Two weeks in Asia: India and Singapore

07/04/2017
Written by
Daniel Berman and Nina Cromeyer Dieke
Longitude Prize lead Daniel Berman telling delegates in India about Superbugs, our mobile game.

India

India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is creating a programme focused on antimicrobial resistance, bringing together research institutions, start-ups, companies and international partners.

The announcement came from Prof. K. Vijay Raghavan, DBT Secretary and chairman of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), during BIRAC’s 5th anniversary celebration starting on the 20th of March in New Delhi. BIRAC fosters innovation and entrepreneurship through financial and technical support to start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in India. 60% of their grantees are working on med-tech/devices and diagnostics.

The week-long celebration included a three-day Grand Challenges India meeting and welcomed over 300 attendees from India, Africa, Europe and North America. BIRAC grantees showcased their new inventions, products in development and products that are being successfully marketed.

We heard from Dr Anand Anandkumar, a non-traditional drug developer and head of drug discovery start-up Bugworks. Anand said increased spending on new antibiotics is justified on the basis of the impact of unchecked resistance, citing 60,000 neonate deaths attributable to sepsis.     

The week also included a consultative meeting with us on the 22nd of March, convened by Dr Raghavan and BIRAC’s Managing Director, Dr. Renu Swarup, to explain the Longitude Prize to researchers and people from diagnostic companies.

At the meeting, Dr. Swarup announced that BIRAC will open a new round of Discovery Awards seed grant funding in June for existing and new Indian Longitude Prize teams. Total available funding will be £100,000 (8.08 million INR). Individual grants will be from £10,000 - £25,000 (808,052 INR-2.02 million INR) each.  

Seven of the 12 Longitude Prize Discovery Award winners attended and spoke about progress and challenges in developing their point-of-care tests.

Indian teams present:

  • Radha Rangarajan, CEO, Vitas Pharma
  • Dr Sudeshna Adak, CEO, Omix
  • Dr Shridhar Narayanan, FiNDR
  • Vikas Pandey, Valetude Primus Healthcare
  • Prof J. S. Virdi, Delhi University

UK teams present:

  • Dr Bruce Savage, CEO, GFC Diagnostics
  • Prof Stephen Rimmer, University of Bradford

The teams raised some interesting points:

  • Challenges to transform concepts from lab tests to tests that can be used at point-of-care.
  • Reader devices v disposable devices as options that meet the requirements of the Prize rules.
  • Struggles to bring down the time of running their test to the 30-minute requirement.
  • Openness to partnering with larger diagnostic companies as they moved to design and optimisation stages.
  • Assistance to identify potential partners. BIRAC said that making connections was part of their vision. At the Prize we’re looking at strategies to help teams identify collaborators. 
  • Help in acquiring quality blood samples. Larger companies tend to have relationships with medical centres and have access to samples on an ongoing basis, but smaller scale start-ups lack the resources to establish these relationships. One solution may be the new Alliance for Diagnosis of Microbial Infections and Antimicrobial REsistance (ADMIRE), which has members at medical schools with access to patient samples.

Singapore

Members of Singapore’s highly developed biotechnology sector, as well as researchers from neighbouring countries, attended a meeting about the need for innovative point-of-care diagnostic tests to tackle antibiotic resistance.

Working in partnership with the Foreign Commonwealth Office in Singapore and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, the Longitude Prize brought together experts from Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia and Singapore during a half-day meeting.

Speakers included:

  • Daniel Berman, Longitude Prize (presentation)
  • Barbara Fallowfield, Commercial Director, Mologic (presentation)
  • Prof Stephen Gillespie, School of Medicine, University of St Andrews (presentation)
  • Prof Vernon Lee, Director of Communicable Diseases, Singapore Ministry of Health
  • Dr Yoel Lubell, Mahidol Oxford Tropical Research Unit (presentation)
  • Nicola Wiley, Regional Director for South East Asia, UK Science and Innovation Network, British High Commission Singapore
  • Dr Sidney Yee, CEO, Diagnostics Development Hub, A*Star

An evening reception in the British High Commission continued the discussions which will hopefully lead to increased participation from the Asian region in the Longitude Prize, given the region's large potential and pronounced interest in novel approaches to tackling AMR.

The Singapore meeting concluded over a week of travels to bring the Prize to more solvers and great minds, as well as to remain, as a team, at the forefront of AMR discussions. We are hoping to re-visit the region later this year with an event in Tokyo. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Note: Grand Challenges India is sponsored by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, the Wellcome Trust, DBT and BIRAC.