The homegrown Achira Labs is developing two broad testing platforms – Microfluidics Platform and Fabric Platform – to drive accessible and cost-effective diagnostics. Dr Dhananjaya Dendukuri, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Achira Labs interacts at length with Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN) on what drives the firm and its future plans
What’s the buzz around ACIX 100? How is it going to make blood testing accessible and cost effective?
Achira Labs has introduced a new portable platform – ACIX 100 – which uses patented, next-generation, microfluidic technology for testing blood samples. The path-breaking ACIX platform generates accurate and fast results while enabling improved accessibility and cost-effective medical testing solutions. It was designed and developed in-house by a team of scientists and engineers.
Innovation has been the keyword in Achira’s DNA. Therefore, the platform has been designed and manufactured in India with the idea of giving local diagnostic labs and doctors a chance to offer fast, high-quality medical testing to consumers within their premises, rather than relying on larger labs for testing. We believe that this will empower small, independent labs and bring about a big change in the way testing is conducted in India while also improving accessibility to high-quality diagnostics in rural markets.
The technology, which will enable a reduction of 50 to 60 per cent in diagnostic costs, will also stand out for its portability factor, since the equipment can be placed at the doctor’s clinic itself. This would aid the doctor in making informed decisions through quick, accurate diagnosis and testing.
Tell us more about the Microfluidics Platform of Achira.
Microfluidics allows one to effectively manipulate tiny amounts of fluids that makes it a perfect platform for reducing costs in clinical testing. The key cost drivers for any clinical tests today are the direct costs related to consumables and the machine time it takes to perform a test, and indirect costs related to shipping samples from the collection centre to the main lab. Microfluidics can significantly reduce all the direct costs, as the amount of consumables and the size and cost of the machine are significantly lower. In addition, our approach of developing a point-of-care device with microfluidics removes all indirect costs.
We also work on multiplexing; where a single chip can be used to diagnose more than one health condition.
All this makes our platform ideal for the Indian diagnostic environment, which is currently characterised by few large labs in urban areas and a greater unorganised diagnostic lab marketplace.
What’s all about the Fabric Platform?
Achira is also pioneering the use of silk fabric for simple at-home testing for infections and blood glucose levels.
This platform takes advantage of our large weaving community and local weaving skills to manufacture such devices.
Our approach to scale this is through decentralised manufacturing, where several local communities will be trained to weave our fabric sensors. This reduces the capital investments required to set up a manufacturing plant, and lowers the overall cost of our products.
What opportunities do you see for Achira in medical diagnostics markets in India?
Over 90 per cent of the medical diagnostics segment in India today is largely unorganised and fragmented. It mostly runs on the lab owners’ relationship with the doctors. We see vast opportunities in Indian small-to-medium-sized labs in both urban and rural areas. These labs are mostly forced to outsource IVD testing (e.g. any hormone testing) to larger labs since they cannot afford the testing equipment currently available in the market.
Our ACIX product line neatly fills this gap. Based on microfluidic technology, the diagnostic equipment is made much more affordable to the small labs owners who can become fully independent minilabs in their own right. We expect to garner about 30 per cent market share of the estimated Rs 800 crore small lab business that is growing at 18 per cent CAGR.
Having been on this journey for that last 6 years, we now have enough proof that the entire industry in India and abroad is headed towards point-of-care testing in a big way.
‘ACIX’ was first microfluidic chip based platform to perform low-cost medical diagnostic tests with a focus on immunoassays (protein tests). What are your future plans?
We are constantly undertaking research in the field of POC medical diagnostics technology and will expand our product portfolio in a phased manner over time. Our current ACIX platform will have more test panels added to it in the coming months. We are looking at adding panels for fertility testing, malaria and dengue among others.
Our platform is currently available in Karnataka, and we will gradually expand our regional reach across South India in the coming months. In the following year or two, we aim to be available across India and also plan to access global markets.
Achira is linking the manufacturing of its fabric sensors with local weaving communities for simple at-home testing for infections and blood glucose levels.
What benefits do you reap having tie-ups with Grand Challenges Canada, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), Indian Council of Medical Research and C-CAMP?
The most important benefit is the vote of confidence in our ideas and technologies. It is gratifying and encouraging to know that you have been selected by such prestigious organisations for a grant. In addition to the funding, the vetting and review process connects us with a lot of leading scientists across the country and worldwide who have helped us significantly with their share of informative advices. Consequently, we were invited by our grant partners to various forums, including the Start-Up Konnect in California, which was presided over by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event exposed us to different potential investors across the world. We have also been able to secure funding required for commercialising our products from Catamaran, a leading venture capital firm based out of Bangalore. Catamaran’s willingness to back us through this hard, slow process makes them far different than most others looking for a short-term return on investment (ROI).
It was certainly an achievement of Achira Labs to be among the 35 innovative Indian start-ups that were shortlisted to accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Silicon Valley for the first India-US Start-Up Konnect in September 2015. What is the strategy to retain your name and position?
Our strategy is to stay focused on developing high-quality diagnostic devices that will help meet the requirements of markets like India. We are committed to leveraging the benefits of next-generation technologies, such as microfluidics, to create devices that will transform the point-of-care and at-home diagnostic testing environment. Since our inception, we have been clear about celebrating the country’s wealth of engineering and technology expertise by developing innovative products in India. We believe that we are on the right path and we hope to be at the forefront of global diagnostic medical device development in the near future.