Pune: It all began nine years back when the Pune based National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) Chief Scientist, Dr Ashish Lele was first introduced to screws made of polymer called polylactic acid (PLA) to be used for repair of torn anterior cruciate ligament. That instantly attracted his attention due to unique properties of the polymer being absorbable inside the body and retaining mechanical properties upto certain time period. He in turn introduced this product to Dr V Premnath, also a Chief Scientist at NCL. The product was promising and was sufficiently challenging to stir the enthusiasm amongst both. Having teamed up before to develop biocompatible maxillofacial volume filling implants, both decided to take up the challenge and initiated efforts towards development of the product.
In year 2010, Piyush Joshi, a polymer engineer from the University of Pune joined the team. His expertise helped team to identify the benchmark properties of the product to be developed and economics of the product. Team soon recognised that what was going to be important is to make bioabsorbable polymers with varied properties. All the efforts of the team were directed towards synthesis of appropriate molecular weight PLA material.
Team participated in Lab2Mkt program of Venture Center which helps scientist entrepreneurs to take their business ideas into the market. Team raised a small funding to setup initial experiments to synthesize the bioabsorbable polymers and carry out further market research. With sustained market research team understood that this single product soon leads to envisage the whole product portfolio using bioabsorbable polymers and their composites.
Product Status: Orthocrafts has developed the minimum viable product for bioabsorbable interference screw and currently gearing for pre-clinical and clinical trials. The company is also in process of dev eloping solutions for shoulder, knee, ankle and elbow surgeries which involves attaching soft tissues to bone.
By year 2012, the team identified other products using similar polymers. At that time, there were no Indian manufacturers of biomedical grade PLA and this was a real setback for Indian medical device manufacturer and surgeons to rely on foreign players. Team saw this as an opportunity and decided to use their expertise to develop the bioabsorbable materials and products using same for India. This was the moment when the idea was taking firm roots to be considered as platform to create new venture. Over next two years team was building its knowhow in chemistry of medical grade PLA and was waiting for appropriate funding opportunity.
The opportunity striked when BIRAC announced a grant funding scheme titled as “Biotechnology Ignition Grant.” Team realized that this will be an excellent opportunity to bring their efforts to fruition. Team participated in the funding scheme. On receipt of approval from BIRAC team established a start-up, Orthocrafts Innovations on 5th June 2014.
It was never an easy route…..
Path was never simple at the beginning. Lack of ready infrastructure, non-existent dialogue between product users and product developers, access to crucial raw materials were the most common hurdles. One of the great challenges faced by Orthocrafts was to identify and execute suitable technology transfer model from NCL.
In its initial days Orthocrafts faced issues with putting required resources at one place such as skilled man power, equipment and funds etc. However, the company faced major challenge in terms of taking business idea from ideation stage to prototype stage through existing ecosystem. There were hurdles in terms of setting up right mechanisms to transfer technology to start-up, possibility of scientist participating in start-up, scarcity of scale-up funding for ideation stage to first prototype. Today Orthocrafts has overcome all these hurdles and accelerated their efforts to take innovation to market.
(L-R) Dr Ashish Lele, Director and Scientist, National Chemical Laboratory, Mr Piyush Joshi, COO and Executive Director and Dr V Premnath, Advisor and Head, NCL Innovations.