Business Today

DiabetOmics setting up Rs 35 crore plant to make saliva-based diabetes diagnostic devices

It relies on saliva and all that people need to do to monitor the ailment is to insert a small strip of sheet into the mouth to pick up a bit of the saliva and get the readings.

twitter-logoE Kumar Sharma | February 23, 2016 | Updated 15:09 IST
DiabetOmics co-founder, president and CEO Srinivasa Nagella with the saliva-based testing strip and reader.

For those tired of undergoing a finger-prick blood test each time they wish to monitor their diabetes levels, a new non-invasive alternative may be available come June this year. With a promise of a user-friendly, non-invasive and an affordable route to monitoring diabetes, a company called DiabetOmics is laying the foundation stone on Saturday, February 20th, for this first of its kind plant in India.

It relies on saliva and all that people need to do to monitor the ailment is to insert a small strip of sheet into the mouth to pick up a bit of the saliva and get the readings. The company founded by physicians - two from the US and one in India and funded by Ventureast - has three acres of land in Medak district near Hyderabad where it is beginning the construction of the facility and have it up and running in a year.

"We are investing $5 million or Rs 35 crore and hope to have the manufacturing commence from here in a year from now," says Srinivasa Nagella, a doctor and one of the key founders of the company. He is also its President and CEO. However, the supply and distribution of the strips and the reader will begin by June this year. The company has transferred technology to a company in Cochin, which will be the contract manufacturer, and will start supplying from May or June this year and do so till the company's own production begins. The company intends to also source from other players abroad during this period.

Speaking to Business Today last Friday, Nagella said the company has developed a patented non-invasive, saliva-based glucose monitoring test for diabetes patients and an early detection test for gestational diabetes (in pregnant women) and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnant women). Ventureast made a $4-million investment in DiabetOmics in early 2015. In addition, K.I. Varaprasad Reddy, the founder of Shantha Biotechnics, which he later sold to Sanofi, has also invested $ 1 million in the venture and is the chairman of DiabetOmics.

Incidently, Reddy is himself a diabetic and takes two shots of insulin every day. Post these investments, DiabetOmics is now setting up its first manufacturing facility near Hyderabad. While the company expects to begin commercialisation of its product in India, it is not looking at India alone and intends to sell the products in select markets abroad too (it intends to get the plant USFDA approved) and for this global market plan, it is in the process of entering into marketing and distribution alliances.

It has already entered into a strategic partnership with BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), a leading global medical technology company. BD has entered into a licensing and distribution agreement for clinical tests from DiabetOmics, Nagella says, adding BD plans to distribute DiabetOmics' own point-of-care tests and reader, currently under development, in select international markets.

Explaining the investment thesis of Venturest in the project, Venkatadri Bobba, Director Diabetomics & General Partner of Ventureast, who led the investment into the company, tells Business Today, "Our excitement from Venturest perspective stems from three dimensions about the product - we feel very good about the science, the space - diabetes is a huge problem - and finally the team."

Apart from that, he also sees limited competition for the company as it is unique with its offerings. He says the science here is exciting because it is not just glucose-centric and looks at proteins and uses biomarkers, an indicator of a disease. Then, diabetes is a huge global problem and a major concern in India. Diabetes, he says, is as one of the largest problems in the world. As Nagella points out, there are 100 million in China and 90 million in India alone who suffer from diabetes.

Also, if it is not managed well, it leads to other diseases such as cardiovascular, opthalmic and renal. Also, there is no direct competition as the company has patents around the world.

"This approach is more geared towards precision and prevention. The details of this test can come onto your phone through Bluetooth and with an app, it can help you manage better. So, when we look at  this, we see compelling economics," says Bobba.  

Nagella, the principal founder of DiabetOmics, says this works out less as the test needs to be done once a week and costs about Rs 150, and it gives an average reading for one to two weeks and therefore shows the body's response to a therapy and gives a better idea about the chances of getting complications.

This is as against a daily blood test to check plasma glucose, which could each time cost about Rs 50. The company also has on board Paturi V. Rao, a doctor and a co-founder and the company's Vice President and Chief Medical Officer. He was previously professor and Chief of Endocrinology at Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences and established the Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India (RSSDI) and served as Secretary from 1993-2007. RSSDI is the largest diabetes care providers' organization in Asia, with more than 7,000 member diabetologists.

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