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Chasing a virus, thriftily

Keeping its eye focussed on affordability, ReaMetrix starts its journey into a $40-bn diagnostics market. Its new products will decide how big a splash it can make.

Print Edition: March 21, 2010

"We import the science but not the implementation of the science, which is driven by the need to address local markets with local resources and a local viewpoint," says Dr Bala S. Manian. That was sound enough reason for him to have founded a business around invitro diagnostics, which involve tests done outside the body, typically on fluids such as blood, urine and saliva. The focus of the business he founded in 2003, ReaMetrix, was affordability.

Seven years after that leap of faith, Dr Manian has made his mark in a small but vital area of diagnostics: Diagnostic reagents, chemicals that are added to a blood sample to help zero in on characteristics in blood or other samples. "We developed technology that allows reagents to be dried. We not only got the cost advantage of doing things in India but in also tailoring the delivery in a manner that eliminated the use of cold chains and ice boxes when transporting or storing the reagents," says Dr Manian.

ReaMetrix

FOUNDER: Dr Bala S. Manian

INNOVATION: ReaMetrix's road to affordability in diagnostics is by finding new solutions to old problems. For instance, dried diagnostic reagents that eliminate the need for expensive cold storage and transportation.

MODEL: Leverage Indian skills to generate monetisable intellectual property.

SCALE: ReaMetrix's future depends on its ability to enter into revenue-sharing deals with global players.

The product costs Rs 125 a test versus an equivalent test using MNCmade products that required refrigeration cost three to five times more. In May 2009, ReaMetrix became the first company anywhere in the world to receive approval from the US drugs regulator, the Foods and Drug Administration, for such a dried testing product to help fight HIV/AIDS. The role of reagents in managing HIV patients is in helping to find out the status of their immune system, the primary target of the AIDS virus. In January this year, BD Biosciences, part of Becton Dickinson, and ReaMetric entered into an agreement to use ReaMetrix's drying-down technology for the global delivery of affordable testing products to help fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries.

Other solutions in the works at ReaMetrix, which has seen investment of over $12 million to date, include "a new platform that can transform the way in which clinical diagnostic information is delivered", says Dr Manian, without giving more details. ReaMetrix plans to release the solution around October this year.

Though developing markets make for only about 15 per cent of the $40 billion annual global medical diagnostics market, Dr Manian, brother of former ICICI Chairman N. Vaghul, says it represents an underserved market ideal for a new entrant with the right technology and affordability. For ReaMetrix, which is still to break even financially with revenues of the last three years under $1 million, that opportunity means it is "now poised to start monetising the intellectual property it has created over the last five years with an investment of over $12 million," says Dr Manian.

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