“We need to have better understanding of gut microbiome”

In an interaction with the BioVoice News, Dr Surendra K Chikara, the Founder and CEO of Bione shared details on the company's activities, key milestones and future plans.

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Dr Surendra K Chikara, Founder & CEO, Bione holds a post graduation degree in Biotechnology from Madurai Kamaraj University and a doctorate in Molecular Microbiology course at Osmania University in Hyderabad. 
Incorporated in November 2019, Bengaluru based Bione aims to empower people to unlock their health and fitness through personalised genetics and microbiome testing services in India. The company claims to be the first organization in Asia to offer both genetic and microbiome testing on a D2C basis.
The founder of Bione, Dr Surendra K Chikara started his career with recombinant DNA technology. He had the opportunity to work with Dr Gita Sharma, who is credited for developing the first rDNA vaccine for Hepatitis-B in India. He found the Indian genetic data to be highly diverse with a huge potential for breakthroughs. This led him to set up Bione with the vision of making quality preventive healthcare  and disease-free life achievable for all.
In an interaction with the BioVoice News, Dr Surendra K Chikara, the Founder and CEO of Bione shared details on the company’s activities, key milestones and future plans.

BV LogoHow has Covid-19 impacted you as a company? What have been your experiences and learnings during the pandemic?
The recent pandemic has awakened a general interest in wellness and the need to prevent chronic diseases. Both in terms of severity of symptoms and mortality rate, the virus affected people with chronic diseases to a greater degree. This has awakened a lot of interest in preventive genetic testing for the prevention of chronic diseases. People are now more open to the concept of at-home testing as they do not have to step out of their homes for getting relevant and precise health information that can help them live healthier lives.
As a company, the implementation of lockdown and stay at home recommendations did disrupt our functioning to a certain level in the beginning, but this is no longer the case. Being a startup, we had greater flexibility to think on our feet and come up with solutions. We pulled together as a team and implemented new processes and systems to keep the company going and even expanded in the post pandemic era.
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Key milestones achieved by Bione in the last few years?
In the first quarter of 2020, we set up our state-of-the-art lab and received regulatory accreditations including the Whole Sales License and DIPP certificate (Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade). In the following quarters, we launched clinical genetic testing for rare disorders and received  KPME and ISO 9001:2015 certifications. We closed 2020 on a strong note with the launch of two products, the MyMicrobiome Gut test and the DNA Longevity plus test. With positive response and further feedback from the market, we expanded our operations further with the launch of our DNA LongiFIT test in 2021.
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Products and services offered by Bione? Who are your major clients and areas of focus?
We offer two products –  a DNA test and a gut microbiome test.
Our DNA test, LongiFIT, can help recognize what diseases you are at risk for so that you can take preventive steps or catch the disease at an early stage. The test identifies food sensitivities like lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance. Based on your recovery times, endurance and risk of injury, you can identify which workouts work best for you. Making even small changes in your diet and fitness routines based on these personalised insights can aid in achieving optimal wellness. You get to save a lot of money spent on medicines, hospital treatment and surgeries in the long run. It will also save you and your loved ones a lot of mental and emotional distress. The benefits of following the recommendations in the test report are a longer lifespan, higher energy levels, better mental and emotional health and better quality of life in general.
Our gut microbiome test, MyMicrobiome, gives you an idea of how good or bad your gut health is. It is a simple, at-home test that takes only 10 minutes. It serves as a good starting point to take corrective action if your gut is in a poor state.  The test report provides you with a clear overview of the microbes in your gut. Your GutMicrobiome Index (MGMI) score highlights how diverse your gut bacteria are. The lower your score, the greater the degree of imbalance in your gut.
Currently, our major area of focus is on expanding awareness of the benefits of preventive genetic testing and the importance of good gut health. India is severely suffering from the burden of chronic disease. Our tests help to tackle diseases even before they have a chance to take root, by providing consumers with the opportunity to learn about both their genetic and microbiome profiles. They benefit from better health and quality of life while reducing the heavy costs related to illness.
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 What role does Microbiome play in a healthy diet? Why should we get the gut microbes tested to improve overall health?
Many of us fail to realize that key health metrics like our blood sugar levels, our cholesterol and our heart health are closely related to our digestive health. To understand this connection, we need to understand what the gut “microbiome” is. The term “gut” refers to our digestive tract, especially the small and large intestine. We have at least 300 to 500 different types of bacteria in our gut which have almost 2 million genes. There are 3 kinds of bacteria – beneficial, harmful and opportunistic. The balance between good and bad bacteria is very delicate and any kind of imbalance which is known as gut dysbiosis leads to inflammation. This kind of inflammation over the long term can lead to many physical, emotional and mental health issues like obesity, skin breakouts, diabetes, anxiety and depression, brain fog, cardiac disease and of course digestive disorders. The importance of the gut is highlighted by the fact that 70% of our immune system is located in our gut and 90% of the happy hormone “serotonin” is made in our gut. The gut therefore plays an important role in your physical and emotional health.
In order to restore a healthy gut, we first need to have an idea of how good or bad it is. Getting an accurate picture of our gut health with a gut microbiome test can help you learn more about which food works for you and which doesn’t. You are what you eat.  Making smart diet choices and following a personalised diet chart based on the results of your microbiome test can contribute significantly to your overall health. Some foods like spinach might be considered as healthy food choices for most people, but they need not necessarily be good for you based on your unique gut microbiome. This is where our expert help and guidance can make a difference. It is possible to make your gut microbiome a lot richer and more diversified over a period of three to four months. Correcting your gut microbiome will offer the benefits of better brain health, clearer skin, higher energy levels, smoother digestion, lower risk of disease, and better health overall.
You not only get to prevent disease but can also achieve optimal health.
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What is the level of awareness about genetic testing among Indians? Are such tests affordable?
In India, awareness is still at a nascent stage. India has a population of 1.4 billion people. As of December 2021, our doctor patient ratio is only 0.74 per 1000 people. Chronic diseases like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, mental disorders and diabetes are the leading cause of death and disability in India. WIth our rapidly ageing population, this  burden is expected to continue to increase in the next 25 years.
Widespread adoption of genetic testing can make a significant impact in terms of healthcare costs, lifespan and quality of life. Health insurance was a novel concept in the last decade but now it has become quite commonplace. I expect a similar transformation to take place in the case of genetic testing also.
Once awareness spreads in the Indian market about how genetic testing can help prevent serious diseases, I expect the majority of the population to get genetic testing done.
You realise the value of these tests when you understand that our tests could help spot disease risk for diseases like heart disease and diabetes at an early stage so that you can take corrective action. Treatment costs for such diseases can run into lakhs of rupees over the long term. We also need to take into account the heavy emotional toll such diseases take on individuals as well as their families. Seen in that light, our tests are highly affordable and offer the added benefit of at-home testing, doorstep delivery and collection and 1 to 1 counselling sessions with experts to help people live a life free of disease.
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 Revenue performance by the company in the last few years and expected revenue in FY 2022-23? Which factors drive the growth?
Bione is expanding its customer base on a YoY basis. There are several factors which are driving the demand for direct to consumer tests like our DNA test and gut microbiome test.
Firstly, after the pandemic, there is greater awareness among the general population about the need to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. People have become more conscious about achieving and maintaining optimal health to develop greater resistance to diseases.
Secondly, thanks to the manner in which we have seamlessly integrated IT and logistics, the tests can be ordered easily and are delivered to your doorstep. They can be taken in the comfort of your home.
Thirdly, the benefits of taking these tests and the contribution they can make to living a longer, disease free life have been experienced by thousands of our customers and that is driving our growth to the maximum extent.
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Capex investment planned for FY 2022-23 and the newer areas of focus for the company?
 Bione has ambitious plans to invest further in expanding the company’s operational capabilities to reduce the turnaround time to 2-3 weeks. We are also eyeing geographical expansion to international markets.
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What is your business outlook for Bione in FY 2022-23?
Based on our current growth trajectory, we plan to expand. We are exploring the possibility of partnerships with companies of a similar nature and could venture into the personalized nutrition segment.