India’s genomics startup that offers DNA testing service as well as personal genetic services is planning to scale up in a big way in 2016 on the heels of a recent million dollar fund raising. Its main offering, Genome mapping or ‘genomepatri’ aims to fetch the possibility of one being afflicted by disease. Depending upon medical history of the family it helps you know yourself and build healthy habits.
The idea belongs to Anu Acharya, one of India’s top innovators. Acharya was born in Bikaner but spent most of her life in Kharagpur where she graduated from IIT in 1995. She then moved to Chicago in 1995 to finish her Masters in Science in Physics and MIS from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Could Acharya be changing the future of healthcare? Acharya talks to Sakshi Sirari about her journey.
You are not new to experiments. However you came up with ‘service’ on a research model in the genomics space which is fascinating. Tell us how you got the idea?
The initial idea for Ocimum in the year 2000 was to solve a difficult problem and to offer world class bioinformatics shrinkwrapped software. The earliest idea was to sequence medicinal plants like Tulsi which is where the name Ocimum came from. We had 3 founders and one of us came from the genomics space. Ocimum then went on to acquire 3 international companies and specialized in creating Research as a Service model. This idea evolved when there were dramatic changes in the way Pharma companies had restructured.
We were offering genomics research at Ocimum Biosolutions for many years. By 2010, we had 10+ years of expertise in this field. By then, we already knew that this technology could be a game changer in healthcare. We started doing our groundwork and presented this idea to the board at Ocimum Biosolutions. However, they vetoed the idea as they were apprehensive about moving to a “direct-to-consumer” model. Our plans just got bigger and more ambitious and we started working on setting up a new company, Mapmygenome. We began commercial operations in 2013.
When Angelina Jolie had both her breasts removed through a procedure known as Mastectomy, she did so because she had about an 87 percent chance of being hit by breast cancer. How did she know? By mapping her genes.
What is your success mantra?
Develop a system, Delegate to a colleague, Demand quality. Do it yourself when all else fails
You won the ‘Women Ahead’ at the ET Startup Awards recently. How important do you think is such recognition for women? And how long do we need to keep women as a separate category of gender?
Personally not important. But at this stage of development of entrepreneurship in the country, it would definitely be an inspiration to other ladies who are trying their wings in the entrepreneurial space. There are many talented ladies out there, whose skills and talents are not put to use. Until there is a level playing field where women are not constrained by factors like prejudice, there is need for separate category of gender.
How, in your perception, do you perform your gender?
At Mapmygenome, the ratio of female to male employees in 65:35. Women here are encouraged to take initiative and shine. The concept of ‘glass ceiling’ does not apply here. Right from the board to top management and functional heads, women outrank men.
Mentoring, encouragement, and faith in their abilities are some factors that can make a difference everywhere.
Tell us about Genomepatri? What are your objectives with the concept.
Genomepatri is a personalized healthcare solution that can help you know yourself and build healthy habits. It gives your genetic predisposition to 100+ health conditions, traits, and drug response. After you receive this genetic report, there is genetic counselling session, where experts analyze your health history and correlate it with report findings. After this, the genetic counselor gives you personalized, actionable steps to better health. Nutrition counselling is available to people who want to take this further.
The key objective of the personalized healthcare solution we offer is to bridge the gap between healthcare and personal health. Before we started offering Genomepatri, we had many years of expertise in genomics. It was a matter of adapting and adopting the technology.
What are your future plans in the field of genomics?
We will be taking personal genomics to the next level with it being a key contributor in the domain of healthcare. We plan to expand our team, educate stakeholders and add a lot more functionality
Any recent innovation, apart from your own, that you are excited about?
There is so much going on- Some that come to mind – IoT, Mindful Wearables, CRISPR.
What has been the most difficult professional/ personal decision that you have had to make?
Moving from Ocimum Biosolutions to start Mapmygenome.
You play roles of a poet, researcher, entrepreneur, philanthropist in no particular order. What’s left to play?
I wish I was a professional drummer I have 2 girls and a husband and a dog. I am writing a new book and blog. I also sit on several boards and organizations.
Mapmygenome’s personal genomics products provide insights into the genetic basis of individuals’ health – including traits, lifestyle, drug responses, inherited conditions, and diseases.
How do you manage ‘the switch’? Do you ever feel guilty about the fact that you are missing out on your personal life due to too much work?
Nope. Every moment with family and friends is precious. My daughters are growing up to be independent young ladies who can tackle any challenge.
Recent studies have shown that there aren’t many women in technology and research based professions. What is your opinion on the same? What do you think are the probable causes for this disparity?
How many women receive higher education? Among the well educated ones, there are many who are not allowed to work, because “people” believe that financial independence is not essential for women.
We have to increase the funnel to make the statistics better: Anu Acharya on bringing more women into STEM
Biases and perceptions hold women out of these fields. With advances in technology, it has become easier for women to be able to choose these careers and there are several outstanding examples. We have to increase the funnel to make the statistics better.