For In­dian Doc­tors, It’s Writ­ten in the Genes not Stars

Doc­tors are now ask­ing pa­tients to take ge­netic tests to iden­tify ‘faulty’ genes which helps them di­ag­nose and treat ge­netic diseases bet­ter

The Economic Times - - Disruption: Startups & Tech - Nilesh.Christo­pher @times­group.com

Bengaluru: When five-year-old Chathura Corea from Sri Lanka landed in In­dia for can­cer treat­ment, his physi­cian Sachin Jad­hav got a ge­netic test done on his blood sam­ple be­fore start­ing any kind of treat­ment. Corea had been di­ag­nosed with a very rare form of blood can­cer called Ju­ve­nile Myelomono­cytic Leukaemia (JMML). Af­ter a ge­netic test, Jad­hav con­cluded that a “sim­ple chemo­ther­apy would not suf­fice and the kid needs a bone-mar­row trans­plant”.

“The (ge­netic) test helped me iden­tify what line of treat­ment to give pro­vid­ing max­imis­ing the chance of cure and in plan­ning treat­ment bet­ter,” says Jad­hav, who has part­nered with Bengaluru-based MedGenome Labs which pro­vides ge­netic tests for a range of ail­ments like can­cer, meta­bolic diseases, eye diseases, neu­ro­log­i­cal and pre­na­tal dis­or­ders.

In­creas­ingly, doc­tors like Jad­hav are ask­ing pa­tients to take ge­netic tests to iden­tify ‘faulty’ genes in treat­ing ge­netic diseases bet­ter. MedGenome has seen the num­ber of sam­ples triple for ge­netic tests in the last one year.

“We now get about 600-800 sam­ples a month,” said VL Ram­prasad, COO of MedGenomeLabs.“The­up­takeis pri­mar­ily due to in­creased aware­ness among clin­i­cians in In­dia who see a scope for bet­ter re­sults and ef­fi­cient treat­ment,” he said.

An­other lab, Stand Life Sciences has also seen a sim­i­lar spike in the num­ber of sam­ples re­ceived. “Strand has seen a 250% growth in the num­ber of sam­ples last year, and we have done about 5,000 sam­ples this year,” said co­founder Vi­jay Chan­dru. The sci­ence be­hind th­ese tests is straight for­ward: ev­ery­thing about us — the length of our hair, the colour of our eyes, the com­plex­ion of our skin is coded onto the DNA — which also has hid­den hints of the pos­si­ble dis­ease one might get. Sci­en­tists an­a­lyse the ge­netic code and fig­ure out what mu­ta­tion causes a spe­cific dis­ease. As the aware­ness among doc­tors in­creases, rev­enues have been surg­ing. MedGenome rev­enues have dou­bled every year. The lab’s rev­enues have grown from $4 mil­lion in 2015 to $16.5 mil­lion in 2017.

“At this point, we are just scratch­ing

the sur­face,” says Chan­dru of Strand life sciences, adding, “The ad­dress­able mar­ket is 500,000 peo­ple ac­cord­ing to In­dia Coun­cil of Med­i­cal Re­search (ICMR) re­port. Say, 20% peo­ple can af­ford the tests... 100,000 peo- ple could be tested. Right now, only 5,000 peo­ple are be­ing tested.”

Th­ese ge­netic tests cost about ₹ 30,000 - 40,000 for a sin­gle test. “Only 2% of In­dian pop­u­la­tion is cov­ered by in­sur­ance. Hence, af­ford­abil­ity is an­other bot­tle­neck in the wide­spread adop­tion of ge­netic tests,” said Chi­ran­tan Bose, VP of Clin­i­cal ser­vices at Medgenome.

Aside from pro­vid­ing in­sights to clin­i­cians for bet­ter di­ag­no­sis, the mile­stone for ge­netic tests is ‘tar­geted ther­apy’ for spe­cific diseases. For in­stance, pre­ci­sion medicine in the treat­ment of can­cer when the drug hits only the can­cer cells and not the en­tire body (like in chemo­ther­apy). Ge­netic test­ing paves way for pre­ci­sion medicine. Con­sumers too want to dig into their genes to know more about their fam­ily his­tory, life­style ten­den­cies and in­for­ma­tion about their ances­try. Map­mygenome pro­vides a re­port on100 dif­fer­ent con­di­tions in­clud­ing in­her­ited and ac­quired ge­netic health risks. The firm’s prod­uct, Genomepa­tri, has found mas­sive trac­tion and the num­ber of sam­ples “have tripled over the sam­ples we re­ceived last year,” says Anu Acharya, co­founder of Map­mygenome, adding that de­mand was not just com­ing from met­ros but even from tier-II towns across In­dia.

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