‘‘Molecular diagnostics will become a protocol in next 5 years’’
Arunima Patel, Founder & Managing Director, iGenetic Diagnostics
iGenetics, a Mumbai based Health-tech startup which was established in December 2013 and was launched commercially in 2015, has expanded into the critical care, oncology and infertility segment with tests for diseases like Down’s Syndrome, thalassaemia, sickle-cell anaemia and certain cancers over the last year. It also has a test that can detect dengue in first 24 hours and has also earned the stature of being the only diagnostics company in India that can deliver a septicemia test report within 24 hours. Last year, it secured $19.5 million in its latest round of funding from CDC Group Plc and the Manipal Education and Medical Group (MEMG). The company has signed over 100 memoranda of understanding with leading hospital chains like Apollo, Rainbow, KIMS, Jupiter & SL Raheja. BioSpectrum spoke to Arunima Patel, Founder & Managing Director, iGenetic Diagnostics, who has been instrumental in attracting investment from these marquee investors. Edited Excerpts-
What does iGenetic specializes in?
We do tests right from routine biochemistry tests to advanced molecular diagnostics and genetic tests. Where we specialize is critical care infection space for e.g. detection of septicemia, CNS infections, communityacquired pneumonia, transplant related infections such as neutropenia, we look at those cases. The advantage that we offer is that our diagnosis is very quick. While microbiology takes anywhere between 42 hours to a few weeks, we can provide a diagnosis in 24 hours turn around time. Results are far superior compared to the traditional methods as we use advanced molecular diagnostics techniques. By using traditional methods, in majority (upto 80 per cent) of the ICU cases it is difficult to diagnose septicemia, a blood stream infection. Using advanced molecular diagnostics methods iGenetic can provide diagnosis in these cases as well as provide
antibiotic resistance pattern.
In your opinion, what are the differences in giving a diagnosis via a traditional method or via molecular diagnostic method?
Molecular methods have a lot of advantages. In western world, 40 per cent of the tests are molecular-based while in India, only 10 per cent are molecular-based. There is a need to increase awareness about the advantages of molecular diagnostic methods. We are doing that through various initiatives.
How much investment have you made in instruments for the detection of cases like these?
Investment is quite significant. Instrument is only one part of it but the investment is also significant in the R&D part of it. There is also a high amount of investment required in man power as these are very specialized tests.
In your opinion, is raising funds still a big issue?
In our cases, funding was not a big issue as we were into molecular diagnostics. There were a lot of players who wanted to invest in healthcare delivery, specially in specialized diagnostics field. So, funding was not a challenge. It is now that some resistance has come in the market. People are now saying that let’s drive towards profitability, scalability. Earlier, there was tremendous amount of interest for funding in molecular diagnostics.
What specialized services do you provide to the hospitals that you have signed MoUs?
In the country, there are very few players who are doing these kinds of tests. These are our own developed tests. All hospitals dealing with critical care require the tests that we offer. In India, people first go to a nursing care set up and try to settle the illness by taking antibiotics. By the time people come to tertiary hospital, they have already undergone various treatments, so they have to rely on molecular diagnostic methods in order to get a proper diagnosis of critical care infection as the culture positivity ratio is very less.
What kind of diseases do you provide diagnosis for?
We provide diagnosis for septicemia, neutropenia, CNS infections like meningitis, encephalitis etc. We also provide detection for antibiotic resistance. We also provide diagnosis for respiratory disorders and
for viruses like H1N1, Nipah. We also offer diagnosis for infections arising from total knee replacement like osteomyelitis, infections arising from heart-related surgeries.
What is the current scenario of molecular diagnostics in India?
In India, it is still at a very nascent stage. It will become a protocol in the next five years but it is not popular now. Affordability is a big issue. Our tests are ranged from Rs 8,000 - 15,000 even at Rs 25,000. Even at that price, people are finding it difficult to afford it.
What steps should be taken to make it more affordable?
If India were to get the solutions, there are machines which are designed in the western market. If we are able to make it here, the price will be much less compared to the rate we are getting presently. At iGenetic we do our own scientific developments, we try to make it affordable. We do not offer fifty pathogen tests to every patient. We customize tests for each condition and region. We reduce the size of the panel in order to make it more affordable. Since launch, we have reduced our prices. Now, we can offer diagnosis at Rs 6,000 - 8,000 also. If a patient goes for full fifty pathogen tests, it will cost around Rs 25,000.
What are the challenges that you face and how you overcome them?
The biggest challenge that we face is less awareness even at both doctor’s and patient’s level. Second challenge that we face is that as India does not have any regulation, anybody can develop a home grown test and launch without validations. There is no recognition of the quality that is being offered. So, people look at us with the same spectra and question our quality. If there was any regulation or any check, at least we could explain to our customers about the quality that we offer. Today, very less accreditation is available. How we overcome is, we go for international accreditation like College of American Pathology proficiency testing. However, the process is very time consuming and expensive.
In your opinion, what steps should government take in this sector?
Government has to have a body which regulates the industry. Today, to open a new lab, one needs a Shops and establishment license. Anybody can take that license. There is no check available. Government has to have an authority that puts a check on the launch of lab tests. Regulations are there before the launch of devices, diagnostic kits and drugs. The scope of the same should be expanded to include own developed diagnostic tests as well.
What are the driving factors of the growth of the company?
Innovation continues to be the driving factor. We will remain as someone who is into innovating the product.
You have presence in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Nagpur, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. Are there any plans of expansion?
Geographically, we have very less presence. We have plans of expanding in India this year. Next year, we plan to cover the international market as well. Whatever problems we are facing, we find similar problems in other Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia. We find these problems in Middle East as well. So, we will be targeting those countries.
Are there any plans of mergers or acquisition in India?
No not yet. Organic is what we are trying to grow.
Are there any new products in the pipeline? How much time does a product take to come to the market?
We are developing non-invasive clinical screening for Down’s syndrome. Our first product took a very long time because of the validations that were to be done etc. If we are entering a new segment, it takes almost a year or more to launch it. Any gradual enhancement after that takes almost 2 months or so.
For what tests have you filed patent for and what difficulties have you faced?
We have filed patents for almost all our tests. The process is very lengthy and cumbersome. If it could be shortened, it would be great.