As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic recedes and the heavy burden on the healthcare industry lightens to some extent, it is time to focus on other public health challenges that are equally critical.
Take, for instance, cancer care and how this medical condition may affect the country’s population in the next few years. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research (NCDIR) jointly released a report in 2020 that estimated a 12% rise in cancer patients in India by 2025.
Similarly, a research paper published by Seattle-based Disease Control Priorities (DCP), a non-profit organisation, says that India’s death rate related to cardiovascular diseases (272/100K) is higher than the global average (235/100K).
With the focus shifting to these predominant health issues, major players in the Indian healthtech sector are looking to develop innovative solutions to tackle these challenges.
One of the key players in this space is GE Healthcare that works on improving patient outcomes and experience by providing medical equipment and tech solutions. The company has been operating in India for more than 30 years.
To drive its endeavours further, the medtech giant launched the India chapter of its accelerator programme in mid-2019. Currently, in its third edition, the India Edison Accelerator Programme is a collaborative initiative where GE Healthcare forms strategic partnerships with growth stage healthtech startups and codevelops healthcare applications and services by leveraging the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and other cutting-edge technologies.
India Edison Accelerator offers a six-month programme focussed on startups in areas such as technology, business strategy, and regulatory and clinical validation. Besides, startups can access the Edison platform, its sales teams and customers globally for a firm footing (after meeting global regulatory standards) and are eligible for $10K equity-free cash grants.
The leadership in charge of the accelerator programme believes that the collaborative venture will help newcomers refine their products by using GE Healthcare’s technology edge and ensure a better product-market fit, a business imperative. Overall, the initiative aims to bring a global perspective to product development and marketing as Indian healthtech startups jointly work with the medtech giant.
In its past two editions, GE Healthcare has hosted a total of 11 startups. As part of the third edition, the accelerator has shortlisted six startups working in areas such as cardiology, oncology and genomics, unlike the previous editions that only focussed on radiology.
“The Indian healthcare ecosystem is at an inflexion point, and there is scope for massive disruption through technology. The India Edison Accelerator Programme will enable early entrants to build globally relevant products and a viable go-to-market strategy,” says Nritya Ganesh, Director – Program Management, and Leader – India Edison Accelerator programme.
Startups Of The Third Cohort And Their USPs
4BaseCare: Targets Personalised Oncology Care
Set up in 2018 by Hitesh Goswami (CEO) and Kshitij Rishi (COO), Bengaluru-based 4BaseCare offers tech-assisted genome panel analyses to detect mutations in a given sample and thus obtain information about cancer. Also known as biomarker testing, this is all about diagnosing any aberration in genes, proteins and other particles for cancer tracking and helping with more efficient treatment based on a person’s specific needs.
With this analysis in place, the healthtech startup aims to personalise patient care in oncology.
The startup will soon launch its new gene panel TARGT Indiegene and claims it will be the world’s first population-specific panel, based on tumour research of 1,500 cancer patients. The research for the same was done through clinical and academic collaborations with oncologists and researchers from major Indian hospitals such as AIIMS Delhi, the Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (the R&D wing of Tata Memorial Centre), the Fortis Group, St. John’s Research Institute and many others.
In 2019, 4BaseCare became the first Asian healthcare organisation to be backed by San Diego-based biotech giant Illumina. The oncology startup faced a four-month delay in receiving funds as there were issues with filing regulatory documents.
According to Goswami, the India Edison Accelerator Programme has helped the startup with technical, clinical and business mentorship so that it can co-create solutions with GE Healthcare with the global perspective in mind and get access to international markets.
“We believe these programmes are critical for the Indian startup ecosystem as startups can learn from the best and develop solutions with clear objectives in mind. Apart from product development, these initiatives provide much-needed visibility to young companies and help them meet like-minded collaborators and investors. These go a long way in ensuring success for early-stage startups,” says Goswami.
AIRA Matrix: From R&D Focus To Diagnostics Applications
Previously Aditya Imaging Information Technologies (AIIT), this Thane-based company was set up by Dilip Shanghvi (of Sun Pharma repute) in 2011 and worked on optimising safety assessments during preclinical drug development studies. In brief, it stepped in before a drug went for clinical trial and analysed its toxicity.
The company was R&D-oriented in its initial days, but sensing a growing market opportunity, it underwent a rebranding in 2020 and started developing solutions to aid cancer diagnosis and ensure better treatment for ophthalmological disorders.
AIRA Matrix has already developed a host of solutions for screening, diagnosis and risk stratification of prostate and lung cancer. It also works on AI applications that help translate the intelligence gained from highly accurate but invasive diagnostic procedures like histopathological examination of biopsies to improve the performance of less accurate but non-invasive procedures like radiology imaging.
The company has joined the India Edison Accelerator Programme to bring more precision to its applications.
It was a pre-revenue company until 2018 but started generating revenues since then and has clients in the US, the UK, the EU and India.
Haystack Analytics: Genome Sequencing Gets A Boost
Started in August 2019 by Anirvan Chatterjee (CEO), Gaurav Srivastava and Kiran Kondabagil, this Mumbai-based bioinformatics startup works on genome sequencing technology. At present, it has specialised tests for tuberculosis, antimicrobial resistance, gut microbiome and a single test to identify more than 200 pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.
The company partnered with Thyrocare Technologies and Metropolis (Indian multinational diagnostic chains) in 2020 to take its TB genotyping to national and global markets through them.
With this programme, Haystack will get access to GE Healthcare’s distribution network for better reach to overseas markets. Chatterjee also thinks it is a big opportunity to learn from the medtech giant while jointly working to develop solutions.
Qritive: Leveraging The Power Of Analytics And AI
Set up in 2019 by Aneesh Sathe (CEO) and Kaveh Taghipour (CTO), the startup aims to bring analytics tools and technologies to the field of pathology and digitalise the segment to make cancer diagnosis faster, more accurate and affordable.
Interestingly, Qritive started its operations in India but shifted to Singapore in 2020 due to apprehensions over the safety and efficacy of AI usage in this space. The move worked for the cofounders as the island nation had quite a few early adopters relying on this technology. It helped Qritive validate its proof of concept and gain the pathology community’s trust for a deeper understanding of the problems faced by the labs.
The startup says it has greatly benefited from the India Edison platform’s modern architecture, making it easy to integrate Qritive’s solutions with GE Healthcare’s system.
“Innovation in healthcare, especially an AI-powered solution, gets a huge boost due to the availability of large datasets, more advanced hardware and better software paradigms. And programmes like Edison play a vital role when one has to turn an innovative idea into a solution,” says Sathe.
Tricog: Diagnostics In The Cloud
Founded in 2014 by a foursome — Charit Bhograj (CEO), Zainul Charbiwala (CTO), Udayan Dasgupta (chief data scientist) and Abhinav Gujjar (chief software architect) — this Bengaluru-based company offers an AI-powered and cloud-based virtual diagnostic service called InstaECG.
As most of us are aware, acute cardiovascular conditions require quick and effective treatment for the best possible outcomes. Most people are told to get an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) done in such cases, a standard procedure and quite affordable, but it has a huge drawback. Only trained technicians and heart specialists can decipher the test results, often leading to delayed treatment or incorrect diagnosis.
Tricog aims to reduce these errors and speed up all diagnoses with the help of an always-on system operating in the cloud. The company claims to have diagnosed 6 Mn patients across 12 countries and wants to reach bigger healthcare markets through the India Edison Accelerator Programme.
zMed: ICU Automation For Deep Care
When it comes to ICU management, efficiency is the key. Capturing multiple streams of data from various sources and presenting the same with the focus on vital sign trends, waveforms and lab reports require an optimised system that can provide actionable data quickly and efficiently. So, Jayakanth Kesan (CEO) started Chennai-based zMed in 2015 to offer an ICU automation solution.
Initially, the company manufactured IoT hardware for ICU automation. But Kesan soon realised that India was lagging in medical hardware manufacturing compared to mature markets. So, zMed focussed on software development for clinical automation and tele-ICU. It also conducted multiple trials and validation for months at different corporate hospitals.
According to the company, the programme helped it improve products, found a larger business direction and developed an effective go-to-market strategy.
“Healthtech is not a one-player game. There are multiple stakeholders here, from medical device providers and software providers to infrastructure providers (read hospitals). Today, every player wants to have a finger in every pie. But the right solution lies in successful coordination among players,” concludes Kesan.