Most biotech companies may have difficulty scaling up, but Bangalore-based startups Pandorum Technologies, Axio Biosolutions, and TerraBlue XT are overcoming that hurdle. From creating innovative devices to providing affordable healthcare, these companies are finding success. While Pandorum’s ambitious journey is just starting, Axio Biosolutions’ products have gained global recognition, and TerraBlue’s is rapidly gaining acceptance.
Over 500,000 people die in India every year because they do not have access to life-saving organ transplants, such as the liver or the kidney, according to a 2016 survey by Organ India, established by the NGO Parashar Foundation. Every year, 100,000 people die of liver failure or severe liver complications, while only 1,000 can receive the much-needed liver transplant. Meanwhile, 220,000 people currently need new kidneys; however, just 15,000 a year can receive them. Of the world’s blind population, 31% are in India, many of them suffering from corneal disorders that can only be cured with a new cornea from a donor.
Why? There are not enough suitable donors available.
But what if livers and kidneys and corneas could be created in a laboratory, bypassing the need for donors? It may be a long way off, but this is Pandorum Technologies’ ultimate vision. Founded in 2011, it is pioneering the design and production of 3D living and functional tissues. “Such tissues have two applications,” says Pandorum Technologies Group co-founder Arun Chandru. “First, they can be used for medical research in vitro in a laboratory. Second, they can have clinical applications, which are then implanted in the human body.”
Pandorum can extract and grow human cells in vitro, assess their functionalities, coax cells to differentiate into desired lineages, modify their genetic makeup, and induce diseases. Human cells that are grown in this extracellular matrix (ECM) contribute to the biotech’s proprietary library of modular and tunable ECM mimetic biopolymers. They are suitable for 3D bioprinting, tissue engineering, and drug delivery. Pandorum’s microfluidic systems support the growth of human cells and tissues in cultures under physiologically relevant dynamic conditions, connecting tissues that build human-on-chip platforms.
Even when there is no threat to life, treating a diseased organ prolongs people’s lives. However, medication is an expensive option because drug development can be a long and tortuous process. “Pharma companies spend over US$1 billion at present to develop a single drug, and it often takes six to ten years to get it to the market,” says Chandru. “Clinical tests on animals and humans have to be conducted. Even then the new drugs that hit the market do not help too many people.” How much better it would be if the ailing organ could merely be replaced!
“The liver tissues we have developed so far are tiny, limited-scale tissues, which remain stable up to a couple of weeks,” continues Chandru. “In the future, we should be able to engineer the cornea and implant it in human patients.”
Chandru hopes the technologies Pandorum is working on will one day save the lives of millions by creating 3D-printed tissues of many more organs. “There are a lot of expectations from artificial intelligence (AI) right now,” he says. “AI is a tool that we will integrate into the technology we are using when we have sufficient data. Presently, we are using natural intelligence.”
The most frequent cause of death in road accidents is traumatic bleeding from a grave injury to the arteries. Bangalore-based Axio Biosolutions is the first Indian company to design, develop, and bring to market a hemostat, called Axiostat, which is based on a biopolymer that stops uncontrollable bleeding by clotting the blood. The product has transformed the emergency and wound care industry globally.
Although these products look like dry sponges, they are much more. There are four variations:
- Axiostat Emergency for treating emergency wounds
- Axiostat Military for treating emergency wounds under battlefield conditions
- Axiostat Vascular for uncontrolled bleeding during cardiovascular catheterization procedures
- Axiostat Dental to control severe bleeding in dental procedures
“They are made of chitosan, one of the most abundant polysaccharides in nature after cellulose,” says Leo Mavely, the bioengineer who founded Axio. “It is a very novel polymer. It’s been around for about 15 to 20 years and is emerging as one of the most promising biomaterials of the century.”
Chitosan has a cationic charge (or in other words, a positive charge). If it is concentrated into very highly positively charged material, it can interact with blood components in the body, which typically carry a negative charge. Axio’s products utilize these opposite charges to create a bond and block the blood flow.
Axiostat comes in a simple sterilized pack. All that needs to be done is peel open the pack and apply it to any profusely bleeding wound. “It is porous, and the blood flows into it,” explains Mavely. “Once the blood is in the material, it immediately forms a strong adhesive seal preventing further bleeding.” Removing the seal is just as easy. Axiostat is designed in such a way that is merely using clean water to irrigate the wound area turns the sponge into a gel that can be washed off. If surgery is required, it can commence immediately.
Winning accolades worldwide, Axio was founded in 2008, and its products are currently used by defense and paramilitary forces in India and across much of West Asia and Europe. They are also being tested for use by Medanta, a multispecialty hospital in Gurgaon, India; by St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London, which runs St George’s Hospital in London; and Be Safe Paramedical CC, a distributor of medical devices in Cape Town, South Africa. Axiostat has reportedly been used to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds, according to medical staff from the border security force for Jammu and Kashmir.
Mavely and his team want to keep developing affordable, high-impact medical products that will address unmet medical needs, especially in emerging markets.
India is home to the largest number of epilepsy patients in the world. Epilepsy is still not entirely understood. What is known, however, is that when an epileptic seizure strikes, the patient requires medical care immediately. But there was no way to preempt an epileptic attack until TerraBlue created TJay.
TJay was born out of a personal predicament. Tejas, son of TerraBlue CEO Rajlakshmi Borthakur, suffered from epileptic fits. “Many times they occurred when we were not at home,” she says. “We would rush back, but would often get just a window of time between 15 to 20 minutes to get him to hospital. Otherwise, he would suffer serious consequences.”
Borthakur’s personal experience inspired an innovation that could warn parents and caregivers of an impending seizure. That was TJay, a smart glove devised in 2015. It is the world’s first holistic device to predict an oncoming epileptic disorder.
“The hardware is a specialized glove with embedded sensors that capture signals from the palm and transmit them in real time to a personal data gateway and intelligent system called Poketee,” says Borthakur. “Poketee keeps sending this information to the cloud at fixed intervals. The software deploys machine learning to predict the onset of a seizure based on the data captured.” TJay, which is sold commercially, can also serve as a support system for doctors tending to epileptics.
The research conducted for TJay enabled the TerraBlue team to develop more prototypes that help tackle other neurological and mental health disorders. Based on the TJay technology, another product Xaant (pronounced “Shaant”) is set to enter the market in April 2018. Xaant, also a wearable device, produces mental calm.
Borthakur created a support group around epilepsy, TJay Circle of Care, a platform that brings together epileptic patients and their caregivers, doctors, hospitals, and the community. They are all connected through smart technology and share stories of healing and motivation for epilepsy patients. It helps inform about and remove the stigma around epilepsy. D!
For insight into how the future of healthcare will soon change, check out “Telemedicine Brings The Doctor’s Office To You.”