Indian startups gear up for Nesta’s Longitudinal Prize to tackle AMR

BIRAC has collaborated with Nesta, a UK based innovation charity organization, for creating a pipeline of innovators for the Longitude Prize, in the area of antimicrobial resistance

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New Delhi: India faces increasing instances of tuberculosis patients being resistant to frontline drugs. Experts say this is due to lax monitoring and profligate prescription by medical authorities that allow these drugs to be easily available. Indiscriminate usage means that bugs are, over time, able to resist these medicines. The World Health Organisation statistics for 2014 give an estimated incidence figure of 2.2 million cases of TB for India out of a global incidence of 9 million, with instances of drug-resistant TB rapidly rising.

In this context, the Government of India, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), has created an India-focused seed fund as part of the Longitude Prize’s Discovery Award Programme that is focused this time on antimicrobial resistance. India hopes this will strengthen the pipeline of Indian innovators competing for the Longitude Prize.

The Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a not-for-profit public sector undertaking set up by the DBT, has collaborated with Nesta, a UK-based innovation charity organization, for creating a pipeline of innovators for the Longitude Prize, in the area of antimicrobial resistance. The Longitude Prize is a £10m prize fund that will reward a competitor that can develop a point–of–care diagnostic test which will help to conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionize the delivery of global healthcare.

Through this partnership with Nesta, BIRAC aims to create a separate pool of India fund which would provide SEED funds to Indian innovators through Discovery Awards. Discovery Awards are small seed grants to help teams and individuals further develop their ideas for the Longitude Prize. BIRAC expects that it would be able to take the message of Longitude Prize to a large network of innovators and help to generate good applications.

The Longitude Prize Discovery Awards are small seed grants to help individuals or teams to further develop their ideas to win the Longitudinal Prize. Applications open now and will close on midnight of 26 August 2017. Winners will be announced on 21 November 2017.

Meanwhile, Nesta had already announced a call for soliciting proposals under the Discovery awards. After the screening process five each from the UK and India and two from the US were selected and received a grant of up to £25,000 to be used in developing ideas and overcoming technical challenges faced when working on submissions for the main Longitude Prize Challenge. Under the ambit of BIRAC-Nesta partnership, BIRAC is funding the five Indian teams to take their innovations forward.

As per Mr Daniel Berman, Lead, Longitudinal Prize, one of most critical antibiotic-resistant diseases in India is Tuberculosis but at the same he said, the issue also has global ramifications. Speaking to Rahul Koul, Chief Editor, BioVoice News, he mentioned, “We are also currently looking at finding a solution that is relevant globally.” Giving a basic outline on the ways to compete for the  £8 million pound prize, he pointed out that the startups or individuals need to register as a team to compete. “We call them teams. And today we have 240 teams in about 40 countries. It is good to see that India is well represented and the reason for that is our close partnership with BIRAC which is using its network with incubators and accelerators to identify the teams that can compete and make these rapid diagnostics.”

While hinting towards the methodology that startups must adopt for product development, Mr Berman said, “The idea must be clear and that is to develop the rapid diagnostic test which must give the result within 30 minutes of the sample being deposited for examination. It should not be dependent on mains electricity for plug-in and must be handy. Moreover, it should be addressing the problem globally.” He added, “There are different ways of developing a test. For example, if a test that can differentiate between virus and bacteria is developed, it could win too. Things like respiratory tract infections, something like 70% of the antibiotics taken are not necessary. Today there is no test available that is sensitive enough to detect the resistant bacteria. We are, therefore, looking at a test with high sensitivity.”

“While the confidence in the idea is great, they must also have data to show that it works beside a plan and facility ready to scale it up. However, let me clarify that to win they don’t require the complete clinical data validation. Nesta and our parters could help in designing the clinical studies and fund them also,” said Mr Berman who was in India to attend a series of workshops for creating awareness about Longitudinal Prize among startups in cities such as Delhi, Pune and Bangalore.

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Don’t forget to read the exclusive detailed interview of Daniel Berman with Rahul Koul for his views on the Indian startup ecosystem, its challenges and opportunities in the upcoming August edition of the BioVoice e-Magazine. 

The Longitude Prize is a £10m prize fund that will reward a competitor that can develop a point–of–care diagnostic test that will conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare. The test must be accurate, rapid, affordable and easy to use anywhere in the world. The Prize commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act of 1714, the first British challenge prize, to determine longitude at sea.

For any specific questions and to seek further details, the email can be sent to [email protected] The Longitude Prize is supported by the UK Prime Minister and will be awarded by the Longitude Committee chaired by Lord Martin Rees.

                             Timeline: 

♦ November 18, 2014: Prize opens for submissions 

♦ September 30, 2017: Next assessment deadline

♦ September 30, 2019: Final Submission deadline 

♦ November 19, 2019: Declaration of winning teams 

2015-2019: The first team to successfully meet the criteria wins the Prize