Pre-screening for breast cancer in remote areas is now possible, thanks to iSQUARE Mobility
Monday August 21, 2017,
7 min Read
Despite making tremendous strides in establishing itself as a leading global entity, India still lags in critical areas such as education and healthcare. A 2015 survey (Sustainable Development Goals) ranked us 143 out of 188 countries in terms of health systems, while another ranked us 94 out of 142 (Legatum Prosperity Index 2015) in terms of education.
It was to address these gaps—critical for a developing economy like India—that the founders of Innominds, a Hyderabad-based dedicated product incubator conceptualised and set up iSquare Mobility, which is today prototyping a portable wireless tele-medicine device to pre-screen for breast cancer.
Anilkumar Katakam, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Innominds, explains, “We want to make a positive impact on the lives of professionals in the public health and education sector by solving day-to-day problems through clever innovations and cutting-edge technology. Our global technology and software partners allow us to leverage their capabilities, and we are proud to work towards a better India by taking advantage of the "Make in India" campaign for India.”
Along with Anilkumar, iSQUARE Mobility is the brainchild of Divakar Tantravahi and Rajya Lakshmi Achanta. Incubated and seed funded by Innominds, their aim was to develop vertical-specific connected device solutions in the healthcare and education domains. There is also a small team of hardware and software architects and engineers, who are working under the leadership of Murali Ramanathan, who drives this effort.
“We all have experience with helping startups and mid-size companies build their products, or act as (their) extended engineering teams. Having worked with Bay Area innovation companies for a long time, we always felt that some of these cutting-edge technologies could make a huge difference in India,” says Anilkumar.
It didn’t take long for their customers to realise the potential of taking their products to the Indian market. Nevertheless, a friend pointed out how any product that was brought to India needed some “local vaccination and adaptation”. That's when the iSquare team decided to select product ideas that they could adapt to not only make a technological impact, but a social one as well.
“Ask any Indian who has done well in life where they think the most pressing changes are needed to improve quality of life, and most will say health and education. We thought these areas needed special focus and so we incubated iSQUARE Mobility,” says Anilkumar.
According to a World Bank report, public health expenditure and insurance spends in India account for just 1.3 percent and 3 percent of the country’s GDP, respectively. With illness patterns and weather conditions rapidly changing, the incidence of various diseases such as diabetes, obesity and asthma is also rising. And while preventive screening can go a long way in preventing the onset of disease, India has a long way to go in deploying preventive screening itself. Anilkumar gives the example of breast cancer: India has over 500 million women in the age group of 20-65 years, who require proactive screening. iSquare hopes to reach at least 5 million women a year with their preventive screening technology, which is a three-part solution.
The first aspect comprises a wand, which is a tactile breast imaging (TBI) device. The images and data that the wand captures are then sent to a custom tablet running on Android for analytics on streaming data, and generating real-time information for the health worker. The third aspect of the solution is a cloud-based visualisation application for doctor advisory information and business logic.
“Awareness about breast cancer and the importance of early screening for cancer is still not widespread in India. By the time a patient goes to the doctor, they have either reached a stage where they lose a breast or are in the terminal stage. We played a part in making the software for the AMC Healthcare programme initiatives in India. Public health programmes in India are increasingly focusing on women’s health, pregnancy-related concerns and prevention of foetal and newborn deaths. I believe we need to make screening for breast cancer a part of the country’s health initiatives and covered by public health programmes.
Speaking about the applicability and the market for their solution, he says, “We spent lot of time understanding the market for our solution in India. We met with oncologists, clinicians, diagnostic service providers and representatives of public health organisations. We found that oncologists did not have a use for screening devices as people approached them only when they had been diagnosed. Clinicians too would examine for a particular complaint and not perform pre-emptive screening.” The team is planning to work with diagnostic clinics to make preventive screening mandatory with their packages for women and with the public health organisations to take their solutions to a larger audience.
With increased digital adoption, the Indian healthcare market is likely to grow at a CAGR of 23 percent to $280 billion by 2020. According to the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey, 70 percent of households in urban areas and 63 percent in rural areas rely on private healthcare owing to the poor quality of the public healthcare sector.
With public health programmes no longer the only option and private health organisations, along with a new breed of healthcare companies, taking advantage of IT innovations to provide healthcare services, the number of households with access to healthcare seems set to grow. Anilkumar believes that these are the companies that are going to be partners and vehicles to take their innovations to market.
However, he also believes that public health programmes will still provide greater impact because of their reach and economies of scale.
Commenting on the competition, he says that there are some great products in the market. “While some are in early stage, others have been in the market for a while now, and how each of us will utilise the next few months to take these ideas to the next level determines who will stay in the competition.”
He believes that iSQUARE’s ability to develop apps, devices and perform analytics under the same roof puts them at an advantage.
iSquare is one of the eight companies shortlisted for Cycle 1 of the second Qualcomm Design in India Challenge. “The main reason we participated in the Qualcomm Design in India Challenge is because of Qualcomm's vision to contribute and make in India for India. Their Design in India initiatives are specific to our product and they are the right partners to take our product idea to market not from just technology perspective but also eco system help and advisory services,” Anilkumar says, adding, “Their technical and leadership teams have been helping us with technology choices, getting visibility and enabling us with access to technology and infrastructural support. We will be working from T-Hub very soon, where we will leverage the startup environment and ecosystem there.”
The team is using MDM 9207 – Qualcomm’s new-generation ultra-low-power cellular, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G/4G-enabled platform – to build a reference module which will be initially used in their breast cancer diagnostic device. The iSQUARE team is using Qualcomm’s platform to connect pressure sensors in their device to the cloud. The reference-module will be then used for multiple alternative IoT deployments.
iSQUARE is also leveraging Qualcomm’s state-of-the-art infrastructure, lab and tech support. “Qualcomm has the most sophisticated and proprietary labs in Bangalore and Hyderabad,” says Anilkumar.
The team at iSQUARE have had their fair share of challenges in terms of sourcing and manufacturing hardware (electronics and plastics) in India. But Anilkumar says the team believes that they have solved some of these problems and will address the rest once Make in India fully comes into force. “We are currently focussing on getting the pilot project out with some business models validations. We will know in couple of months what progress we will make,” he concludes.