRYGS  and WFS1, among others.

Congenital cataract can lead to permanent blindness if unaddressed. Prompt diagnosis and timely treatment can prevent this.

 *Based on available recognised sources


  1. Shiels A, Hejtmancik J. Genetic Origins of Cataract.Arch Ophthalmol. 2007;125(2):165-173.
  2. Ponnam, S. P. G., Ramesha, K., Matalia, J., Tejwani, S., Ramamurthy, B., & Kannabiran, C. (2013). Mutational screening of Indian families with hereditary congenital cataract.Molecular Vision, 19, 1141–1148.
  3. Santana, Alessandro, & Waiswo, Mauro. (2011). The genetic and molecular basis of congenital cataract. Arquivos Brasileiros de Oftalmologia, 74(2), 136-142.
  4. Hejtmancik, J. F. (2008). Congenital Cataracts and their Molecular Genetics. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology,19(2), 134–149.

Molecular genetics has a significant role to play in the clinical practice


“Are we in the era of genomic medicine?” was the key discussion topic for the Symposium held by SciGenom Research Foundation on August 8th, 2015


Molecular genetics has a significant role to play in the clinical practice – experts discussed the same at a hematology conference by MedGenome at Bangalore.

“Are we in the era of genomic medicine?” was the key discussion topic for the Symposium held by ciGenom Research Foundation on August 8th, 2015.

Dr. Mammen Chandy, one of the pioneers of Bone Marrow Transplantation in India and the current Director of the Tata Memorial Center in Kolkata was the key speaker. The symposium held in Bangalore, discussed on the evolution of genomics and the current state of application of molecular genetics in clinical practice. Dr. Mammen Chandy highlighted case examples in Acute and Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (AML & CML) leveraging molecular genetics to decide on a course of treatment. The eminent clinician gave detailed explanations of the case histories from initial diagnosis, leveraging molecular genetics from MedGenome and the subsequent treatment choice.
“I am convinced about delivering proper patient care using available molecular genetics” Dr. Mammen Chandy said, “The process is still complex and requires specialists’ attention to interpret and apply appropriately for patient benefit” Other speakers included Dr. Arati Khanna Gupta and Dr. Shiv Kumar Viswanath of MedGenome and Dr. Anirban Chakraborthy of Nitte, Mangalore who presented research work in AML, sickle cell disease and anaemia.

“We were happy to take initiative for platforms such as these where eminent clinicians and researchers discuss and debate on the most recent advances in the field of medicine” Mr. Sam Santhosh, CEO MedGenome said “MedGenome, with its rich experience in the Indian clinical genomics market, have always believed in such collaborative work to advance the application of genomics in the clinical practice” MedGenome partners with such symposiums at regular intervals in line with its mission to advance precision medicine in India.
With the advent of new technologies such as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) and improved analytics, algorithms and tools for genomic data analysis in the recent years, decoding an individual’s genome went through a revolution by exponentially reducing sequencing cost while increasing processing speed. Genetic testing has so far gained considerable traction in clinical setting for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management of diseases with an underlying genetic reason.


INTERVIEW: MedGenome raises Series B to advance the practice of precision medicine in India


MedGenome, a leading provider of genomics research services globally announced $20 million Series B investment from Sequoia Capital on June 22nd 2015.

images MedGenome, a leading provider of genomics research services globally announced $20 million Series B investment from Sequoia Capital on June 22nd 2015. Sam Santhosh, CEO MedGenome, speaks to Shahid Akhter on the path that MedGenome is treading now and what lies ahead.

1. What prompted you to genomics and how has been the journey so far?

The completion of the first draft of the human genome by the International Human Genome Project in 2001 originally attracted me to this field. I was intrigued by the opportunity produced through understanding and leveraging the genomic source code which is the language of life for all living beings. I spent few years in reading and learning about the subject during which period, the DNA sequencing technology went through a revolution by exponentially reducing sequencing cost while increasing processing speed. For example, sequencing the first human genome took 10 years and cost about $3 billion, while now we are at a stage talking about a $1000 genome in two weeks.

With the advent of these new technologies called Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), I saw the opportunity of creating a company for genome sequencing and data analysis. Genomics can create dramatic changes in healthcare, agriculture, animal sciences, environmental protection, bio-fuel, and so on. Using the same technologies vertical solutions in these domains could be developed. So I created a services company called SciGenom and MedGenome was incubated as an entity for medical genetics. And we spun it off as a separate company in 2013. So far the growth has been encouraging.

We have a leading position in clinical genomics in India and has set the benchmark for clinical genomics in emerging markets. We have also pioneered genomics-based research in India through our network of collaborators to enhance our understanding of the diseases at the genetic and molecular level. These were possible because of our extreme focus on bringing the latest advancements in technology in the Indian market – be it the advanced NGS lab in Bangalore or the launch of the non-invasive prenatal test for the first time in a facility in India – and success in developing world class bioinformatics pipelines.

2. What was your initial vision for the company? Where do you think you are with the vision?

Initial vision was to create a company in India applying genomics to improve personalized medicine in India and reduce the burden of inherited diseases. Subsequently the vision got enhanced to provide genomic research solutions to pharma once we understood the potential of Indian population to provide better understanding of complex diseases. And this has been very exciting and rewarding experience.

We have the most advanced technologies in our lab, for example the latest Illumina HiSeq 4000 machine addition to our lab; the first in India. We have developed intellectual property through proprietary platforms such as OncoMD, our cancer mutation platform and OncoPept, our immunotherapy solutions supported by our unique bioinformatics pipelines and proprietary databases. We are also the leading clinical genomics company in the country. We have our presence in the US as well through our R&D lab in San Francisco and office in Boston. And the recent Series B funding will allow us to expand our offerings and reach further.

3. How do you find the concept of ‘genetic testing’ gaining currency in India today? How does this compare with global market?

We have seen good progress on the acceptance of genetic testing. It is a function of awareness and the affordability, both of which have been focus actions for MedGenome as the leader in the market.

What has been very encouraging is the consistency of the prescribers once they see the value of genetic testing in their practice. We work with thousands of doctors every month across hundreds of institutions and the collaborations have been very enlightening.

It is also important to not stop at delivering a report but also support the patient in learning about the specific nature of the genetic condition. Which is where counselling plays an important role.

Globally, genetic testing has gained considerable traction in clinical setting for diagnosis, prevention, treatment and management of a wide variety of diseases with an underlying genetic reason, in light of the recent advances and celebrity endorsements. It is a rapidly expanding segment of the molecular diagnostics market worldwide given the increasing awareness about the value that these tests bring to the healthcare providers.

4. How would you summarize the trends in the molecular diagnostics sector over the past five years?

Genomics has seen rapid advances in the technology of decoding the DNA, triggering a revolution in our ability to understand the genetic and molecular basis of health and disease.

Genomic biomarkers as companion diagnostics are helping the pharma majors to provide more targeted therapies. Oncology has taken a lead in this so far but applications in other disease areas have been looked into. Genomics to enable differential diagnosis in neurological disorders is a good example of this.

Translation of large scale sequencing data into information of clinical utility is gaining importance globally. In the US, many companies have leveraged this opportunity – Foundation medicine is offering comprehensive genomic profiling for tumors, Invitae provides genetic testing across multiple disease areas and Natera has grown on its proprietary non-invasive prenatal tests. Over a million tests in NIPT have been prescribed in the US so far. So an understanding of the need and the acceptance for genetic testing have been encouraging so far.

Predictive medicine, using advances in accurate technologies in medicine, genomics, proteomics, cell biology, imaging etc. and allowing us to predict how, when, and in whom a disease will develop has gained traction in the recent years. This could be a new revolution in human health care where genetic information contained in an individual’s genome is interpreted to predict future predisposition to diseases. Many companies have been built and are experiencing growth leveraging this trend, in the US especially.

Lot of work went into advancing the use of genomics in exploratory research and drug discovery in the recent years.

5. Your opinion about the genetic testing market and where does MedGenome stand?

Genetic testing has clinical applications for diagnostic, predictive, carrier, prenatal & pre-implantation testing, and newborn screening, also playing a vital role in pharmacogenetic testing. It offers distinct advantages because of its ability to facilitate early disease detection with simpler and cost effective treatment and stratification of patients into groups allowing selection of optimal therapy.

It is going to be the standard in the future. A genetic testing report will be an integral part of a physician’s decision making process. As far as MedGenome, it is a leader in the clinical genomics market. MedGenome offers more than 100 tests currently across Oncology, cardiology, ophthalmology, neurology and nephrology. We have pioneered the launch of advanced genetic tests in the country – such as the non-invasive prenatal test launched this year. We will be the only company conducting this test in a facility in India.

Outside India, we are focused on providing diagnostic and research solutions only. Our OncoMD, cancer analytics platform, provides valuable clinical parameters to enhance the value of a diagnostic report through an API integration. Our OncoPept, cancer immunotherapy solution, allows identification and prioritization of peptides towards vaccine development by pharma and biotech.

6. What hurdles you have faced since inception?

One of the first hurdles was on educating the prescribers and the patients on a larger scale about genetic test offerings and the impact it can have on patient’s life. We had few who were aware and were early adopters, but to scale and customize the offerings, we needed to generate awareness. Cost of infrastructure was also important. We focused on having the latest technologies in sequencing for India and that required investment. It has allowed us to provide high quality reports with faster turn-around times which is essential for the stakeholders. We also had to develop our IP on population specific variants in Indian patients. Such information allowed us to refine our genomic data interpretation more accurately giving us an edge in the Indian market.

7. What are the challenges you feel the genomics and biotech industries are facing today? Do we need regulations or code of conduct?

Rising R&D costs is a challenge that is experienced by the biotech companies globally. Regulatory barriers and reimbursement from insurance companies is also having a significant impact on the success of the industry. Genomics, as a discipline, is recently studied as a means to improve R&D efficiency by improved patient stratification for clinical trials, thereby reducing the time and cost required for the trial. Regulatory authorities are also encouraging this as the results from these trials are more targeted and in favour of the needy.

From genetic testing perspective as well, certain factors like regulatory body approval, and reimbursement from insurance companies are crucial. In the western world, insurers have started accepting genomic tests in their formulary as it is expected to reduce the cost of down-the-line treatment. Another challenge is on patient confidentiality and ownership of genomic data. Requirement is to have policies and committees to enforce a check on this as genetic testing grows in the clinical practice.

In India, these tests are yet to be offered at affordable prices. There is also a great need for clinicians who have a good understanding of genomics and its clinical significance. Genetics, as far as I understand, is not widely adopted as part of the medical college curriculum in India.

The patient journey must be well managed so that if a particular condition is identified, the experts are brought in to handle the situation and help the individual. There is a dearth of genetic counsellors who can explain genomics findings to the affected individuals and their families. In addition to this, lack of baseline genomics data of Indian origin and unclear policies on intellectual property rights also pose hindrances to the industry.

8. Where do you see MedGenome 10 years from today?

We want to be a global leader in genomics-based diagnostics and research. A company working on cutting-edge technologies and where core capabilities and Intellectual property are built.

We have an opportunity to look beyond generics in the Indian health care space and contribute towards drug discovery and exploratory research and gain a prominent role in the global healthcare industry.

9. Any advice you would like to give to budding entrepreneurs?

Science provides huge number of opportunities for budding entreprenuers. I would urge them to look beyond IT and Ecommerce and leverage the revolutionary advances in Genetics, Nanotechnology, Neuroscience and Robotics to develop products and solutions that can make a significant difference to humanity.


Hemochromatosis Awareness Month

– By Shraddha Easwaran and Hiranjith GH

July is Hemochromatosis Awareness Month. Primary hemochromatosis is a disorder of iron metabolism characterized by excessive accumulation of iron in the body tissues and organs leading to multiorgan dysfunction, including liver cirrhosis, hepatoma, diabetes and cardiac disorders. Excess iron may cause damage to parenchymal organs, with an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus, arthropathy, liver cirrhosis and ultimately hepatocellular carcinoma (1). Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is one of the most common genetic disorders encountered in the Northern European population, affecting nearly 1 in 300 individuals.  Its inheritance is autosomal recessive (2) . Very few cases of hemochromatosis have been reported in India (4).


HH is caused primarily due to genetic mutations in HFE1 (Histone Family E1- a protein, which is highly similar to HLA class 1 molecules). Mutations in the HFE protein alter affinity of the transferrin receptor (TFR) for its ligand transferrin, and thus decrease uptake of transferrin-bound iron from plasma (5). Pathological mutations have been discovered in 5 genes: HFE (encoding HFE), TFR2 (encoding transferrin receptor-2), SLC40A1 (encoding ferroportin), HAMP (encoding hepcidin) and HJV (encoding hemojuvelin) (4).

Two missense mutations (C282Y, H63D) in the HFE gene have been associated with HH on the basis of phenotypic data from patients (1).  In the west, the C282Y mutation (a G-A transition at nucleotide 845 of the open reading frame that changes the amino acid cysteine to tyrosine) of the HFE gene is associated with HH in majority of cases. Variations in prevalence of the HFE gene mutations (C282Y and H63D) have been established in many European populations and descent (United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa). Few studies are available from India on the prevalence of these mutations in the general population. In view of the low prevalence of the C282Y mutation in the healthy Indian population, primary iron overload (stemming from hemochromatosis) in Indians may be attributed to genetic defects other than the HFE type (3). Further molecular studies are required to determine the exact defect in various iron regulatory genes, like the transferrin receptor 2, hepcidin, ferroportin, ferritin and hemojuvelin (1).


MedGenome’s genetic testing solutions for hemochromatosis involve the screening of genes like HFE2, SLC40A1, HFE, TFR2, FTH1, HAMP and BMP2 that are implicated in the development of the disease.

Hepatic iron overload, if untreated, often leads to conditions like cirrhosis of the liver, cardiomyopathy and diabetes. It may also be associated with decreased survival after liver transplantation, more so in patients with HH. Genetic testing will enable early and accurate diagnosis of hepatic iron overload and iron depletion prior to liver transplantation and may improve post transplantation survival, particularly among patients with HH (4) .


  1. Dhillon, Barjinderjit Kaur, et al. “Frequency of primary iron overload and HFE gene mutations (C282Y, H63D and S65C) in chronic liver disease patients in north India.”World journal of gastroenterology: WJG 21 (2007): 2956-2959.
  2. Shukla, Priyanka, et al. “Short Report HFE, hepcidin and ferroportin gene mutations are not present in Indian patients with primary haemochromatosis 20.”Natl Med J India 19 (2006): 20-3.
  3. Das, Reena, and Giriraj Ratan Chandak. “Obscure pathogenesis of primary iron overload in Indians warrants more focused research.”Indian Journal of Gastroenterology 4 (2011): 154-155.
  4. Poddar, Sandeep. “Hereditary hemochromatosis-Special reference to Indian scenario.”INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN GENETICS 1 (2006): 73.
  5. Panigrahi, I., et al. “Evidence for non-HFE linked hemochromatosis in Asian Indians.”Indian journal of medical sciences 12 (2006): 491.

Start-ups: Busting dumb myths


There are many myths and taboos attached to the start-up world. Some maybe quite real to a certain extent but some are utterly nonsensical. Often times much stereotypical beliefs float around which are not even to the slightest proximity to reality. 


Investors, venture capitalists, financial institutions, incubators and everybody who are a part of the start-up scene have believed, and still believe many myths surrounding start-ups.

BioSpectrum’s Raj Gunashekar spoke to some of the leading Life Sciences start-ups in the country to do a reality check, and bust long-held dumb myths about Life Sciences start-ups. Here we go:

Myth #1: Biotech start-ups struggle with fundraising

Venture capitalist fundraising is difficult irrespective of the sector. “With a good product and a great team backing it, you become an attractive incubation target. There are a number of ‘healthcare only’ funds made available for life science start-ups,” says Dr Mallik Sundaram, co-founder of Mitra Biotech.

Investors shy away from Life Sciences start-ups because of the widespread notion that investments in this field are risky with long gestation periods.

“But in reality, a key contributor to the stunted growth of life sciences industry in India is lack of funds to attract great talent and technologies required to build great products. If we have the kind of money they are putting into mushrooming e-commerce and dot com ventures with no uniqueness, life sciences companies can develop impactful products and go to market with significantly shorter turnaround times. We must start believing in the potential of this industry and start pitching with large visionary ideas and gain the confidence of the investor community,” points Mr Tony Jose, CEO, Clevergene Biocorp, a two-year-old start-up in Bangalore.

While Life Sciences start-ups do require more investment, than typical software-driven companies that can get started in a garage, it is possible to build lean, and capital efficient companies in this space.

Mr Sam Santhosh, CEO & chairman, Medgenome, a start-up dealing with genomics-based diagnostic solutions stresses, “Start-ups in life sciences require a lot of capital to get started. In some instances, scaling up life sciences companies can be easier than other sectors, like e-commerce, as profitability is easier to attain upon achieving scientific milestones.”

Another start-up entrepreneur, Dr Saleem Mohammed, director, Xcode Life Sciences, thinks that Life Sciences start-ups requires large capital investment for infrastructures. “I think historically life sciences companies have required huge capital investment because of machinery, manpower, and labs among others. But these days you can easily outsource projects to any third party labs for your projects,” he expresses.

However, Ms Smitha Murthy, founder & CEO, Credora Life Sciences, bolsters the point that it is indeed really difficult to raise funds for research in start-ups.

Myth #2: Start-ups need larger investments, offer insignificant ROIs, and longer gestation periods

“This cannot be generalized saying it takes a longer time to see returns in this sector,” says Dr Mallik. “It depends on the extent of innovation, market acceptability and novelty of products and services. A novel concept will definitely take longer to sell, eventually bringing windfall. However, innovations in existing products see quicker returns.”

Founders of Bangalore-based, Leucine Rich Bio, Mr Kumar Sankaran and Mr Prabhath say that, “For Life Sciences start-ups, it is true that you need heavy initial capital. But there are ways to handle it. For example, you don’t have to have a fully-fledged lab at the very beginning itself. You can slowly grow better and better.”

Dr Raja Mugasimangalam, founder and chairman of India’s first agri-genomics start-up, QTLomics, argues, “There is no capitalism without capital. But a life science start-up with generous capital is bound to fail as optimization of the R&D cost or production happens much later, when it is too late. By smartly outsourcing and rightly negotiating, the capital investments can be reduced to a great extent.”

The beliefs that long-term investments and longer incubation periods are not true anymore.

“We live in an era where development and roll-out of apps or companies happen within 2 to 3 months. There are areas of life sciences where the incubation period is not long especially in the bioinformatics or BioIT space,” Dr Saleem reveals.

Noida-based start-up CromDx’s co-founder & CEO, Mr Sanjay Bhardwaj, comments, “It is a myth that life sciences start-ups requires huge funding. One can actually break their business plans in stages. It is crucial to find applications for the immediate markets. Building competencies and preparing for the market explosion is important.”

Investors usually believe that R&D is expensive. “Get your products and services launched and keep on improving it,” advises Mr Sanjay.

Myth #3: Big ideas equal big returns

Most of the ‘novel ideas’ are not first-in-class products. “They were developed based on millions of pages of literature, and a number of precursors. Apart from sound technical knowledge, right know-how of the market and consumer behavior can go miles in designing the right strategy for a start-up,” advises Dr Mallik.

Dr Sangeeta Naik, director of Bangalore-based start-up, Cleanergis Biosciences says, “It is generally perceived that in biotech it is easy to start-off and get multiple projects compared to other sectors. The reality is it is not that easy to achieve targets in the biotech industry.”

Also, it is a common belief that Indian Life Sciences start-ups do not work on cutting-edge technologies.

“This is a common perception and is not necessarily true. We are working on market leading efforts in genomics using the latest sequencing platforms, advanced bioinformatics and big data analytics. Curadev is a great example under the immunotherapies category,” Mr Sam adds.

Myth #4: Starting with the biggest market

Entrepreneurs advise that it is significant to look for niche segments to test the waters, and then replicate the process for rapid scale up.

“The market with most potential may always not be the right place to start with. It all again depends on the kind of products or services offered, and its acceptability level at the market,” Dr Mallik held.

When entering a particular market, it is believed that products or services are priced higher. Mr Sanjay advises, “Do a price versus volume analysis and the answer is obvious.”

Myth #5: Life Sciences start-ups are associated only with medicines

Life Sciences is a broad umbrella. “It comprises of agriculture, biofuels, synthetic biology among others which also fall under the life sciences domain,” comments Dr Saleem.

Dr Ezhil Subbian, CEO, String Bio, remarks, “Usually people assume that all life sciences companies are pharma ventures.”

Co-founder of genomics-based start-up, Bionivid Technology, Mr Hitesh Goswami voices, “A popular myth in the life sciences start-up scene is that you have to be a scientist to set up a start-up. This is absolutely not true.”


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