With an eye on the huge diabetes market in the country, Evolva Biotech, a fledgling Switzerland-based biotech company, is engaged in R&D for a sweetener molecule.

“There is enormous market potential here with India being the diabetes capital of the world,” says Dr P.M. Murali, Managing Director and CEO – India, Evola, a synthetic biology company.

The Indian diabetes market, pegged at $440 million, is expected to double by 2019. The sweetener market in India is estimated at Rs 80 crore, growing at 20 per cent annually. Sugar Free (from Zydus), Sweetex (Boots) and Equal (Merisant) are the big brands in the country.

Evolva’s “fermented” product promises to address the after-taste “generally associated with conventional sweeteners”. It will “streamline supply-chain logistics by making the product available in a standardised form all round the year; so extensive cultivation and farming is not needed,” says Dr Murali.

Evolva is also engaged in trials for a molecule to control viral infections, including influenza, which is a major concern in India.

The company hopes to team up with players in the consumer healthcare and pharma industry to deliver its sweetener and anti-viral molecules in the product form in the marketplace. These products are likely to be launched only in 2016. “In biotechnology, it takes several years of research and development, trials and perfection before products come out. Companies also make losses for 10 years before seeing profits,” says Dr Murali.

Evolva, which was set up in 2004, expects its first commercial product – vanillin – (used in ice-cream and other foods) to roll out in 2014. The company is working on anti-cancer and anti-infective molecules for Roche. It is also engaged in a proof of concept for BASF in the agriculture space.

Evolva, which has been backed by VC firms till 2009, has operations in Basel, Copenhagen, Palo Alto and Chennai. The company is listed on the Swiss Stock Exchange in December 2009; it is now looking for collaborations with PE investors globally.

(This article was published on August 29, 2011)
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