June 20, 2024

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Unlocking health tech innovation: How AIIMS is nurturing startups from lab to market | Health and Wellness News

What if a powder derived from stem cells could heal your accident wounds and regenerate tissues without reconstruction surgery? Or a wearable device could fight mild COVID-19 with self-dosing protocols? Or a micro monitoring device could prevent heart failure? These futuristic innovations are part of an incubator programme for health-tech start-ups at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Modelled on the incubator programmes at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the country’s premier medical institute has joined hands with young entrepreneurs to develop healthcare-related products and software which can be used by both doctors and patients, and are scalable and practical. As part of this effort, AIIMS will share its huge clinical and biological resources — samples and patients — to help start-ups develop products.

Ten projects

Currently, 10 such projects are under way at the AIIMS Incubator Programme that’s headed by Dr Alok Thakar of the Centre for Medical Innovations and Entrepreneurship (CMIE) and Head, Department of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. “The programme started in 2021 and is being run in joint collaboration with the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), set up by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and AIIMS,” said Dr Thakar.

Some of the current projects are awaiting validation by clinical trials while others are awaiting regulatory approvals from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), India’s regulatory body for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

AIIMS Delhi has established a new office for 32 innovators at Jhajjar’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), nearly 50 km away. The current innovators are expected to shift there soon.

Festive offer
AIIMS projects Some of the projects under incubation

“All start-ups are being mentored by AIIMS faculty members,” said Dr Thakar. According to Dr Madhusudan Bhat, Business Development Officer at CMIE, AIIMS held boot camps for the entrepreneurs and a training programme across its OTs, ICUs and OPDs to help them develop patient-friendly products. “We took them on camp visits to give them an idea of how a hospital works and what are the gaps that can be addressed by this innovation,” he says.

An app, regenerative powder and a booster shot

One of the projects that is under incubation at AIIMS addresses a common concern: weight loss. Manmeet Kalra and his team are developing a clinically validated app, named Zeigen ObesityRx, for people struggling to lose weight.

“This determines a patient’s psychological issues like body image, eating disorders, anxiety and stress so that counsellors can prepare a customised plan to get them off the weight cliff. Based on this mapping, counsellors will first use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or talk therapy, which involves assisting obese subjects deal with negative, defeatist and destructive tendencies. This can then bring them to a base level of mental preparedness and readiness to work on their health,” said Kalra, who is the founder and head of product division at Zeigen Health.

“Current weight-loss apps do not target a user’s psychology and are focussed only on workout and nutrition plans. Yet, body dysmorphia and eating disorders are at the root of obesity,” he explained.

aiims Manmeet Kalra and his team are developing a clinically validated app, named Zeigen ObesityRx, for people struggling to lose weight.

 

Kalra’s app will be trialled at AIIMS in May. If results are good, it can hit the market and doctors will be able to prescribe the app to patients suffering from obesity and comorbidities like diabetes. A team of 13 experts from the AIIMS Psychiatry Department, including Dr Y P S Balhara and Dr Rohit Verma, are mentoring the project.

Dr Suchi Gupta, an academic-turned-founder of Tech Cell Innovations Private Limited, is currently developing stem cell-based products for treating traumatic injuries and burn wounds. Working with a five-member team, she is also developing a product for treating knee osteoarthritis.

“Since stem-cell products are very expensive, require top-class freezing and storage, and are not very user-friendly, our products are derived from stem-cell byproducts. We have identified small double-membrane-shaped vesicles measuring less than 200 nanometres, called exosomes, which are an alternative to these stem cells, have similar properties and can be developed at a lower cost,” she said.

Aiims Dr K K Verma, dean and head of dermatology department at AIIMS New Delhi, with the start-up innovators.

Dr Gupta has already developed a powdered formulation that can simply be sprinkled over the wound so as to accelerate its healing and regeneration. “We are also working on sprays and gels. The powder form can be used in injections for treating knee osteoarthritis,” she added.

Unlike painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs, the powder can treat the underlying cause of the disease. Currently, this product is being tested on pigs to validate its efficacy. “We will soon go for regulatory approval to obtain a testing licence and hope to initiate clinical trials in the next one and-a-half years,” Dr Gupta said.

Dr Vineet Ahuja, a professor in the Department of Gastroenterology, is mentoring a group of entrepreneurs who are developing an ingestible pill to boost the gut microbiome, which boosts immunity and is key to protecting our heart and brain health. “Right now microbiome transplantation is mostly done through faecal transplantation and colonoscopy, which are difficult procedures. So world over, people have started making capsules of various microbiome strains. This can be just as effective and we are working on one such solution. With both doctor and patient inputs first-hand, the innovators understand what both need,” says Dr Ahuja.

Officials said that currently the technology is in project mode and yet to enter the market following full-fledged validation.


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