Asia Berlin Summit, an event organized by the German government to bring together all stakeholders involved in creating an enabling ecosystem for startups, took place in Berlin, Germany from September 12th to 16th. Originally conceived and launched in 1997, the summit has been dedicated to encouraging the growth of start-ups and start-up ecosystems on a global scale. This year’s focus is on promoting the SDGs in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Vipragen’s Dr. Chaitra Harsha, MD, represents the country’s growing tribe of women entrepreneurs
Biosciences was one of the delegations from India. She is a well-known figure in social entrepreneurship and healthcare innovation with diverse skills and cross-industry knowledge.
Dr. Harsha is an alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and an MD by training, but instead of clinical practice, he chose to pursue a career in research. She also took a course at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bangalore aimed at helping female entrepreneurs by teaching certain core business principles.
Dr. Harsha has been a key participant in representing India at many events, including the Global Economic Dialogue in Hamburg, Germany, and has also attended the World Economic Forum (WEF), where she rubbed shoulders with Ivanka Trump.
In addition to this, she is a Chartered Member of TiE Bangalore Chapter, where she actively mentors budding female entrepreneurs. Dr. Harsha’s Vipragen, a dynamic team of individuals, is a Contract Research Organization (CRO) that helps global organizations focus resources on the development of new drugs, treatments, vaccines and more by outsourcing preclinical trials.
India’s journey as a potential drug development destination began in the late 20th century, but the recent restructuring of regulatory processes and intensification of capacity building has undoubtedly helped establish India as one of the leading innovation and manufacturing hubs. The global CRO market size is expected to reach $124.23 billion by 2027 from $58.0 billion in 2020, growing at a CAGR of 11.4% during 2021-2027.
Research and manufacturing of medical devices and therapeutics is a major driver of the market. Rising investment in research and development, emergence of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies, and expiration of drug patents are expected to drive the growth of the CRO market. The availability of quality healthcare practitioners – which automatically reduces the cost of conducting clinical trials at all stages – offers India a huge potential in the field. This has led to a boom in CROs that provide affordable, high-quality services to global pharmaceutical companies.
Vipragen Biosciences, a Mysore-based preclinical drug discovery company, is one such organization. Vipragen has a passionate and dynamic team in the areas of preclinical discovery and development in medical devices, analytical chemistry, inhalation toxicology, in vitro toxicology and more, which will begin to take shape over the next year.
After completing the MBBS, Dr. Harsha went on to pursue his Ph.D. at the prestigious IISc, Bangalore. At IISC, she is working on an anti-tuberculosis (TB) vaccine during her Ph.D. Before becoming part of Vipragen in 2016 with Dr. Chandrasekhar, who is also IIScian, Dr. Harsha has donned several hats, including setting up a dental clinic, starting a medical tourism venture, and consulting in the field of bioinformatics. She also completed the Management Programme for Women Entrepreneurs (MPWE) from IIM Ventures NSRCL, Bangalore.
Vipragen provides preclinical research services to biotech and pharmaceutical R&D companies in and outside India. Preclinical research involves early-stage studies in which potential drugs are tested for safety in animals and assessed for feasibility in human trials. Vipragen’s growth curve was initially guided by funding from family and friends, with further support from KITVEN, an Indian angel investor and the Karnataka government venture fund that supports entrepreneurs.
Vipragen is proud to have a 25,000 sq. ft. research facility in Mysore that meets the global standards of European and US regulators. With more than 50 employees, nearly half of them are scientists and approximately 35-40% are women. In addition to the contract research, Dr Harsha said she has also received grants from the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology for five projects related to in-house asset development.
The company is conducting early-stage research on a seaweed-derived natural polymer that could be used to treat diabetic foot ulcers, a potential anticoagulant drug, two from the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Science in Bengaluru A licensed antibiotic for the treatment of multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria, as well as drugs for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Talking about the value that CROs bring, Dr. Harsha said: “The need to handle increasingly complex drugs and clinical trials is expected to drive contract research organizations (CROs). As cell and gene therapy, antibody-drug conjugates, cytotoxic chemical products As well as advances in in vitro and in vivo processing procedures, drug development has become more difficult. By engaging a CRO sponsor, time can be saved negotiating regulatory and legal constraints that companies may not be familiar with.”
CROs are likely to have more experience with these procedures and requirements, enabling them to ensure faster and more effective compliance with all rules and regulations, thereby speeding up the clinical trial process. This is expected to further boost the CRO market. Western pharmaceutical companies have been seriously looking to India for research assistance since 2005, when the country began to comply with the globally recognized agreement on intellectual property rights, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Industry’s interest in India with affordable high-quality scientists.
While most of India’s startups and unicorns are in the IT sector, Dr Harsha said the development of a homegrown vaccine against Covid-19 in a very short period of time has brought about a paradigm shift in investor mentality in the life sciences sector compared to the IT industry.
Hoping for better research and industry collaborations in the future Dr Harsha believes that if industry and research can complement each other as they did during Covid-19 vaccine development, the future of the life sciences sector in India looks bright. When asked how she copes with the stress of starting a business, Dr Chaitra said: “Women who are usually more organized, meticulous and patient are better entrepreneurs than men.”