Startup Mantra: On path to provide affordable, accessible medical care
Pune: If the modelling data and study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research is to be believed, more Indian women than men are being diagnosed with cancers
Pune: If the modelling data and study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research is to be believed, more Indian women than men are being diagnosed with cancers. According to the study, currently there are approximately 0.182 million cases of breast cancer while it is projected to reach 0.25 million by 2030 with a national average of 105.4 per 0.1 million.
If alarmed by these numbers, then read about an innovative device developed by Jilma Peruvangat, a biomedical engineer with more than six years of experience in medical device industry. Jilma along with her co-founder and husband Suman Mohandas, a software engineer with more than 16 years of experience in coding, have together founded Kozhnosys, a startup which aims to develop futuristic medical devices.
Before starting Kozhnosys in 2017, Jilma has worked with Larsen & Toubro, Fortis Hospitals, and other healthcare equipment companies, in wide-ranging roles from sales to service to being an end user and in R&D as well. She has eight years of experience in the biomedical field along with an M-Tech degree in Bioscience and Engineering from Defence Institute of Advanced Technology (DIAT), Pune.
Jilma said, “I find biomedical field very interesting and exciting. It is my passion. I am also intrigued by the interaction of human and machines and how we can use them to diagnose diseases along with helping doctors and patients. That was my motive behind starting a biomedical startup in India.
“After my higher education was completed, I had started job in private companies. While working with Fortis Hospitals, I realised that most of the devices used are imported, costly and unaffordable. That is when I started thinking about people who might not have access to such facilities. Since the device is expensive, the cost of tests conducted is also high. As a result, most of the population would stay out of reach of proper diagnosis. This thought led me to start about innovating and creating a product which would be affordable, help the masses in diagnoses and early detection of diseases and easily accessible. I decided to quit my job, pursue my MTech from DIAT and then start Kozhnosys. The company is named after my city Kozhikode in Kerala. I wanted my company to be known by the place from where I belong.”
Jilma said, “Suman also finds technology very interesting and our interests matched. When we discussed about the imported devices and their feasibility in cases in India, we were surprised with the several aspects of its design elements. For example, the lack of expertise, doctors, nurses and hospitals in India is not considered while designing these imported devices. Hence, the handling, maintenance of these devices is difficult for us.”
“While designing products in Kozhnosys, we considered all these aspects. We had started with a simple idea of a breath analyser which can be used to monitor or diagnose diseases. We wanted to be pioneers of accessible and affordable breath-based health screening in India. Our vision is of a future where routine medical screening devices are part of our everyday lives much like mobile phones and the internet are today. We foresee small, intelligent medical devices in our homes that can perform quick health checks and provide immediate feedback on important health parameters and act as an early warning system for diseases,” she said.
A robust point-of-care and portable device that can screen for cancer at an early stage can greatly reduce disease progression, deaths through timely interventions. This novel idea, which had enormous global potential for financial and social impact, attracted the attention of National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) Venture Centre and its director Dr V Premnath.
Jilma said, “Venture Centre invested in Kozhnosys under the government’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) SEED Fund, which offers support to life sciences startups with a funding of up to ₹30 lakh. The fund was used for working on the idea, developing the proof of concept, testing the prototype, and conducting a wider observational study of exhaled breath of breast cancer patients.”
Social enterprise incubator Villgro is also helping Jilma and her team to make screening and diagnostics of non-communicable and infectious diseases affordable, accessible, and scalable. Dr Roshan Yedery, sector lead at Villgro, said, “Villgro is driving an ambition to improve the health outcomes of at least 1 million women by supporting up to 50 women-health focused innovations over the next five years under its new ‘Yash Platform’. We hope to help these enterprises succeed by offering funding, mentoring, market access and access to all the relevant stakeholders in the ecosystem. Kozhnosys is one such enterprise that aligns with Yash Platform vision, since they plan to make diagnosis of breast cancer affordable and accessible to women from all segments of the society.”
“The fact that the same platform technology could be used to screen for other non-communicable and infectious diseases can be a game changer in the healthcare sector. It was this potential of the platform that helped Villgro decide to invest in Kozhnosys along with other important stakeholders in healthcare. Over the next three years, Villgro will work closely with Jilma and her team to manufacture the MVP-version (market viable product) of Canscan (the breath analyser device developed by Kozhnosys), complete validation studies and clinical trials, develop partnerships that will help create more awareness of this technology among healthcare workers and women alike and help them enter the market and create channels to generate revenues sustainably. Through these activities, we hope Villgro will be able to help Kozhnosys create impact at scale,” Dr Yedery said.
Currently used breast cancer screening technologies include mammography, ultrasonography and MRI which are expensive, have risks (radiation) and can give false positive results. These also requires skilled manpower and expertise to interpret. Kozhnosys is developing Canscan - a portable device that screens for breast cancers (and other health conditions) through early detection of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in breath via nanoscience-based sensors.
Explaining the technology, Jilma said, “With this technology, Kozhnosys can screen for breast cancer much earlier compared to conventional technologies (mammograms and ultrasound) and is expected to have a higher acceptance due to the non-exposure of breasts. Since it is portable and uses breath as a sample, the device might have a high adoption in low-resource settings. The biggest advantage being the test can be performed for as low as ₹100 making it highly affordable compared to mammography ( ₹1,000- ₹2,000). The platform could also be adapted to detect other health conditions.”
Jilma said, “In India, at present there are no devices that can detect breast cancers in early stage. Some of the competitors use mass spectrometry for exhaled breath analysis, but mass specs cannot be used for mass screening because of the complexity of data interpretation and cost of the machine. Kozhnosys has a miniaturised device to make it easy to use and affordable. We plan to capture 10 per cent of breast cancer detection market in 10 years. We are planning to start our clinical trials soon and expect to have regulatory clearances by end of 2023. We will be launching the product in the market by early 2025. Our customers would be government and private hospitals, medical laboratories, diagnostic centres, etc. With our product we aim to revolutionise the medical diagnosis industry by offering bloodless screening, affordable and accessible to citizens of the globe. We are working with a mission to bring Indian healthcare diagnostics to forefront in the international market.”