Light bulb: India’s bio start-ups and some of their big ideas

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | B R SRIKANTH
Published Jul 18, 2016, 2:15 am IST
Updated Jul 18, 2016, 5:27 pm IST
Unlike the IT sector,companies keep their work under wraps, much of thinking in these bio-startups happens over a cuppa in cafeteria.
A few others are on the verge of forging partnerships with clusters in Cambridge, while few others are looking East as well.
 A few others are on the verge of forging partnerships with clusters in Cambridge, while few others are looking East as well.

They are increasing crop yield by 15 per cent, identifying chemo drugs which have the highest efficacy for a particular patient and are growing seaweed for the generation of bio-fuels. And very soon, there will be a handheld device to check the spread of bacterial infection in ICUs of hospitals

Don’t’ look now, but rookie start-ups from across the country could soon be part of major global discoveries in life sciences, or in rolling out novel technologies and products. Some of them have teamed up with Silicon Valley (San Francisco Bay area)’s cluster of innovation facilities, popularly known as the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which figures in the list of the best cutting-edge research facilities. A few others are on the verge of forging partnerships with clusters in Cambridge, while few others are looking East as well.

 

Such connections are falling into place because Indian start-ups have announced their arrival with some unusual products and technologies: from immunotherapy-based treatment of cancer (which helps patients build immune systems to combat cancer) to identifying chemo drugs which have the highest efficacy for a particular patient, from improving the yield of crops and vegetables by 15 per cent with an extract of seaweeds to growing seaweeds for generation of bio-fuels, devices to test blood samples for fertility, or an entirely new genre of cosmetics, and one hand-held device to check the spread of bacterial infection in ICUs (intensive care units) of hospitals. Some of these products are now on sale while the rest are likely to make it to the shelves in a couple of years.

And just what spawned such original innovations? “Transfer of lateral knowledge between the academia and start ups, and networking among start-ups,” explains Dr Taslimarif Saiyed, Director and COO, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP), a technology hub which has worked extensively to establish a strong life sciences innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in and around Bengaluru with support from the department of biotechnology (DBT) and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC).

C-CAMP, which provides world-class equipment and infrastructure for researchers in life sciences in 60 start-ups across the country, invited researchers of over 100 start-ups to network and explore areas of collaboration, during a two-day conclave hosted in partnership with BIRAC in Bengaluru last month.

Besides, C-CAMP has provided access to its research facilities to more than 200 R&D organisations from within and outside the country as well as trained 800 to 1,000 scientists on how to use these advanced platforms, he added.

But one hotspot for researchers of start-ups either in Bengaluru or similar clusters in Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, New Delhi, Faridabad or Mohali is, well, hold your breath, the cafeteria.

Unlike the IT sector, where companies, big or small, could be competing for projects, with techies keeping their work under wraps here, much happens over a cuppa as these scientists have no hang-ups about sharing details of their work, and even offer solutions to problems encountered in a project. Reason?

The focus of each start-up varies from the other with none pursuing the same goal as the other. For instance, researchers at Sea6 Energy, set out to find a way to make fuel from seaweed at a scale and cost never attempted earlier, but ended up developing a crop-yield enhancing spray after one coffee session with professors from the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bengaluru.

“Our product, JINGO, is now in the market after we launched it in collaboration with Mahindra & Mahindra. Our long-term goal is bio-fuel from seaweeds, but we are also working on products like animal feed and for healthcare,” says chairman Dr Shrikumar Suryanarayan, while recalling the benefits such “accidental collisions of thought” in the cafeteria.   

As for Dr Vinod Kuberkar, who heads Western Range Biopharmaceuticals located in biotech Cluster Innovation Centre on the campus of Maharaja Sayaji University at Baroda, a start-up which has developed two therapies for treatment of cancer, the focus in future would be on auto-immune disorders and failure of the liver. “We want to contribute to development of indigenously-developed technologies that are both highly efficacious and affordable,” he said.





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