Banking on the Future with Stem Cells

How do you improve your childs life quality when she turns 70 by investing Rs 1 lakh now We are not talking insurance,but about creation of a stem cell bank when the child was young and accessed when she grows old.Deepak Ghaisas -- former chief executive and finance head of iflex -- is doing just that with his biotechnology firm Stemade.Stemade banks stem cells from your childs teeth when she is eight or from the wisdom tooth when she is a little older and allow it to be used even 50 years later.A bean counter at heart,becoming a biotech entrepreneur is Ghaisas third avatar,after starting off as a chartered accountant in a food firm and then moving to a very successful stint in technology services.His holding company is called Gencoval (generating companion value,in short) Strategic Services,which runs three subsidiaries: Stemade,Healthbridge,a business process re-engineering programme for hospitals and GCVLife,that is working on a technology that addresses diseases resulting from sleep apnoea.He explains the stem cell foray in pure accounting terms: This is the best kind of derivate product,where the downside is capped at Rs 1 lakh,while the upside is huge, Ghaisas said adding we are addressing health and disease management using solutions based on stem cells and delivered through hospitals. Ghaisas logic for a biotech foray is that India is the market for such therapeutic products,unlike information technology.The market for IT remains the US,the Indian IT market is much smaller.However,when it comes to biotech and healthcare,the market is here,in India.The delivery is expensive now but that it should come down,"he says.Stemades products will eventually be delivered through hospitals while Healthbridge is working on improving process efficiencies.Ghaisas,however,is not focusing on India alone: he plans to offer storage services for stem cells in India for customers in Singapore shortly and later for customers in Middle East too.India can become the worlds stem cell storage centre, he says.The initial Rs 10-crore investment has been made by Ghaisas himself.And he might need venture capital or private equity of around Rs 40-45 crore when he sets up a research centre for which he is scouting for land in the Pune region.In the four cities that Stemade has been launched,they have 300 registrations and 100 teeth banked.Ghaisas now plans to take the company to another six cities.We charge Rs 10,000 at the time of registration and 50% of the total amount,Rs 45,000 at the time of the actual deposition of the teeth.The balance,which is another Rs 45,000,is paid a month after the extraction,when the certification process is completed.We tell parents that if the child is 10-year-old,it would amount to paying Rs 1,000 a month till the child turns 21,although we take the money upfront.After 21,they pay Rs 6,000 annually Ghaisas said.There is another,bigger market that opens up with this,that of genomics.Around 10% stem cells have been found to match parents while the success rate in matching siblings is 30-40 % but there is also an opportunity to generate matches for people around the world.A database is being created under the genetic registry and while there are six types of genes,a match of even four of the six is alright with doctors.Ghaisas said he was looking at office space without divulging more.For Stemade,the focus is on the autologous stem cell market,where a patient is treated using his/her own stem cells.This strategy is much in sync with the global focus on personalised medicine.There has been no blockbuster drug which is worth $1 billion,after Viagra.And there is a drying up of the pipeline for new molecule development in the pharma industry.Pharma companies are now eyeing biotechnology,just look at the acquisitions they are making, Ghaisas says explaining his new bet.These autologous cells are multipotential stem cells which means that they can create tissue,unlike umbilical cord stem cells which are used to treat blood cell- related diseases.For storage purposes,the teeth are broken under a proprietary technology of French firm,Institute Clinident Biopharma,and stored at LifeCells lab in Chennai for the next 40-50 years.