Imagine your baby’s burning up with fever. You don’t know if it’s something serious or just the flu. What if instead of rushing to a doctor and conducting a sequence of cumbersome tests at a central lab, you could diagnose the ailment yourself at home within half an hour? A device with a ‘fever of unknown origin’ panel could tell if it’s malaria, dengue, typhoid or just a viral infection. If Achira Labs’ work on building a marketable, cost-efficient lab on a chip goes according to plan, that day may not be very far away.
Established in 2009 by Dhananjaya Dendukuri, a PhD from MIT and a BTech in chemical engineering from IIT Madras, Achira Labs (‘achira’ means swift in Sanskrit) is one of the few microfluidic companies outside of Western Europe, US and Japan. “We use microfluidic platform technology to build diagnostic applications, specifically point-of-care, which involves taking blood testing closer to the patient and the doctor; using portable technology requiring small quantities of blood,” explains Dendukuri.
What is microfluidics? Simply put, it attempts to miniaturise, integrate and automate, helping realise the lab-on-a-chip concept. But it’s not so simple in practice. “Even in the West, there are very few, if any, demonstrated, marketed microfluidic lab-on-a-chip products,” says Dendukuri. An example is Opko, which develops microfluidic immunoassay products, but the market remains negligibly small. Investors largely back the commercial, centralised lab model, so it is not easy to displace this with new technology,” adds the founder.
At a prick of a finger
That’s probably why for the first 2-3 years of its existence, Achira focused on R&D. It has invested Rs.20 crore here so far thanks to the backing of investors such as Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures, a mini-PSU called Biotechnology Indu