In 2010, when Sumona Karjee Mishra found out she was pregnant, like any new mother-to-be, she was ecstatic to welcome her child into the world. However, in the 26th week of her pregnancy, she suffered from a rare pregnancy disorder called preeclampsia. Her baby was born premature, weighing only 960 grams.
A PhD holder from the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Sumona resolved to take matters into her hands. She started extensive research on this pregnancy complication, and discovered that she was among a large and growing number of women who suffer from this rare condition, for which no early diagnosis was in place.
Thus, Prantae Solutions was born. The Bhubaneswar-based biotech startup develops diagnostic solutions and devices with a primary focus on pregnancy healthcare and other related disorders. Sumona’s first product, EyeRa, is an early detection platform for preeclampsia.
The startup has three other offerings – ProFolU, a smartphone-based self-health monitoring device for kidney health; Salubrious, a solution for hidden hunger; and Embargo, a detection platform for antibiotics in food products.
According to studies, every year, more than 10 million pregnant women worldwide suffer from preeclampsia, a complication characterised by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system. The condition can only be identified by clinical symptoms in the last trimester of the pregnancy, making it fatal for mother and child alike.
Research shows that 30 percent of maternal mortality rate is linked to preeclampsia. And this is not just in rural parts of the eastern state of Odisha, but also in Europe, the US, and Australia.
As symptoms of preeclampsia can only be detected in the last trimester of the pregnancy, Prantae is focused on treating the condition at the earliest. To this end, it has created two simple and affordable devices to help in early diagnosis of this condition.
“There are two sets of devices - one for urine analysis, which is very affordable and can be done through a small device unit and smartphones. The device will cost less than Rs 3,500 and the cartridge would cost Rs 150," the founder says.
"If the test shows the protein microalbumin in urine during the first or second trimester, it indicates a high-risk pregnancy. The woman then can go for the second device, which performs a more precise detection of the condition with molecular microRNA and protein-based biomarkers,” says Sumona, adding that all of the diagnosis must be approved by a gynaecologist.
Under the Startup India initiative by the government of India, Prantae, with DIPP support, filed 11 trademarks, of which nine were sanctioned. It has two patents, one granted, while the First Examination Report has been submitted for the other. It also has two design registrations for its products. In 2018, Prantae got a CII-IPR award under the ‘Startup’ category for life sciences for best trademark portfolio, Sumona says.
The startup has raised funding from micro, small, and medium enterprises along with various grants from government and non-for-profit organisations, including DST-NIDHI-PRAYAS grant sanction, DBT-BIRAC BIG grant, BPCL Ankur grant, and TATA Trust-Harvard SAI Livelihood Creation.
“The government of Odisha has also been supporting the startup. From 2016 till 2018, we have raised about Rs 1.89 crore, most of which was from the government,” Sumona says.
For its work, Prantae has been recognised with awards like the TiE- BIRAC WinER 2019, Pride of Odisha 2018, and Edex 40 under 40 entrepreneur by TNIE in 2018.
The way forward
The startup employs around 12 people, including a gynaecologist who aids in the design of the product. At present, it is focusing on providing affordable healthcare solutions in rural areas of Odisha.
“Right now, we are at a stage where we have developed the device and done all the laboratory work. In the next step, by 2019, we will go for field study coupled with regulatory clearances because these are diagnostics devices. We are planning to launch our product ProFloU by April 2020 and EyeRa by early 2021,” Sumona says.
According to India Brand Equity Foundation, the Indian healthcare market is estimated to reach $372 billion by 2022. Healthcare is going to be one of the fastest growing sectors backed by the country’s rising income, health awareness, and access to insurance, but mostly due to the increase in lifestyle-related ailments.
Sumona wants to take her device global and produce it on a large scale compatible with industrial design.
“We are primarily focusing on the design element. It should be so robust that when you upscale it, there should not be any chance for error. We are also trying and comparing with three to four design elements to see the degree of variations in the results. My learning experience at the BIRAC-Ignite 2019 Fellowship at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, helped me gain much-needed experience,” Sumona adds.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)