This is an email interview with the Founders of Swagene that will be published over two parts. Read Part I here.

What are the challenges faced by your startup?

R&D is quite finance-intensive. Although we work with a jugaad mentality, medical technology has to be foolproof when it’s out of the door, there’s no opportunity for a beta version here. This means we’re running a very tight ship when it comes to innovation. But transforming healthcare by providing the highest quality diagnostics to all is the vision for Swagene, and we hold that dear

What is the kind of competition Swagene faces? And how do you differentiate yourselves from them?

There are a handful of labs that provide molecular oncology diagnostics. However, what we gather from oncologists is that we’re able to offer unmatched expertise, several novel tests that are very useful, and reports that are helpful with post-diagnostic clinical management.

Could you tell us about those who genuinely came forward to support Swagene during its initial days?

Our biggest source of support and encouragement are the doctors and patients that use our services. Their belief in us and our ability to build this trust are our strengths. Doctors also call us for discussions and expert opinion on molecular diagnostics and genetics for their patients. There are numerous doctors that ardently back us because of what we do and how we do it. I’d say it’s their backing that keeps us going every day! For example, we are occasionally invited to Tumour Board Meetings to discuss management of cancer patients. We tremendously value our lab and hospital partners that include corporates, private hospitals, NGOs and public hospitals.

 Where do you see Swagene in next 10 years?

Our future plans are two-fold. One, to make molecular diagnostics rapid, easy and affordable. How will this be useful? Even for affordable cancer therapies, genetic tests are able to guide treatment regimens in terms of duration and drugs. But the majority of cancer patients in India lack access to these important tools for various reasons. We will make molecular diagnostics available, accessible and affordable for everyone.

Two, to develop advanced molecular diagnostics in our lab and offer them in India. Advanced technologies take several years to reach India, and even so samples are shipped to Europe, USA and China for these tests adding to both costs as well as turnaround time. We will have completely validated advanced tests such as liquid biopsy to diagnose cancer in blood in our lab thereby reducing both cost and turnaround time, while contributing to the ‘make in India’ program.

 What are your novel contributions in this field?

We’re the first lab in India to offer several oncology diagnostics, such as certain leukemia markers that are necessary for all ALL patients, sarcoma markers which are vital for initial diagnosis. We’re also the only lab in India to offering monitoring of numerous cancer markers to determine therapy response, resistance and early detection of relapse. These are helpful in appropriately amending or restarting therapy in these patients.

Could you tell us more regarding your ongoing projects.

Building upon our reputation to bring out reliable, novel diagnostics in oncology, we are currently validating different markers. Several of these tests are not available in India despite quickly becoming standard in the West. This is unfortunate because drugs already available in the market are useful for these patients. These will include tests for lung cancer, thyroid cancer, breast and ovarian cancer, and colorectal cancer. We will start providing these tests over the next couple of months as and when they are successfully validated.

Could you share your word of advice for other startups.

India is a place with more commerce than science, more affordability than quality, and therein lies a huge gap. We are bridging these differences by combining affordable business with quality science in molecular diagnostics. I think there’s a lot more potential in other areas too to adopt this strategy, without losing on quality. Lastly, focus on your customers and absolutely no one else.