India’s charge against cancer is being led by a vanguard of startups
A 25 percent growth rate in just over a decade. Sounds like the stuff of dreams, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this particular statistic is likelier to give you nightmares. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, the number of new cancer cases is expected to shoot up by 25 % by 2020. That means an average of 1,300 Indians could succumb to the disease, every single day. How does one even begin to fight back against such a public health threat? The first line of defence is early detection.
One cannot stress enough on the importance of detecting cancer in its early stage. Most patients in India reach a hospital for diagnosis or treatment when the disease has reached the advanced stage. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, only 12.5 % of cancer patients reach a hospital at an early recovery stage. The problem is exacerbated by a lack of resources and organisations working for early-stage detection, especially in Tier II and III cities and towns.
However, recognising the problem, several new Indian cancer startups are looking into the detection and cure of cancer to make the diagnosis and treatment of this deadly disease accessible and affordable to one and all.
Here are the Indian startups that are doing a remarkable job in the march for fighting cancer:
Niramai, a startup based in Bangalore, is an Artificial Intelligence pain-free breast cancer screening solution that helps detect breast cancer in its early stage. This startup uses machine learning and big data analytics over thermography images to develop reliable and low-cost diagnostic methods. Niramai was founded in the year 2016 by Geetha Manjunath (CEO) and Nidhi Mathur. It has received funding from Pi Ventures, Ankur Capital, 500 startups, and Binny Bansal. The speciality of Niramai’s screening device is that it can detect tumours five times smaller than what a clinical exam can catch.
Founded in 2012, AIndra Systems uses AI-based computer visions for screening cervical cancer. Its founders, Adarsh Natarajan (CEO) and Abhishek Mishra, established this startup to develop innovative devices at an affordable cost that assist in the screening and detection of cervical cancer in women. They received funding from Villgro Innovations Foundation, Ino-US Science and Technology Forum, and Millennium Alliance that helped them develop the AIndra device which depends on the Pap Smear Test.
Panacea Medical Technologies
Founded by G.V. Subrahmanyam, Panacea Medical Technologies explores the radiotherapy and radiology space to treat cancer patients. Since radiology machines are extremely expensive, this startup is working towards making this technology affordable for hospitals. Founded in 1999 in Bangalore and backed by New Enterprise Associates, this company has set machines in about 55 Indian hospitals so far. Their Bhabhatron is a revolutionary Gamma Beam therapy that offers precisely targeted radiation therapy.
Founded in 2010 by Gitika Srivastava, Navya Network strives towards providing an affordable consultation facility for cancer patients. This Bangalore startup has received funding from Paul Perry and Gautam Shewakramani, which has helped them develop a sound medical decision support system to make decisions for complex medical conditions. This online platform works with renowned oncologists from the Tata Medical Center to provide the best to their patients.
Founded by Dr Manjiri Bakre, OncoStem Diagnostics focuses on the development of innovative ‘multimarker prognostic and predictive tests’ that aid in the personalized treatment of their patients. Funded by Artiman Ventures and Kiran Majumdar Shaw, this startup aims towards the identification of patterns of recurrence of various cancers. In addition to their flagship product CanAssist-Breast, other lung, oral, and colorectal cancer tests are also being developed at this Bangalore startup.
Aarin Capital, Navam Capital, and Ratan Tata-backed Invictus Oncology have adopted a multidisciplinary approach to build innovative therapies. Founded in 2012 by Shiladitya Sengupta and Raghunath Mashelkar, the relatively new startup has already been instrumental in the development of platinum II-based anti-cancer supra-molecular therapeutics that are now available to the global market.
Mihir Shah and Matt Campisi were troubled by the high mortality rate in breast cancer victims in India, fuelled by a lack of early and preventive breast cancer diagnosis systems. Putting their heads together, they set up UE Lifesciences in 2009 in Mumbai to devise a handheld breast cancer screening device for use across rural and urban India. Funding from Aarin Capital, Unitus Seed Fund, Kiran-Mazumdar Shaw, and Mohandas Pai (Manipal Institute) helped create the NoTouchBreastScan™, a USFDA-approved contact-less and radiation-free breast cancer diagnosis system. It is now available commercially in five countries.
Perfint is bringing the future to cancer care with their USFDA-approved robotic system MAXIO. MAXIO helps physicians visualize and plan patient-specific procedures, specialising in minimally invasive procedures. The aim is to reduce needle manipulations and repeat punctures and scans during such complex procedures. Perfint was founded in 2005 by Nandakumar S, Guruswamy K, and Puhazhendi K. In the past, it has received funding from Accel Partners, IDG Ventures India, and Norwest Venture Partners. Perfint’s other device ROBIO assists with fast and accurate tumour targeting and tool placement for procedures like biopsy, FNAC, pain management, drainage, and tumour ablation. The startup has sold over 100 devices around the world since 2008.
Mitra Biotech was originally conceived as an academic project between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University but was later established in India in 2009 by Dr Mallik Sunderram and Dr Pradip K. Majumdar. The very well-funded startup uses proprietary technology to research and develop cost-efficient personalised cancer care and drugs. Their trademark product is CANScript™, a multi-dimensional platform allowing investigative procedures within the patient’s tumour with high specificity. Backed by Accel Ventures, KITVEN Fund, Sands Capital Ventures, Tata Capital, Sequoia Capital, and RA Capital Management, Mitra launched CANScript™ in India in 2012 and in the US in 2014.
There is a massive requirement for advanced technologies in cancer research and development in India. These startups are doing everything in their power to fulfil these requirements at an affordable cost while also pushing the frontiers of cancer research in the country.