When Healthcare And Technology Come Together To Fight Cancer
The world is still struggling to find a cure for cancer, a disease taking a death toll of millions every year. There are almost about, 400-500 companies around the world,struggling to find a panacea. Recent developments have witnessed the launch of about 70 drugs treating 20 types of tumours. According to consultancy IMS Health, in 2015, the global market for cancer shot up to nearly $107 billion.
These figures might look promising to help reduce cancer in the near future, but the benefits of these are enjoyed by a few privileged people in society. Thus, establishing a middle ground between the affordability of the life-saving drugs and rewards for research is complex. Nevertheless, some enterprises still take up this cause as a part of their social mission and work towards the ultimate goal of healthy societies.
In a country like India with increasing cancer-related fatalities, where the Invisibles of the society don’t manage to get a square meal a day, getting treatment for this disease is a dream. In such times too, there is still a ray of hope, as investors have invested in drug discovery companies. They are using all possible means to provide cancer healthcare delivery, right from connecting patients to oncologists to using robotics for treatment. These startups are putting their best foot forward in the fight against cancer.
PANACEA MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIES LIMITED
Founder: GV SUBRAHMANYAM
Investor: New Enterprise Associates Location Bengaluru
Area: Manufactures radiation therapy machines
Founded in 1999, in Bengaluru, Karnataka by a senior scientist and a technocrat with a strong connection from IIT Madras, Mr G V Subrahmanyam, this company wants to make a difference. Sweden’s Elekta and Varian Medical Systems of the US, these two companies dominate the $10 billion sectors of radiology and radiotherapy. Panacea hopes to be the third one. Being the only maker of medical equipment in Asia, Panacea has been promoted by technocrats committed to delivering technologically superior solutions to its customers.
But as Rome was not built in a day, this company too, took almost a decade to acclimatise and form an identity. In the initial years, the firm saw two co-founders leaving because of no results despite hours of hard work. The firm has been tested by patience and perseverance, time and again. The first product developed by the company was a radiation device based on brachytherapy, an invasive radiation therapy for treating cancer. This product took almost two years to prepare, but as the radioactive isotopes, which were designed for those machines were removed from medical use by regulators across the world, the product went out of the market four months after it was launched.
In 2006,Bhabhatron-II, an Advanced Digital radiotherapy Telecobalt machine was commercialised. This device managed to strike a balance between precisely targeted radiation therapy and peaceful use of atomic energy. Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) also collaborated with Panacea for the making of this product. Appreciation touched Panacea’s feet in 2008,when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) donated ‘Bhabhatron’ machine as a symbol of peaceful use of atom, to Vietnam.
Today, this company has installed its machines in nearly 55 Indian hospitals, materialising a revenue of Rs. 28 crore. Looking for $15 million at the next round of capital, Panacea has received investment from the New Enterprise Association since the early stage. Mr.Subrahmanyam wishes to capture 35% of the market share in the radiotherapy and radiology sector. He also envisages to clock in Rs 1,000 crore in revenues, by 2021.So we can say, Panacea MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIES LIMITED is a panacea to our country.
Founders: MIHIR SHAH, MATTHEW CAMPISI
Investors: Manipal Hospitals, Unitus Seed Fund, Arian Capital Location Mumbai, Philadelphia
Area: Breast cancer screening device
It’s said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,we cannot define the importance of a woman ,and as we know personal experiences have a much stronger impact on us than other events . In this case, too, the founder of UE Lifesciences, Mr Mihir Shah, along with Matthew Campisi, a polytechnic professor decided to embark upon this venture in 2009, after many of his friends and family members were diagnosed with breast cancer.
iBreastExam, a noninvasive hand-held device that is used for early detection of breast cancer was developed by them. The device identifies minute differences in tissue elasticity between hard and stiff breast cancer tumours versus normal, benign breast tissues.
The existing infrastructure around detection is built around mammography, a device which has the capacity for detecting a tumour among young women to only about 50%. This system is expensive, creating a huge obstacle on account of affordability in India and needs to be operated by a specialist. Moreover, it might even be painful. Hence, UE wished to develop an inexpensive, portable device which anyone could operate and then they found researchers in Philadelphia-based Drexel University, who had invented a sensor technology that could detect lesions or tumours in breast tissues.
Shah and Campisi beat healthcare giants such J&J and Medtronics and won the licence. And then the universe conspired to make their idea a reality.In 2010, iBreastExam received a grant of $500,000 by the Pennsylvania State health department that had opened a grant for ideas based on cancer detection, then over the years iBreastExam allured grants and investors like angel investment firm Unitus Seed Fund and Ranjan Pai of Manipal Institute and generated $5 million.
The firm has screened almost 10,000 women since the launch of the device and aims to reach a lakh by the end of this year. The cost per screening is Rs 500-1,000 in private clinics and Rs 80-150 for governments. UE aims to cut the cost further with the help of the state.
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Founders: GITIKA SRIVASTAVA, NARESH RAMARAJAN
Investor: Tata Trust Location Cambridge (Boston) and Mumbai
Area: Online consultation platform for cancer patients
It’s rightly said, out of ‘suffering emerge the strongest souls’ and such is the story of the founder of Navya network who herself has suffered from cancer. Having experienced everything first hand, she started working with her college friend from Harvard Dr Naresh Ramarajan to offer a solution to cancer patients.
“When we started Navya, we were warned that nobody would be willing to pay for consultations over the internet. We were apprehensive too’ but we were proved wrong”, says Srivastava.
Navya was launched in 2015, to provide consultations to cancer patients and their families with leading oncologists from Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) for a nominal fee. Navya uses clinical data to zero in on the exact treatment to patients so that they can cut down on wasteful trips to hospitals. Relying on evidence and experience of the system as well as the expertise of global expert oncologists at institutions such as Tata Memorial Centre, Navya runs as a service to empower cancer patients .
The firm is aiming to bring down the cost of consultation and as Srivastava is well connected in the VC circle of Boston, which has emerged as a hotspot for biotech companies, fundraising is not an issue. Furthermore,she wants to expand her services, currently limited to breast cancer, to other forms of cancer. Navya aims to become the first source of consultations for patients who not only have to deal with the emotional stress of cancer but, also have to battle the confusion about the right treatment.
Founders: NANDAKUMAR S, GURUSWAMY K AND PUHAZHENDI K
Investors: Accel, Innoven, IDG, Norwest Venture Partners Location Chennai
Area: Robotic device that detects and removes cancerous tumours
Radiologists, around the world, use Perfint’s Robotic solutions for image guided interventional procedures like biopsy, drug delivery, ablation, drainage, fine needle aspiration and varied pain care procedures for both cancerous and non-cancerous pain. This company, founded by three former colleagues: Nandakumar S, Guruswamy K, and Puhazhendi K of GE who quit their jobs in healthcare, met in Chennai and realised that though they had moved to different paths in finance, technology and automobiles, the idea of design and product connected them.
In 2005,they decided to float an R&D service specifically in the area of medical diagnostics. Perfint started as an engineering and advisory firm, helping companies make surgical machines.
Perfint decided to make machines themselves on the advice of the investor after their first seed funding came through by Accel Partners. This resulted in India’s first robotic navigation solution for treating painful tumour surgeries. They use robotics in ways second to none. Mexico: their robotic device, creates a patient specific treatment plan and then guides the physician to precisely place multiple needles during complex, minimally invasive interventional treatment of multiple tumours to minimise residual tumour and recurrence while minimising needle manipulations, pain, radiation exposure and procedure time.
The founders wanted their company to be the Infosys in healthcare technology. Perfint has sold over 100 devices in various parts of the world and around 10,000 surgeries have been performed using their device, since 2008. The team hopes to be profitable by this financial year as it has a growth rate of nearly 50%, despite this, founder Mr.Nandakumar is not pleased with the revenue growth. Cancer patients are largely treated by the public health care systems, given the high cost of cancer care, but the government’s purchase systems, despite the potential for huge orders, are long and complex. Despite this Perfint is one of the top five giants in robotic based therapy.
The patient specific treatment plan will be, in a way, a part of personalised healthcare in the future and it envisions to raise $10-15 million before going public.
Thus, these firms are today an embodiment of the fact that humans are still humane.
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