More than a million people are diagnosed with cancer every year in India, studies reveal, and there are intense efforts across the world to find a cure for the life-threatening disease.
In such a scenario, genomics technology offers the hope of providing precision and personalised form of medicine to treat cancer.
Genomics is the study of the complete DNA of any organism or individual, which will help in better understanding of a particular body. Once this information is available, it becomes more easier to provide a targeted solution, depending on the DNA structure of each body.
Devoting its efforts to develop solutions based on genomics is Bengaluru-based oncology tech startup 4baseCare.
Founded by Hitesh Goswami and Kshitij Rishi in 2018, the startup is focused on developing genomics-based test for oncologists and cancer patients at one-fourth cost of prevailing rates. The goal is to make precision medicine for cancer treatment in India.
In the beginning
Hitesh and Kshitij were previously associated with the healthcare industry. Hitesh, a neurobiologist, has been passionate about genomics and its applications. Kshitij, a biotechnologist, and has worked with a couple of healthcare companies.
One could term both these founders as entrepreneurs at heart as both of them have the past experience of starting up companies. The duo met at a pharmaceutical company where they were working, and this became a long association, which led to the culmination of starting 4baseCare.
“We used to discuss how genomics could be applied for the treatment of cancer, and the whole idea was how to personalise patient treatment through this technology,” says Hitesh.
The treatment of cancer is an ecosystem in itself as it involves patients, oncologists, researchers, and caretakers. 4baseCare wanted to tie up all of them through the common thread of genomics.
Lack of data
The one big challenge 4baseCare faced was the lack of data. Kshitij says, “Despite the high prevalence of cancer in Asia, all the genomics data available is based on Caucasian population who largely belong to the developed countries.”
4baseCare went about collecting this data by entering into partnerships with various hospitals across the country. Also, what helped the startup immensely was being selected for the accelerator programme of global genomics leader Illumina.
As Hitesh says, “Most companies engaged in genomics testing use Illumina platform, and for the first time a company from Asia-Pacific was selected for the accelerator programme.”
Genomics technology-based tests are commonly used in developed countries to serve as therapy guidance, but the adoption is not that high in India.
Kshitij says, “It is not that the country lacks the expertise, but the cost is very prohibitive to take it to the masses. We are constantly looking at ways on how we can bring down this cost.”
At present, a gene panel test could cost anywhere between Rs 1.5 and Rs 2.5 lakh, and 4baseCare aims to bring it down by one-fourth.
The startup focuses on providing a comprehensive gene panel to the oncologist of any cancer patient to provide precision treatment.
According to Kshitij, 4baseCare is likely to come out with an Indian population-specific gene panel in October this year.
Besides providing these gene panel services, 4baseCare also wants to be a part of the cancer treatment and care ecosystem. This includes creation of an online consultation platform where all patient data is available to oncologists. It has partnered with caretakers like psychologists and nutritionists to enable more individual-specific treatments.
All these steps help 4baseCare in building up a repository of information regarding the treatment of cancer through genomics technology.
Hitesh says, “Our objective is personalisation of treatment. Today, many aspects of cancer treatment are working in silos, and we want to bring all these together.”
4baseCare currently has two labs in Bengaluru with a team size of around 11 people. They come from backgrounds such as bioinformatics, clinical genomics, and caretakers.
Funding and plans ahead
The startup has received angel funding from the likes of Dheeraj Jain, Managing Director of Redcliffe Lifesciences, and Lalit Wadhwa, an angel investor. It has also received seed funding from the US-based investment firm: First-In-Venture.
4baseCare is now looking at raising $1 million in funding, and is confident of closing it soon as it is in advanced discussions with a few venture capitalists.
4baseCare also faced challenges when it comes to acceptance of its solution. Kshitij says, “Adoption of gene testing is very low in India as oncologists are used to conventional form of treatment. The awareness is low and costs are prohibitive.”
Hitesh believes the biggest USP of 4baseCare is its population-specific gene test, which is backed by a leading technology platform of Illumina. It is also advised by leading specialists based out of the US, Singapore, and India.
There are handful of startups in India that are focused on various aspects of cancer. The founders of 4baseCare claim there are companies that provide solutions based on genomics, but they are not focused purely on cancer.
In the long term, the startup plans to expand outside India and build presence in a location like Singapore.
“Our solution is based on consultation with scientists, doctors, and patients. We provide patient-specific services and also other holistic support,” Kshitij says.
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