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Microbial infections at hospitals have resulted in several deaths and post-treatment problems in India. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha’s death is also touted to be one such case. The World Health Organization estimates 30 percent of deaths at ICUs to be due to post treatment infections.
India’s biotech domain has not been in the limelight for a while, Bugworks – located National Centre for Biological Sciences – is determined to solve this burgeoning issue in the healthcare system. Started by three veteran industry players, Bugworks is working towards finding a solution to superbugs that cause such infections.
The lack of innovation pushed us into this domain
There is no money in antibiotics when compared to diabetes and cardio diseases. Therefore it is difficult to get the economics of it right... We came to this domain to innovate due to abusive use of antibiotics and the dearth of innovation in this space, Anand Anandkumar, Co-founder of Bangalore-based Bugworks told Entrepreneur India.
You typically expect folks sitting in the U.S. or UK to innovate drugs and then they would come to India. Tough luck in this case, as people out there are busy innovating in lucrative categories like cancer, cardio-vascular. Nobody will fix the problem in antibiotics, Anand said.
"We said, bloody hell! Let us build a company to innovate in antibiotics. We were laughed at, people didn’t respond to us, people still think we are foolish," Anand reveals.
Bugworks was spunout of Cellworks Group Inc, a widely-recognized leader in the use of Systems Biology approaches to designing novel combinations for cancer & inflammation. We are led by a core team with greater than 150 years of combined experience in Infection R&D. This team has won several National and International Grants and Awards for scientific excellence.
The company’s cross functional skill sets which ranges from Microbiology to Pharmaceutical Sciences, from Medicinal Chemistry to Computational Algorithms, enables Bugworks to identify broad spectrum antibacterial agents and rapidly move them through the drug discovery pipeline.
The key people in the company came from AstraZeneca India team and the company today has a combination of professionals belonging to different backgrounds like mathematics, research and so on.
Capital coming at last?
According to Anand, India is now waking up to the reality that the IT saga is slowing down and the real innovation is happening around healthcare.
“Investors have just started to put their money into innovation in India because so far, they have been comfortable in putting their money into sectors such as e-commerce, mobile payment – all great stuff in their own way. But there are few handful of companies are solving problems around cancer, infection, IVF and investors are waking up to such companies,” Anand said.
BugWorks’ elite advisory board includes names like Dr. Devi Shetty, Dr. Maharaj Kishan Bhan, Dr. John Rex and more.
When asked about why entrepreneurs refrained from exploring this domain till date, Anand said that the change in mindset, ability to collect talent in the Indian ecosystem and foreign investors taking Indian innovation seriously – are factors that have helped in the formation of a company like BugWorks.
Anand believes it requires a certain amount of maturity and experience to kick start something in this domain, considering the founding team is in their 50s. Nearly 50 percent of the company’s funding came from the Bay area and Anand said that he won’t be surprised if he scoops the next Series A round from India – thanks to a paradigm shift in the Indian mindset.