Special Startup Series: In the pursuit of better diagnostics

New Delhi based startup, NextGen Invitro Diagnostics aims to develop innovations that will cater to the unfulfilled medical needs of Indian masses even in resource-limiting settings

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The timely diagnosis could help in preventing diseases among a significant chunk of India’s vast population. The only barriers to this are lack of enough product innovations and high cost of commercially available diagnostic products. In such a backdrop, the New Delhi based NextGen Invitro Diagnostics (NGIVD) is trying to develop innovative technologies to bring accurate and affordable diagnosis to the bottom-of-the-pyramid population.
Incorporated on 26th April 2015, NGIVD was founded by industry veterans, Dr. Pravin Kini, Varun Chopra, and Sushil Mehta. Since the founders were already from an entrepreneurial background, taking the challenge of founding a startup was not so difficult game for them. However, starting a new venture in the field of healthcare and that too in Invitro Diagnostics took a lot of thought and assimilation of the needs of the country.
Explaining the foundational story, Sushil Mehta, Chairman, NGIVD says, “Our sole objective is to offer economical and easy diagnosis of infectious diseases to the bottom-of-the-pyramid population, which currently doesn’t have access to high class labs. The sheer impact which it will create gave us the energy to start in this difficult area and build a company which is disruptive in its diagnostics products and solutions.”
“Fortunately, we could rub off our passion to some professionals from the healthcare industry, who brought in almost 3 decades of individual healthcare experience,” adds Sushil, “This not only gave us immense learning and experience, but also avoided pitfalls or challenges which otherwise normally start-ups face. In the IVD industry, clinical validation and regulatory are the most demanding stages in product development.”
Research focus
The company has identified two levers to achieve its goals – use advanced technologies of Multiplexing and offer on a Near-to-Patient platform so that the solutions are accessible even in resource-limiting settings. This became the major driving force for all its R&D activities – develop products which combine multiple disease biomarkers in a single assay, thereby enabling single sample diagnosis for a complete identification of the underlying disease. This saves time, cost and above all, gives an accurate identification of the causative disease. The end result is that all therapy decisions are based on correct diagnosis and ultimately leads to lowering of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).
NGIVD already has products in different stages of life cycle –Its COVID diagnostics products are already commercial products. The unique serology-based TB diagnostics product developed by the company, currently in clinical validation, will be able to diagnosis all forms of Tuberculosis in a single sample.
One of the company’s near-to-launch product is Fever Panel, which will be able to diagnose four different types of fever in a single test within 15 minutes. The company says it has many more products in development pipeline. It is trying to address the affordability part by either making the sample collection very easy (like dried blood spot), or the multiplexing approach that gives almost 40% reduction in test cost compared to sequential diagnosis of various parameters.
Funding
The NGIVD is entirely funded through investors and key management employees. It has a small line of working capital credit from a bank, as it is generating commercial revenues. An innovative product pipeline made it eligible for grant funding from the Biotechnology Industry research Assistance Council (BIRAC) and United States – India Science and Technology Endowment Fund (USISTEF).
Sushil credits experienced resources of the company who not only understood the market and the scope, but they had handled all key stages of product development right from idea to market. “We leveraged the incubation spaces provided by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) like C-CAMP, BBB Bionest which gave us the freedom of experimentation without investing in capex. Hence, all our resources were dedicated towards development of products and taking them to market. Till date, we are a boot-strapped company, with shareholders and key management employees putting in money to bring the company to this stage.
“Seeking grant funding is purely on innovation merit and we are clear that such grants should ultimately result in a commercial outcome. The support needed from government agencies is mostly in the area of enabling a good validation and regulatory framework which is motivational for startups. For example, centers where we can do evaluation of our products, access clinical samples and also get clear guidance how a new product will be approved for commercial use,” opines Sushil.
Way forward
NGIVD is eyeing an addressable market of approximately Rs. 3000 crores (excluding COVID diagnosis which itself is Rs. 5000 crore market). The company aspires to be the most innovative and R&D based diagnostic company and achieve a revenue of ~ Rs 100 crores by 2025. This aspiration is also manifested in its clear strategic objective of reaching the PHC/CHC level with its diagnostic products. From developing diagnostic assays, the company is now expanding capability to develop Point-of-care devices which will take the diagnosis Near-to-Patient. The company’s focus will remain on developing innovative products and take them to end users.
Sushil sums up the enthusiasm of his team: “In this journey, we intend to collaborate with both Public and Private Institutions, partnering for development or manufacturing, and even look at broader business development associations both in India and abroad. We truly believe that now is the time to ‘Innovate and Make in India’.
The COVID-19 is no deterrent for the company that means business. NGIVD’s FY 22 business plan is focused on ensuring achieving significant milestones in its development pipeline.
“We have increased our coverage to pan-India and want to realize business from such expansion. So, FY 22 is essentially a go-to-market strategy, make ourselves visible in the marketplace, to our customers and build the critical mass from where we can grow the business to ~ Rs. 100 crores in 4 to 5 years –time,” concludes Sushil.