Fighting the alarming rise of drug resistance in India: Omix Lab’s journey with the Villgro-Menterra
Updated: Jan 5, 2021
We asked over 50 parents what they would do when their child is ill and the doctor recommends some antibiotics. Their unanimous response was “we buy them”.
Let us now highlight the scale of the problem that this leads to.
Drug resistance, specifically antibiotic resistance (ABR) is an emerging problem across the world, especially in developing nations like India. The problem, which wasn’t really in the radar of mainstream healthcare professionals and science journals a few decades ago, has become so severe that every year in November, the World Health Organisation holds Antibiotic Awareness Week. The campaign aims to increase awareness among doctors, pharmacists and other health workers to prescribe antibiotics only when needed. The practice of prescribing antibiotics for even minor illnesses like diarrhoea has to stop. Otherwise, with the ever increasing number of drug-resistant bacteria, there will soon be a time when organ transplantation or even the smallest of surgeries might prove deadly as antibacterials fail to act.
Sadly, however, not many governments have taken the issue of drug resistance seriously. India, in spite of having an action plan to tackle drug resistance (National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance), has done very little to curb the crisis.
An estimated 58,000 newborn children in India die every year due to sepsis, as antibiotics fail to work on them.
Inadequate healthcare network coupled with the issue of poor sanitation makes India a hotbed for infectious diseases. They make up more than 40% of the disease burden in India, affecting 50% of the population that is at the bottom of the pyramid and children below 5 years!
Apart from the unregulated use of antibiotics, antibiotic use in agriculture and for the livestock is also contributing to the drug resistance menace in India.
Studies have shown that India consumes more antibiotics per person than any other country.
Solving the problem
The need of the hour is to ensure that doctors in the country prescribe the correct antibiotic to an infection, rather than any antibiotic. To enable them to do this with precision we need technologies that can aid swift disease detection. This will happen only when the biotech ecosystem in the country rises to the occasion and delivers the innovations needed to combat this challenge.
The biotech industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in India - it has grown from about $2 billion in 2007 to over $11 billion in 2017, and is expected to touch a whopping $100 billion in terms of revenue by 2025! However, most of the money is invested in the pharmaceutical branch of the industry with comparatively lesser for research and development of innovative products and devices. The lion’s share goes into research on diseases like Cancer and AIDS, while equally acute problems like drug resistance are neglected.
This is not without a reason though. The prevailing equity fund structure is not aligned with the long gestation cycle of biotech startups. The investors have to wait for an extended period of time to get solid proofs of concepts that can nudge them to invest more. This is where Villgro - India’s oldest and largest social enterprise incubator stepped in. The incubator understood this problem in the healthcare sector well in advance and was prepared to mitigate the risks that come with it. It was the very first funder in OmiX Labs, one of the very few healthcare startups in the country that is working in the niche domain of Anti Microbial Resistance (AMR). OmiX is currently a part of Villgro’s investment partner Menterra’s portfolio.
About Omix Labs
OmiX is a technology platform that allows cost effective DNA Testing for early diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. The platform provides rapid, low-cost detection of organisms causing infections within a few hours. Through its kit, the traditionally long and tedious cultural lab testing that takes anywhere from 72-120 hours to find the pathogen causing the infection can now be done in just a few hours! It works just the way a simple home glucose test works - taking a small blood or urine sample on a biochip. Founded in 2014 by Dr. Sudeshna Adak and Dr. Abhinanda Sarkar - Stanford doctorate alums and former colleagues at GE Healthcare.
The Villgro-Menterra platform
The challenges that OmiX faced during inception were quite unique when compared to other med-tech startups. High-risk factors and long gestation periods made it exceptionally difficult for them to find the right investors. What made it even harder was that they were still in the idea stage and needed not just money, but guidance to wade through the tough waters of the healthcare impact ecosystem.
But things changed when they were noticed by Villgro. Arun Venkatesan (CTO & Healthcare Practice Lead, Villgro), who worked closely with OmiX, highlights the various interventions by Villgro that enabled the creation of their Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
“We diligently worked with them in developing a product, introduced them to more functional mentors to solve some of the specific challenges. One such mentor was Vishakha Mangale - who is now a Co-Founder at OmiX!”
After helping OmiX find the right mentors, file for patents and fine-tune their product and technology, Villgro made them investible and now Menterra is committed to making them profitable. Sudeshna Adak & Vishakha Mangale (Co-Founders, OmiX Labs) illustrate
“The trust in Menterra was established through Villgro. They knew us and we knew them. The terms and conditions for an entrepreneur seeking the first institutional investment is daunting. Knowing Menterra also gave us confidence in what we would gain from the investor and that they would stay and support us through the journey".
Once in the Menterra portfolio, the universe entirely changed for OmiX. From focusing on product development to market readiness, it was a huge shift in the team and the DNA of the organisation. Menterra introduced partnerships for clinical trials, funded those trials, and provided them with senior advisors and GTM experts, to enable their smooth entry into the market.
Mukesh Sharma (Co-Founder & MD, Menterra) recalls “OmiX is one of the few biotech companies to have transitioned from lab to market. But to be able to hit the market, a certain amount of rigour and aggression had to be instilled. That is what Menterra has been focused on”.
Future is platforms like Villgro-Menterra
OmiX Labs’ innovation has the potential to solve global problems of AMR. A large number of countries in Africa & Asia have similar public health challenges, which are now being tackled by Villgro’s overseas branches in Kenya, Vietnam & the Philippines. The Villgro-Menterra platform could provide an excellent launchpad for innovators from India to address some of the most pressing global development challenges.
But when we talk of development and growth, it is sometimes easy to neglect inclusion. Growth that reaches those at the bottom of the pyramid and addresses the intersectionalities within them. After all, nothing can lift the world out of poverty than a strong and healthy population.
(So, if you are building a business that will lift the poor out of poverty, join us - iPitch applications open on August 1st, 2019. Stay tuned.)