Bangalore: In a classic instance of lab to market, radiologist V.G. Vasishta now wants to raise funds to scale up an non-invasive treatment of osteoarthritis he has developed.
His company, SBF Healthcare Pvt. Ltd, that started in 2006 and runs hospitals in Mumbai and Bangalore, is looking to raise $5 million (about Rs24 crore today) from investors to set up a countrywide network.
“We plan to set up 50 centres across India in the next financial year,” says founder and chief executive Vasishta, a former head of radio diagnosis department at Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Bangalore.
Medical technology: SBF Healthcare CEO V.G.Vasishta with a patient. His firm treats osteoarthritis using a new non-invasive technique. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Vasishta co-developed a technology—called rotational field quantum magnetic resonance—with colleague R.V. Kumar at the institute.
Through this technique, controlled electromagnetic beams are directed at a patient’s knee tissues that have worn out due to ageing, that induces the cells to reproduce and proliferate.
SBF has so far treated 500 patients, with the oldest patient being an 86-year-old man.
There is a large number of people suffering from the ailment in India. Sushil Sharma, chairman, Arthritis Foundation of India Trust, an non-profit organization working in the field of arthritis and osteoporosis, says one in every two people older than 45 years in the country suffers from mild to severe forms of arthritis.
Since at least 20% of India’s 1.1 billion population is more than 44 years old, according to census 2001 data, the numbers are large. SBF estimates that 15-30% of this age group need medical attention.
“Our treatment has a success rate of 85-90%, compared with 75% of knee replacement surgery,” claims Vasishta, adding that no other treatment but his reverses the process of osteoarthritis.
The proof of the treatment lies in the quantitative measurement as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have shown worn-out cartilage growing from 0.4 mm to 1.1 mm after a three-week therapy, he claims.
SBF says it currently treats 25 patients a month, including some from overseas. The treatment costs some Rs65,000, including physiotherapy and ultrasound costs.
Claiming there are no side effects, SBF gives no oral medication or vitamin supplements to patients; though people with a pacemaker are not fit for the treatment.
The company has broken even and posted a turnover of Rs5.5 crore in 2007-08 but faces challenges of acceptability both in the medical community and among patients who struggle with the insurance companies for reimbursement on such technologies.
“There is no one to grant you a stamp of approval,” says Vasishta. “The Indian Council of Medical Research does not grant approval for devices, unlike the US Food and Drug Administration.”
Experts say since a regulator for medical devices is still being set up in India, new technologies will continue to take years before being accepted widely.
Indian practitioners wait for references and adopt a new technology only after getting feedback, which takes a couple of months, says Gautam Khanna, vice-president and head, health care business, 3M India Ltd. 3M recently launched a new technique to replicate and make artificial teeth.
Anil Panwar, former chief executive of IVen Medicare India Pvt. Ltd, a health care investment arm of ICICI Ventures, says though a huge proportion of India’s population needs treatment for arthritis, SBF’s method is yet to be tested on a large scale to attract an investor.
“The efficacy of the treatment needs to be tested and proved over a period of time to see its long-term implications,” says Panwar, currently an investment advisor to Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Mohan Singh, promoters of Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd.