TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India

TechSprouts Monthly: September 2023

Investments in the advanced materials sector, the Draft Patent Amendment rules and much more

Content from TechSprouts

(Article) Computation and AI: Augmenting Deep Tech Innovation

Deep science funding updates

  • Biomaterials startup AltM raised $3.5 million in a seed round led by Omnivore along with participation from Theia Ventures. The company plans to develop and scale biomaterial replacements for various common chemicals, beginning with the bioplastic and cosmetic spaces.
  • Manastu Space is developing green propulsion solutions for satellites, and raised a seed round of $3 million led by Capital 2B.
  • ThinkMetal is developing innovative techniques around 3D printing of metals and other functionally graded materials. They raised a seed round funding of $300K led by 100X.VC.
  • Materials science startup Dreamfly Innovations is developing supercapacitor-based batteries for drones with the incorporation of graphene to increase energy density. They too raised a seed round of $300K with participation from Rebalance and CIIE.CO.

Deep Science Ecosystem Updates

  • Agricultural scientist and architect of India’s green revolution, MS Swaminathan, passed away in late September. Swaminathan laid the ground for high-yielding varietals of crucial cereal crops in India and Pakistan, and was seen as one of the global leaders of the green revolution.
  • Bengaluru-based startup KaleidEO Space Systems is the first Indian company to demonstrate edge computing in space using satellite imagery, with certain examples being cloud detection, road network and building footprint identification.
  • The Indian Patent Office published the Draft Patent (Amendment) Rules, 2023, with the aim of updating pre-digital era practices and establishing multilateral agreements for the exchange of information between patent offices.
  • 23 private companies are competing for ISRO’s SSLV technology to be transferred to them. ISRO is aiming to transfer the launch vehicle “lock, stock and barrel” to the private sector.

News from the research community

  • Researchers at the Regional Centre for Biotechnology, Faridabad have created a new mouse model with a deleted gene which holds promise for studying and understanding rare genetic disorders.
  • A team at Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Sciences, Bangalore, has synthesized a highly crystalline FeS2 to be used in high energy density batteries and supercapacitors.
  • Through a multilateral project, IISc researchers have developed low carbon construction materials, at the heart of which is the process of accelerated carbonation curing, a technique that enables stable storage of CO2 in cement.

Deep Science Thoughts

Genetic Testing: A new era in personalised healthcare

Image credit: DALL.E

The genetic testing industry has grown significantly over the past few decades and was worth more than $8 billion in 2022. From the early 1950s where changes in chromosome count was found to be related to certain genetic diseases such as Down’s syndrome or Turner’s syndrome, the industry has matured due to the following key reasons:

  1. Lower cost of sequencing
  2. More genetic data and interpretation available for common diseases
  3. Availability of personalized therapy

The cost of sequencing the entire human DNA has dropped from $10,000 dollars in 2011 to less than $1000 today. The drop in cost can be attributed to new technological breakthroughs such as ‘Next Generation Sequencing’, which can sequence millions of DNA strands in parallel, thus increasing throughputs and reducing costs. Secondly, availability of these NGS machines such as those provided by Illumina and Oxford Nanopore has increased across the world due to rising demand for sequencing services, leading to economies of scale kicking in, further reducing the cost of sequencing. 

Lower costs and higher throughput means faster data generation and in large quantities. This genetic data is being used to understand specific genetic markers responsible for various diseases. For example, while BRCA1 & 2 are genes identified for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer in more than 70% of the cases, many new genes have also been identified with the availability of genomic data for breast cancer: ATM, CHEK2, PALB2, PTEN, TP53. Scientists have now been able to study the entire genome to identify more such biomarkers for many rare diseases as well. 

As more genetic information has become available, personalized medicine has come to the fore as treatment for genetic diseases. These could be either drugs or gene therapies. These therapies are targeted towards very specific biomarkers identified by extensive genetic testing. As of 2022, there were 13 cell or gene therapies with US FDA approval, 5 of which were approved in 2022 itself. 12 new drug molecules identified as personalized medicine were approved in 2022, which represented a third of the total number of drugs approved by the US FDA.

Diagnostic genetic testing is on the rise

As of November 2022, a total of 197,779 genetic tests have been uploaded in the genetic testing registry including updated versions of previously existing tests. The total number of new tests as of November 2022 stands at 106,007, rising from just 1081 in 2012. A total of 76,302 genetic tests are currently active. Around 50-60% of these tests have been developed in the US. Interestingly, more than 80% of these tests have been developed by only 10 CLIA certified laboratories in the country. 

There are ten different types of genetic tests available in the market today based on their use cases: diagnostics, monitoring, pre-symptomatic testing, screening, drug response (pharmacogenomics), prediction, prognosis, therapeutic management, recurrence and risk assessment. While most tests before 2015 were focused on pre-symptomatic testing, risk assessment testing, or screening, diagnostic tests have been on the rise post 2015, driven by availability of more data around genetic biomarkers for diagnosing cancers, epilepsy or some rare diseases.

Data interpretation and analysis is the new king.

A number of first generation companies including the likes of Medgenome, Foundation Medicine, Personalis carry out genetic testing in their own CLIA accredited labs. These companies have built an extensive database of genetic biomarkers, cancer genomic variants and similar databases for rare diseases and offer disease specific gene panels for diagnostic purposes. These companies are creating a differentiation in the market by the sheer volume of patient samples being tested, the extensive data being generated and the personalized results provided to patients. Medgenome has raised a total of more than $185 million, while Foundation Medicine was acquired by Roche for a total of $3.4 billion. Few other companies in this sector include Strand Life Sciences, which saw Reliance Industries Limited’s subsidiary Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Ltd take a majority stake in the company for 393 crores or close to $50 million.

On the other hand, companies such as Golden Helix provide analytical software solutions which help in automating the workflows, analyze genomic variants and reduce the dependence on bioinformatics experts. These software solutions can be integrated with the sequencing machines and help in generating analytical reports for patient samples which can be used for determining the downstream therapy. While these have remained smaller businesses until now, especially due to the lower number of NGS facilities available worldwide and lower demand for genetic testing over the last decade, COVID-19 has created a shift in the market. A number of NGS laboratories have been set up across the world due to the high demand during the COVID-19 emergency, all of which will now shift towards genetic testing, thereby requiring these analytical software solutions. A few companies in India which are providing such software solutions include The Gene Box and Kyvor Genomics.

Finally, some companies are operating in the D2C space, focused on genetic testing to identify heredity, paternal identification, pharmacogenomics and other predictive analysis. The patients can use the at-home kits to collect saliva samples and send it directly to the testing companies without the intervention of any physician. The companies then sequence the sample and analyze it for all non-diagnostic parameters and send the report to the patients. 23&me, Mapmygenome are examples of companies in this space. 23&me collects patients' genetic and health data for research purposes and has been able to ink a deal with Genentech for $60 million for the use of this data for developing new medicines. The growth of the D2C sector has traditionally been slow due to the high cost of the tests and the lack of knowledge on the need for genetic testing.

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TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India