Bangalore: In all the years that Prashanth Bagali studied agriculture at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, finishing his master’s, he thought of convergence—agriculture, medicine and IT. The idea took some four years before he decided to start his firm in 2007.
GeneFlux Biosciences Pvt. Ltd, incubated in Selangor, Malaysia, and Bangalore, has products and projects exploring all three streams, in collaboration with pharma firms, the University of Malaysia, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board and forest research institutions. “You have the same genes in plants and animals,” he says, as he explains how his group uses computer simulation to validate a palm-oil-derived product for breast cancer, which, if successful, can be used in ovarian cancer, too.
While this and other such bioinformatics research keep GeneFlux’s cash register ringing, its mainstay is molecular diagnostics, the first of which, a dengue detection kit, was launched in Malaysia in October. Bagali is preparing for an India launch in January—a kit that would diagnose both dengue and chikungunya.
Molecular diagnostics are superior to the microbiology-based pathology tests in speed, specificity and accuracy. “While a regular test costs Rs75, it also takes three or five days; a molecular test may cost Rs200, but can give the results in a few hours, with specific information about the strain of the virus or bacteria, which is crucial for treatment, particularly in relapses,” says Bagali.
After Bagali applied for grants to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India; National Science Foundation, US; and the Malaysian government, it was Kuala Lumpur that reverted first. “The company needed a model where you have the idea, the spur and the market; and Malaysia provided it,” says Sanjeev Kumar, a technology consultant at Bangalore’s Pervasive Enterprise Solutions, who has worked with Bagali in the past.
GeneFlux’s biggest challenge is getting regulatory approvals. Bagali’s diagnostics product has been validated in six countries under a World Health Organization research programme—including the National Institute of Virology, Pune. Marketing it commercially requires different approvals.
The basic premise of GeneFlux, says Gopala Krishna, senior director and head of preclinical research and development at Supernus Pharmaceuticals Inc., in Maryland, US, who is advising Bagali on a likely US entry, “realizes the dream of personalized medicine…at a competitive cost”.
GeneFlux Biosciences Pvt. Ltd is one of the nominated companies at the Tata NEN Hottest Startups competition, of which Mint is the official print media partner. Details of the competition can also be accessed at www.livemint.com/hotteststartups