Bridging the funding gap for medtech startups

Pfizer's INDovation programme offers medtech startups grants, industry collaboration, and tailored acceleration. Focused on oncology and digital health, it propels innovations, shaping a future of accessible healthcare breakthroughs.

Bridging the funding gap for medtech startups

Saturday January 13, 2024,

5 min Read

A single medtech device can screen thousands of apparently healthy individuals for underlying disease in a single day. The development of a single device, however, can take thousands of days, filled with both apparent and underlying challenges in product development.

India has no dearth of medtech startups with high-innovation products. Once commercialised, these technologies can expand quality healthcare to millions who cannot access or afford it. But there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Grants for gamechangers

While grants to sustain very early-stage startups exist, and private equity is always on the lookout for a marketable product, there are scores of startups somewhere in between these stages of product development. For example, clinical trials are almost always mandatory before a medtech product can enter the market, but funding for a startup’s clinical trial – an exacting, painstaking process – is hard to come by. Caught in a Catch-22 situation where they can develop a potentially profitable product but don’t have the funds needed for further product development, such mid-journey startups need timely support from many quarters.

Cash and counsel

Topping the list of requirements is patient capital – funds which once infused, will help de-risk a startup’s product journey and yield tangible results in the form of a commercially available product, many years down the line. In the absence of other sources of financial support, it is only philanthropic capital that can bridge this gap in India’s medtech startup ecosystem.

Also required is multi-stakeholder consultation and industry collaboration. Too often, medtech startups consist of a two- or three-person team with immense technical expertise but lacking in the knowledge or the skills needed to transform an idea into a product, or an academic group into a business.

Grant-based programmes that support startups with assistance from industry and field partners, and sustain them with funds that will carry them to the next stage of product development can be the silver bullet for successful medtech startups. For the last three years, Pfizer and Social Alpha have been collaborating to design and execute such a programme.

The Pfizer INDovation programme

Making the goals of government health initiatives like the National Health Mission and Ayushman Bharat as the focus of its startup scouting strategy, the Pfizer INDovation Programme offers medtech startups a buffet of services: product engineering and development, clinical validation support, regulatory advisory and market access opportunities through grant support and catalytic cross-industry collaborations.

Selected startups that can demonstrate scalability, impact potential, and a sustainable business model are infused with milestone-linked grants from Pfizer, and handheld through a customised acceleration path through which they can benefit from Social Alpha’s team, resources, and extensive industry network.

Programme USPs

The Pfizer INDovation program helps startups become market-ready and commercialise their their product. From NITI Aayog and IIT Delhi to hospital chains and other healthcare organisations, multiple programme partners come together to make this happen.

The first cohort of this programme has refined its focus to two areas – oncology and digital health – promoting innovation that can address their many challenges.

Partners and progress

Anchored by Social Alpha, the programme architecture acts as an enabler for all selected startups in general, as well as helps individual startups reach their specific milestones. When the programme commenced, all startups’ clinical fitments and clinical protocols were reviewed by Bengaluru’s Cytecare Hospital and St John’s Research Institute (SJRI) respectively. Social Alpha conducted reviews and provided guidance on the software platforms and intelligence architecture. Along the way, each selected startup has benefited from the programme uniquely.

Oncophenomics’ pre-clinical study is testing the accuracy of its liquid biopsy test in the diagnosis of breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer. In association with the Adyar Cancer Institute (Chennai), Pragmatech is assessing the utility and measuring the user experience of its cervical cancer screening kit. During the course of the programme, this startup has received all the necessary certifications and has progressed to contract manufacturing with a cGMP facility contract manufacturer. Ramja Genosensor’s anti-microbial resistance measurement device has also received the CDSCO manufacturing license and ISO 13458 certification, and will soon initiate large-scale validation trials.

Brainsight AI’s platform is undergoing a clinical validation study at SJRI to confirm its efficacy as a decision-aid tool to improve outcomes during brain tumour surgeries. Similarly, Teralumen’s device is being clinically validated at the Mazumdar Shaw Medical Foundation (MSMF) and Narayana Health for its efficacy in intra-operative tumour margin detection.

And finally, after having its efficacy as a screening tool for cardiovascular murmur detection confirmed at the cardiology-focused Jayadeva Hospital, AI Health Highway’s smart stethoscope – AiSteth -- is being used by ASHAs in rural Maharashtra in partnership with PATH, and by 200+ doctors across 12+ states.

Until now and beyond

The programme has enabled the startups to showcase their innovations at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, through the support of programme partner UN Health Innovation Exchange, as well as a G20 event with Pfizer.

The next phase of the programme will help winning start-ups get access to prototyping labs and technical guidance for product development, pre-clinical validation support, regulatory advisory, market identification and user experience studies.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.