Bangalore: A biotechnology start-up that developed a hand-held diagnostic device with funding from the New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI) of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Bigtec Pvt. Ltd is now looking for venture capital to fund a commercial launch. The Rs6 crore NMITLI grant helped the Bangalore-based Bigtec to miniaturize advanced medical technologies to create a so-called lab-on-a-chip where biology, chemistry, electronics, optics, micro fluidics and software converge in a hand-held device that can diagnose a pathogen in 10-12 minutes, which a conventional system today takes 4-6 hours.
And at Rs100 a test, the costs are around one-hundredth of those on devices currently available in the market.
Bigtec is also open to licensing its technology to global medical devices makers. “We need about $10 million (Rs40 crore) to extend the ambit of our existing platform (from Hepatitis B to several other diseases),” said Bigtec founder director Chandrasekhar Nair, who is talking to two medical technology companies from the Netherlands and the US for a possible licensing deal.
“Licensing is the way to ensure that a product like this sees as large a market in as short a time as possible,” added G.M. Kini, a director at Bigtec. The firm is also open to adapting the device for use in national disaster management or epidemiological studies.
“I must say they have made remarkable progress in the development of a chip that can be customized for each disease with different primers (molecules that trigger DNA replication),” said G. Padmanaban, emeritus scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and chairman of the NMITLI monitoring committee.
Padmanaban added that he thought Bigtec has successfully solved the problem of design, despite having to import the chips from Germany and Switzerland as machining and engraving foundries at the micro level are not available in India. In fact, since silicon use is widely covered by patents, Bigtec uses ceramic chips.
“I think they need all the encouragement, since while people talk, very few actually take up the challenge,” Padmanaban said.
Internationally, micro-PCR or hand-held PCR machines have been developed, but are still under clinical testing. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction, a technology that is widely used in biological and pathological laboratories.
Bigtec has shrunk the large and expensive PCR machine, which costs upwards ofRs20 lakh and is used to amplify the sample DNA several times over so that the pathogen in it can be identified. While it costs anywhere between Rs7,500 and Rs15,000 for a PCR test by an expert, Bigtec’s device, likely to cost Rs20,000, will enable minimally trained people to conduct tests for diseases such as hepatitis, chikungunya and dengue for just Rs100. Since the device is bluetooth-enabled, data can be transmitted to any desired network through a cellphone.
The device, currently under validation, will enter a large, four-month “non-inferiority” clinical testing at the Centre for Liver Research and Diagnostics in Hyderabad in April. “This test is a readiness test for the market,” said Nair.