Biotech Startups: Leveraging Innovations to Address Nation’s Public Health Challenges

India is known for its vast and diverse population, but with it comes numerous challenges. Due to cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart and lung diseases, more than five million people in India die each year roughly before the age of 70 years. The reported cases of COVID-19 were between 40-50 million people, with a death toll of 400-600 thousand. Startups in India attempted to tackle many of these problems and startup incubators like T-Hub have made efforts to accelerate such innovation ecosystems while tackling the underlying problem of accessibility. Let us look at some of the initiatives that biotech startups have undertaken: 

Managing the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in 2020 created challenges in the medical field. In India, there was a shortage of ventilators while battling the virus. Startup and tech companies started manufacturing the machine, but Ethereal Machines based in Bengaluru, came up with a unique solution to the problem of shortage of ventilators. With the help of 3D printing, they were able to accommodate two patients with different oxygen supply requirements, simultaneously. The splitters helped address the shortage of ventilators in times of high demand.

Ethereal Machines raised USD one million in its pre- series-A, funded by Blume Ventures, and won a grant of INR 50 lakh from the Action COVID-19 Team (ACT) comprising startup investors and venture capitalists. Boson Machine was also engaged in 3D printing innovation that printed face shields for doctors and nurses as an extra layer of protection. The Mumbai-based startup, with the help of the Maharashtra government, produced 8,000 transparent shield units every day during times of peak demand.

Addressing Endemic Diseases

As of 2021, India ranked 66 out of 195 countries in the Global Health Security (GHS) Index. Startups in the country are leveraging technological solutions to address shortcomings in the public healthcare systems. 

Take Ameliorate Biotech, for instance; the startup has invented a device called ASSURED that can be used to rapidly detect endemic diseases, such as malaria, chikungunya, and dengue. The startup has produced an early-stage diagnostic kit that is affordable to the public. 

Globally, an estimated 32,300 infants worldwide are diagnosed with permanent vision impairment caused by Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), an eye disorder, annually. Out of these, about 20,000 infants experience severe visual impairment or become completely blind. But now Remidio, a Bengaluru-based startup, has developed a low-cost imaging device that can be hooked to smartphone cameras that can improve early diagnosis. 

Meanwhile, in India, over 40% of the population also harbor the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB) in their body, but not all of them develop active TB disease. The likelihood of someone with a TB infection developing the disease is only around 10%, but for the most populous country in the world, that is a sizable population. Docturnal, a startup incubated at T-Hub, is using AI for providing medical screening for the early detection of pulmonary tuberculosis. It also includes prognosis and has a product portfolio, which includes the solution for several lung diseases.

Tackling Non-Communicable Diseases.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. As of 2022, India had reported cancer incidence to be around 19 to 20 lakh or higher, according to a study by FICCI and EY. Several startups across India are working on solutions for early-stage detection using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies.

With innovative technologies and a proprietary AI-based model, startups like Oncostem Diagnostics help improve the chances of identifying the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence. The technology enables doctors to tailor their treatment plans and potentially spare low-risk patients from unnecessary chemotherapy. The technology is also being used for early detection of oral and ovarian cancer. 

Assisted by T-Hub, NIRAMAI, a Hyderabad-based startup created Thermalytix. This sophisticated breast cancer detection tool uses AI on thermography images for early and precise identification of breast cancer. The startup has raised USD 6 million in its Series A round. India is currently seeing a fair share of startups devoting their efforts to early-stage cancer detection, and startup accelerators can play a crucial role in enabling the success of such organisations. 

Making Healthcare more Accessible

Among the 2000 domestic and international startups, which have received support from T-Hub, we have several examples of startups pioneering innovations, making it possible for all citizens to monitor their health and take remedial action easily. Take, with its wearable device that keeps track of an infant’s body vitals to detect apnea and hypothermia. Another example is AMBEE, an online ambulance provider, which offers pre-booking or on-the-spot rentals so that in case of emergency, transport is available. In addition, STARTOON LABS- has produced a device that monitors and tracks the recovery of patients undergoing physiotherapy, post-neurological and musculoskeletal disorders. 

Indian biotech startups are making great strides in addressing public health challenges with technology and innovation. With the help of organizations like T-Hub, these startups are leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as AI, machine learning, and big data analytics to develop innovative solutions that are making healthcare more accessible for every citizen.

These startups are not only addressing some of the most pressing health challenges facing the country, but they are also creating new opportunities for economic growth and development. By harnessing the power of technology and innovation, these organisations are driving significant advancements in healthcare delivery, disease prevention, and medical research. It is important to continue to support and encourage the growth of these startups; these organisations have the potential to transform healthcare in India and beyond. With continued innovation and collaboration, startups can help to address some of the most pressing public health challenges facing the world today.