xBITS — Building innovative point of care devices to provide affordable healthcare
xBITS (Xcellence in BioInnovations and TechnologieS), a spin-off from BITS Pilani and incubated at its Hyderabad Campus, is an early stage startup led by motivated academicians, science graduates and engineers committed to provide equal access to reliable health-care services for all including rural, remote and hard to reach populations at an affordable cost.
‘RightBiotic: The Fastest Antibiotic Finder’, the flagship product of xBITS, is a Point of Care (POC) device for testing antibiotic sensitivity of pathogenic bacteria causing an infection.
Other products under development are ‘RightGlucose’, the cheapest test for blood glucose in India and ‘RightCardio’ a test for complete lipid profile from a finger prick.
The company was promoted and founded by Prof. Suman Kapur (Dept. of Biological Sciences, BITS Pilani) in 2015 along with her co-founder Ms. Anuradha Pal (2008, Biological Sciences).
BSG team got an opportunity to have a conversation with Prof. Kapur to know about the vision and mission of the startup, their motivation, future plans and details of their near commercialization ready product, RightBiotic.
BSG: What is the primary problem that xBITS is solving?
Prof. Kapur: Antibiotics are the first-line treatment in case of infectious diseases. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is the resistance developed by microbes and antibiotics are not able to kill bacteria anymore, is a burning public health issue worldwide. Moreover, in countries like India there are no regulatory policies on over-the-counter selling of antibiotics which results in its misuse and abuse. As a result, most of the microbes are becoming resistant to available antibiotics, turning simple infections into life threatening diseases.
According to a recent report by World Health Organization, there was a whooping healthcare expenditure of 29 billion USD for treating infections and there was productivity loss of 35 billion USD due to hospitalisation and absence from work due to infectious diseases. Another surprising fact which is that no new class of antibiotics has been introduced in the market in the last 10 years.
BSG: How did you get this idea, who are your competitors and how are you different from them?
Prof Kapur: The idea was borne out of reading an article on how astronauts maintain hygiene and sanitation while in a spacecraft. A spacecraft represents a unique environment for microbes. Microbial growth in a spacecraft presents hazards like degradation of equipment, infection, and contamination and hence special measures are needed to be taken for testing and controlling microbial growth in spacecrafts.
‘RightBiotic: The Fastest Antibiotic Finder’, the flagship product of xBITS is a point of care device for testing antibiotic sensitivity of a pathogenic bacteria causing an infection. It is the only product of its kind and the competitors include one or two imported technologies. The technology developed by us is about 50 times cheaper and 18 times faster than all available technologies. While the most commonly used conventional culture and sensitivity test takes 48–72 hours, RightBiotic provides ready to use results in < 4 hours! It can put an end to the growing antimicrobial resistance by helping with evidence-based prescription of available antibiotics.
All existing alternatives require a cold supply chain, air-conditioned labs and trained manpower, but RightBiotic is portable, field deployable, battery backed, usable anywhere; on a table top, by a semi-skilled person and all that at the lowest cost in the market and with minimum time taken for the test.
BSG: What are the biggest challenges that you face at your startup?
Prof Kapur: Product strategy and hiring committed people is the biggest challenge that we have faced. Unfortunately, India does not have any success stories of technical innovations and hence there are no clear guidelines for approval for introducing new indigenous medical devices in India. Recently in April 2017, India developed a National Action Plan to combat Antimicrobial Resistance. This initiative aims to create awareness regarding the problem of AMR and lay regulatory guidelines for the development and sale of such products.
BSG: Tell us about your journey of becoming an entrepreneur and how has BITS helped you in this journey?
Prof. Kapur: The technology developed by the team at BITS is an outcome of the research grant awarded to her by DRDO (~Rs 1 crore) and xBITS has been set up with an objective to give the benefits of this novel healthcare technology to the whole society. Point-of-Care devices enable patients and doctors alike to take control of their own or their patient’s health in the most prompt way backed by sound evidence gathered through indigenous technology and medical science tenets. xBITS aims to develop such POC devices to aid access to quality healthcare in the comfort of your home, in a hospital ward or a doctor’s clinic.
Having a strong engineering student team and the interdisciplinary research support from BITS helped the team of Biologists to develop this product successfully.
BSG: What was the reaction of friends and family, and how did you overcome any such challenges?
Prof. Kapur: The student directors in the company have faced pressure from their parents and peers to seek more secure ways of employment. Some have been able to overcome this scepticism and continue the journey of innovation and discovery.
BSG: What sacrifices have you made in your personal life to be an entrepreneur and how have you grown as a person in your entrepreneurial journey?
Prof. Kapur: I have given up opportunities to rise in the academic ladder to lead another institution as a Director/Vice Chancellor. The journey has taught me a new lesson daily in terms of moderating my expectations from team members and peers, packing in 48hrs in a 24hrs day and not giving up when there is no light visible at the end of the tunnel.
BSG: How a day in your life looks like and what motivates you to keep going?
Prof. Kapur: Each day begins with a new challenge such as raising finances, continuing to build a team, managing supply chain and the passion to see this test being used in the place of expensive imported technologies across the healthcare system so that quality healthcare is accessible to all and that we are not dependent on imported solutions is sole motivation for us.
BSG: What are your future plans?
Prof. Kapur: Our plan is to introduce this test in the Indian market soon, get it adopted by the Indian government in their Public Health System and expand to other countries in Asia.
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