An MIT Alumnus Travelled from Germany to Switzerland to Meet Asif Naqvi, Founder, BioDiscovery Solutions for Future
Bioinformatics is a branch of biological science which deals with the study of methods for storing, retrieving and analyzing biological data, such as nucleic acid (DNA/RNA) and protein sequence, structure, function, pathways and genetic interactions (wiki). It has two streams, one is programming and other one is application. India has been the software of hub for many industries and on similar lines it can be explored for the bioinformatics sector. There are great opportunities in India for programming, algorithm & tool development for the bioinformatics segment.
The broad area to be explored is the application, doing research using the tools already created. The areas to be explored are molecular modeling, drug discovery, pathway construction, gene finding, protein modeling, etc. In our country, as far as private organizations are concerned, they provide only training, and practical application is far beyond reach. This leads to a situation where there are no solution providers and that is why new and creative ideas are not channelized.
BioDiscovery Solutions for Future is a contract research organization (CRO), with expertise in bioinformatics. The company deals in research projects affiliated to Drug Discovery/Designing & Molecular Modeling. The organization is a partnership firm with Corporate Headquarters in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and registered office in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.
BioDiscovery Solutions for Future started formally in March 2010, and started its first research project training program. The main aim of the program was to strengthen the profile of young researchers by giving them an opportunity to work on novel research projects. BioDiscovery provides quality training of the newest technologies on drug discovery and practical application is applied in the form of research projects. On successful completion of the project it is published in international journals with the researcher’s name, hence making the person’s career profile stronger and opening several doors of opportunities.
Bioinformatics is indeed a niche segment for the startup ecosystem, and such level of research can indeed bring out amazing results. Asif Naqvi, the brain behind this endeavor, shared his journey with us.
“The entrepreneurial bug had caught on to me since my schools days. I always wanted to lead and got opportunity to become captain of school cricket team. When I was in college I continued to work as a leader in teams and conducted academic projects, presentations and also captained the college cricket team for three consecutive years, starting in 2006,” says Asif.
In November of 2009, he started BioDiscovery Solutions for Future as a Google group to help students/young researchers from Biotechnology/Bioinformatics field of India by bringing them to a common platform where new ideas could be discussed and shared. The information gap between the providers and receivers was what he wanted to address. For this he gave members daily job updates, latest science news, job articles, etc. “Whatever I studied and learned, I started putting it on the group to be used by current students, all for free. Later on I created groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media & networking websites so to get connected and increase the size of the group to help,” adds Asif.
Asif’s strong research profile assisted him when he travelled and attended International conferences in Switzerland, Dubai, etc where he met experienced professionals and scientists. When he discussed about job opportunities with them, most of them informed him that if you are from Biotechnology/ Bioinformatics sector you should have a very strong research profile to get good opportunities in the industry as well as in academic. “I already had a strong profile and got opportunity to work as a PhD fellow in Rostock, Germany under an MIT alumnus who was impressed by my work so much that he came from Germany to Switzerland, especially to meet me,” says a proud Asif.
He goes on to describe his “Swades” feelings, “I would have easily took the opportunity, stayed in Germany and completed my PhD. Then, I would have settled there or moved to the United States/Europe as most of the educated Indians do but I love my country (India) a lot and I wanted to do something for the land which has given me everything starting from food till the education, in fact everything. I knew that there are so many colleges in India that are offering Biotechnology course and more than 90 per cent of the students have a very weak research profile which is a huge drawback for their career and they don’t get good offers. So, I decided why not help them to achieve success, and this has given me the opportunity to lead and show the right path to as many as I can who are of my field and passionate about Biotechnology & Bioinformatics.”
The BioDiscovery Team comprises Asif Naqvi, the founder and CEO of the organization, Ms Akansha Srivastava, COO, Ankur Singh, Business Development Manager and Dr Arshi Naqvi, as the Chief Scientist. They have a team of scientists and technical staff, and have signed some reputed scientists as guest faculties/trainers who come and deliver important lectures. They have launched Campus Representative (CR) program to select talent and bring out their qualities; these CRs co-ordinate with faculties and staff to conduct workshops, seminars and launch research projects. They also collaborate with the BioDiscovery team to host events and execute marketing activities to increase adoption of BioDiscovery services among students, faculty, and staff on campus. In response to this BioDiscovery pays them in the form of heavy discounts in its programs as well as some percentage of the business that they provide.
Getting back to his journey, Asif adds, “It’s really disappointing that nobody is focusing on research. In India, a fairly good research work is going on in CSIR Labs but looking at the population and number of students in the field it is not enough. The students have to do the projects and they have to get training. Where they will go? Some gets selected in CSIR/Govt. Labs but the remaining, a very large number, has nowhere to go but to take refuge in institutes that provide old research reports for cash without any actual work. I have seen websites of many such institutes which did not focused on research and publications but since BioDiscovery came into market and grown so fast I have seen changes in their websites and launching of new research programs, which is good but the question is, will they be able to provide quality and novel research work?”
Talking about the current state of education in India and the primary challenges faced by his company, Asif says, “The biggest challenge is that people who enter this field don’t know exactly what it is. They come into this field because of two reasons, one, they could not clear pre-medicals, second, their father, father’s friend, relative, etc, have said that it is a very new field and there are loads of opportunities and that is why they land into this field. Now, when they enter the course, due to in-experienced faculties, in terms of research and job market, the students don’t know how to proceed and when they step out of their biotech institution with a degree either they get placement in IT sector, BPO or get a sales job or they don’t get anything. The biggest reason being weak research profile because companies like BioDiscovery-Solutions for Future employs only those people who have a strong research profile.”
Some cheap actions were adopted by some organizations of the same field to tarnish the image of BioDiscovery Solutions for Future by creating fake Facebook and Gmail IDs and sending messages to organizers of event at these places. “Some even pointed out BioDiscovery Solutions for Future is fake, as original organization, BioDiscovery is in USA. We cleared with the organizers that we do not have any collaboration with that organization. That is a completely different organization and we are different. Their name is BioDiscovery Software solutions for life sciences and we are BioDiscovery-Solutions for Future. Even our website says that we have nothing to do with BioDiscovery, USA. People made issues and we cleared them all. We successfully completed our workshops at these places and the feedback of the participants was amazing,” says Asif, talking about how startups should take care of such fakesters.
All said, BioDiscovery has achieved good traction till date:
- They have completed more than 20 research projects and all of them got published at international level as posters, orals, papers, etc.
- They have taken research to next level and are now doing it online. Candidates from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Australia & Greece have worked/are working on the research projects.
- They have launched and successfully completed one month online training in Drug Designing for Indian candidates.
- BioDiscovery is the first such online service providers in the sector in India, and first of such organization which carries out online training with international participants.
- They have conducted workshops on Drug Discovery Technologies & Genomics at Madras Medical College, IIT Guwahati, VIT in Vellore, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, Graphics Era University in Dehradun, etc.
- They have started organizing 2/3/5 day hands on workshop on Drug Discovery Technology at International level in other countries. They are in the process of organizing such events in Egypt, Bangkok, Italy, France, Malaysia, Iran, Mauritius & Iraq.
“The bioinformatics sector is good at the government controlled labs and is satisfactory at the private level. At government level it is good because there are funds for research. Contract research is at very low level and there are only few organizations that provide the services. As a CRO, in the field of bioinformatics especially in drug designing & systems biology our team wants to make BioDiscovery-Solutions for Future as big as IT companies such Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc.” says Asif on a concluding note.
Bioinformatics intrigues you? Check out Biodiscovery Solutions for Future!