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Race for a cure: India’s biotech industry has played a key role in fighting coronavirus


make drugs to treat them. “The opportunity in genomic and life sci-


ences is like the IT opportunity” at the turn of the century in 1999 in India, which saw several IT services firms leap to the global stage, he says. Vedam Ramprasad, chief executive of MedGenome, a genomics and clinical data- driven diagnostics and drug discovery research firm in Bangalore, says genome sequencing around Covid-19 is just the tip of the iceberg of the opportunity in India. The company has traditionally been work-


ing to develop diagnosis of rare diseases for reproductive tests including the non-invasive prenatal testing as well as in oncology to ascer- tain whether patients will respond to certain drugs. In 2020, it made a foray into infectious dis-


ease, testing for infections of the eye, brain (meningitis and encephalitis) and bloodstream — efforts that got a boost with Covid-19. By July, the company had realised that India needed its own products to tackle pandemics instead of just depending on imports. It took the company a monthto designandcomplete internal valida-


February/March 2021 www.fDiIntelligence.com


tions for a strip-based antibody testing kit. MedGenome, which has raised about $130m so far, is nowawaiting government approval to be able to launch the product in market. “The opportunity is huge,” says Mr


Ramprasad adding that their kit can be easily modified to test for other viral pathogens. MedGenome is also tackling other prob-


lems in this part of the world, including com- ing up with a risk score to analyse whether a person is prone to heart attacks — South Asians are at four times the risk of that than Caucasians, says Mr Ramprasad — and it also has developed a proprietary test to carry out surveillance of tuberculosis (TB). This covers where infection is coming from, howis it trave- ling and what drugs it might be resistant to. All this information has helped drive down costs, and time, for treating TB, he says. “Market opportunity is important,” says


Mr Ramprasad. And while the past year has more than provided it, the government can really give that a bigger boost if it can help cre- ate the ecosystem, like it did to test for Covid- 19 he says.■


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