Indo-UK joint workshop on Affordable Medical Diagnostics and Devices

13 Feb 2015: Indo-UK Joint Workshop on “Affordable medical diagnostics and devices: From ideation to commercialization”

| Outline | Report |

A joint workshop was organised by Venture Center, NCL Innovation Park, Pune, UK Science and Innovation Network and Association of British Scholars, Pune with the motivation of understanding various aspects of technology commercialization for medical devices. The workshop also aimed to explore potential industry, research and medical fraternity partnerships towards technology development and evolution.

Opening Session

An opening session provided a brief introduction to Venture Center, NCL Innovation Park and Science and Innovation Network, UK. This was followed with an introductory note from Dr. Sourav Pal (Director, National Chemical Laboratory) which outlined the importance of frugal innovations in Indian context and the importance of designing easy, reliable and non-invasive diagnostics. Dr. Sourav Pal called upon entrepreneurs to understand the regulatory framework involved in reaching the market and increase the fraction of ideas which get commercialized to sustainable products.

After the opening session, a brief background of the workshop was provided by Dr. Mugdha Lele which outlined the mission, objectives and agenda for the same.

Session 1: Affordable Devices and Diagnostics- UK Trends

The workshop started with initial panel discussion on UK landscape relating to medical technology innovations, chaired by Dr. Ramesh Paranjpe. As an opening remark, Dr. Paranjpe briefly spoke of the need of technology innovations in field of medicine and healthcare and talked about huge expectations of the market such as TB diagnosis test for INR 2-5 only. Ms. Sue Dunkerton gave a brief on the UK landscape and a broader overview of KTN (Knowledge Transfer Network). The life sciences sector in UK is worth 52 billion Euros and is fast growing in terms of funding and manpower resources. The emerging trends or hot research areas in life sciences from the UK perspective, include affordable medicine, personalised medicine, targeted treatments, minimally invasive surgeries, regenerative technologies and digital health management. There is also a major focus on rapid and Point-of-Care diagnostics for diseases such as TB, COPDs, sepsis and antimicrobial resistance. Currently KTN is bringing along people from interdisciplinary sciences and working across sectors to provide know-how, multi-stage fundings and to increase entrepreneurial spirit. Strength of the KTN group lies in Chemistry and Materials Sciences and Biotechnology. Ms. Himangi Bhardwaj then spoke of available opportunities in the healthcare sector by UK government  She talked about 4 broad areas of funding:

  1. Newton-Bhabha fund. This option focuses on individuals, research entities and foundations and has joint research calls in Maternal and Child Health, Mental Healthcare and substance abuse, Affordable Healthcare and Antimicrobial resistance.
  2. Industrial Research and Development fund. This funding is provided in partnership with GITA and InnovateUK with a major focus on affordable healthcare.
  3. Affordable Healthcare Axis-Wellcome Trust.
  4. Longitudinal Prize. The longitudinal Prize focuses antimicrobial resistance research.

Apart from these the UK government is also exploring possibilities of collaborations with Ministry of Health to fund several exchange programs for researchers and doctorates.

(Details of funding programs are as in the given link: https://www.h2020uk.org/funding-calls )

The session moved further to other aspects of the technology landscape such as collaborations in eHealth, obstacles in scientific developments and potential areas for research and development. Mr. Mario Giardini briefed about his projects and collaborations in opthalmic screening solutions developed for low-income countries and inaccessible regions. Dr. Richard Black further discussed on his work biomedical materials, their processing technologies, development of scaffolds and surface treatments of these materials. He cited that the major obstacles in development of biomedical materials lie in sourcing of these materials along with the required cells and antibodies (from the perspective of ethical considerations) and understanding surface topographies, bio-reactive technologies and the complete mechanism of interactions between biomaterials and living cells. The major focus of Dr. Black’s group lies in rapid fabrication of biomed materials and gel-based systems for better drug delivery. Dr. Bachmann focussed on concepts of personalised medicine and stratified medicine and highlighted that most areas in healthcare need to mimic and build upon the developments in oncology for providing better solutions.

Session 1: Questions and Comments

In India, as opposed to UK, the problem definitions in large-scale diagnostics transform based on availability of products, level of awareness, access to infrastructure (such as electricity and manpower). A key to tackling this problem would be to co-create solutions along with medical practitioners and health workers at the ground level. The medical devices to be developed must incorporate ease-of-use and should be accessible to most through minimal training. Along with co-creation, it is also important to horizontally deploy the proposed solutions in other sectors such as animal husbandry and agricultural technologies.

Another issue in developing a robust healthcare landscape lies in gaining the trust and feedback of patients where around half of patients don’t return for results after . This makes patient monitoring and adherence to drugs and therapy a major issue in healthcare market. The panelists discussed and debated on the definition of affordability, deployment of existing solutions to rural environments and sustainable technology models. Also, there was an unanimous agreement that affordable doesn’t necessarily mean low-cost and a target price must be given and roadmaps should be derived wherever necessary. Affordability can be brought in healthcare by early and effective diagnosis techniques which help lower the cost of treatment and drugs.

Session 2: Affordable Devices and Diagnostics- Emerging Needs in India.

The second panel discussion chaired by Dr. V Premnath focussed on needs and priorities for medical technology in India. The panel constituted of veteran medical practitioners, biochemists and biotechnologists and also new-age entrepreneurs working in the field of affordable healthcare. Mr. Nikhil Phadke (Founder, GenePathDx) explained the challenges with design and manufacturing of microfluidic kits and elaborated upon modular and low risk strategy of his enterprise. Presently, GenePathDx focuses on molecular diagnostics and aims to monetize each step in molecular diagnostics rather than manufacturing of complete kits.  Dr. Prasad Rajhans, intensivist at DMHRC elaborated on the urgent need to localise a number of low to high technology medical devices and consumables ranging from CPR mannequins to MRIs.  The panel also discussed about need of investment and innovations in technologies which are peripheral to healthcare, such as water sanitation and immunization processes. It was agreed that we as a country still need to collate a huge amount of medical data on Indian demographics, especially in the field of NCDs.

Session 2: Questions and Comments

Medical tourism has been a buzzword in the Indian healthcare market, since long now. People have from neighbouring regions have been visiting India for low-cost and affordable medical procedures. Market analysis of medical tourism does pose India as a favorable location. However, there is a difference in opinion on whether the diagnostic and medical device industry see a sudden growth in demand due to medical tourism. Though, a uniform opinion on this matter couldn’t be reached, it was agreed that coming years will see more competitors in the healthcare industry which will lead to reduction in prices. A number of labs in India are already accepting samples from other countries for conducting diagnostics tests and providing results via electronic means. This system needs to be made more robust and labs must be certified and standardised with international systems to encourage this trend. It is also important to look at innovations from process viewpoint rather than the viewpoint of manufacturing to further boost growth of medical devices industry.  On the other hand, medical tourism may also lead to increase in cost of healthcare in the long run due to better buying propensity of the market.

During the discussion, Dr. Niranajan Khambete (Clinical Engineer, Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital [DMHRC]) pointed out that we are presently at the center of a huge mesh of problems and a major difficulty lies in prioritising them while developing solutions. This difficulty is enhanced due to the non-uniform structure of Indian market. The fragmentations in Indian healthcare industry pose a big challenge in developing diagnostic devices. this reduces scalability of solutions and also increase the cost of delivering the solution to masses. There is a need of policies by the Indian government that enables the marketing and distribution of low cost diagnostics and medical devices through government hospitals, laboratories and health missions. There was also a suggestion to try out the open source model for developing diagnostics where each innovator can benefit with the developments and advancements of another.

Session 3: Stories of tech developments and commercializations in diagnostics and devices.

During the third session, delegates from India and UK presented their stories of tech commercializations in medical technology. Dr. Bachmann presented his work on rapid diagnostics for infectious diseases with major focus on molecular in vitro diagnostics, biochip technology and medical microbiology. The Bachmann group are working on biosensing platform project, chronic wound care program and EIS (Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy) techniques for PoC devices. Several devices and IPs were developed as an outcome to these programs such as electrochemical sensors, detection platforms and handheld machine for wound care detection. Another technology developed by Bachmann group was ePCR which utilizes intercalation techniques for DNA denaturation. This technology provides an edge over PCR which is a relatively slower and complex process. Following Dr Bachmann, Dr Prodromakis also spoke about integrated bio-sensing technologies and the key challenges in achieving them.  Some of these challenges are sensitivity of the chemical sensing processes, encapsulation materials and finding appropriate bio-markers. He emphasized that contrary to popular belief, it is futile to integrate nanoelectronics with microfluidic devices as these add to the cost of fabrication and processing. Dr. Prodromakis’ group has developed several solutions such as hybrid chemical sensing platforms, disposable diagnostic prototypes and Lab-on-PCB devices. The Lab on PCB device uses a cartridge concept wherein trenches are etched in the PCB which are then stacked together to design the required channels. this system incorporates microfluidic sample delivery network, electrochemical biosensing reagents and reference electrodes. A key challenge for this technology lies in minimizing the drift of these reference electrodes. In future, his group intends to design customised user interfaces and integrate primitive logic to disposable cartridges. They also want to exploit the ossibilities of deploying these solutions to alternative markets.

Dr Black from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Strathclyde elaborated on his team’s work in rapid manufacturing of tissue scaffolds. The rapid fabrication was achieved using electrospinning of PU dispersions and later functionalizing them through various means. His current research focusses on coronary artery diseases and development of artificial arteries which can be used as grafts; biomaterial surface functionalization for developing blood vessel substitutes, vascular bioreactors and perfusion bioreactors

The session on stories of tech development continued with stories of Indian entrepreneurs: Mr. Aniruddha Atre, Mr. Nishant Kumar, Mr.Sachin Dubey, Mr. Dhiman Sarkar, Mr. Mandar Gadre and Mr. Jayant Khandare, all incubated at Venture Center, NCL.

Session 3: Questions and Comments

There are a large number of adoption barriers in the Indian medical devices industry which include lack of a regulatory framework, lopsidedness of the market for imported devices, mistrust in new and cheaper technologies and clinical history based decision making systems. A good way of overcoming this hurdle will be to involve opinion setting customers early in prodcut development stage and co-create a prototype which is suited to the needs of medical practitioners.

Session 4: Collaborative technology development and taking ideas to market – Experiences and opportunities

This was the last session for the workshop and focussed mainly on collaboration opportunities and challenges.  An opening remark during this session was given by Mr. Satya Dash who gave a brief background of BIRAC, its focus areas, funding opportunities and programs. Major paradigms at BIRAC include affordability, quality and localisation. Mr. Dash also briefed about the recently started SIIP program grants available at PoC stage. After the opening remark, Ms. Sue dunkerton again emphasised on collaborative funding programs provided by UK government. She elaborated on InnovateUK which supports innovative businesses with a goal to improve wealth of the UK and provides funding for themed calls, technology inspired calls, industry academia partnerships and small industries. Ms. Sue also introduced to the audience H2020 programs that are more SME specific. The H2020 programs include Eurostars, SME instrument and FastTrack to Innovation. Mr Vishy Chebrol outlined the importance of finding the right customers to have sustainable developments. As an example, he quoted that most medical diagnostics can target low scale private clinics and doctors who cannot afford to invest into full-functioned high end equipments due to budget or space constraints. Mr. Chebrol also suggested to backlink the innovation happening in industry to academia so that research can take it further and frugal innovations may mature into advanced science. The panelists also discussed and debated on hurdles in collaboration which included difference in opinion between industry and academia, lack of interest in high risk solutions and challenges of IP protection.