Variety

DNA of wellness

Abhishek Law | Updated on February 01, 2013

Saleem Mohammed, co-founder, Xcode Life Sciences   -  BUSINESS LINE

Chennai-based Xcode Life Sciences predicts chronic health disorders through DNA analysis



April 2003 was an important day for mankind. Researchers of the Human Genome Project announced that they had sequenced the entire human DNA. On the other hand, a young Saleem Mohammed was visiting India only to discover that his mother was diagnosed with diabetes – considered to be a lifestyle disease.

The incident changed this young doctorate in bioinformatics. He started taking active interest in his own health. But to his utter dismay he could not find a single organisation in the country that analysed his risk to lifestyle related diseases.

To cut a long story short, Saleem came up with a DNA-based wellness program that aimed at identifying and preventing genetic diseases.

Thus, was born (in June 2012) Xcode Life Sciences – a biotech start-up co-founded by Saleem and R. Narayanan. The motto: “forewarning means forearming”.

“It is the first time that DNA and wellness is being combined. The concept of personalised and preventive healthcare through the understanding genetic risk is in itself new to India. No one has ever taken it to the scale that we are talking about,” explains Saleem.

Working

Tests are carried out for determining lifestyle diseases such as heart-attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. Cost of each of the tests is around Rs 9,999.

Lifelong Wellness – the product developed by Xcode; uses saliva testing to determine how prone a person is to genetic predispositions.

Following the payment, Xcode sends a testing kit. It will have a container in which the saliva is collected and sent back to them. The DNA assessment so carried out gives an insight into the various predispositions of the gene.

The samples are tested to access the genetic risk to chronic illnesses. Based on genetic risk and metabolic profile, a nutrition and fitness plan is designed that will help the individual with a nutrition plan. The individual gets a soft copy (online) of the report in 4-6 weeks and a hard copy later.

“The Lancet estimates that the loss on national income for India due to non-communicable diseases mortality for 2006-15 will be around $237 billion. This requires for some serious call of action,” Saleem maintains.

Birth Pangs

Despite Saleem being a PHD in bioinformatics and Narayanan (the co-founder) being an MBA from IIM-Calcutta; the birth of the Xcode was not without its share of hiccups.

The key challenges of enabling other key players to recognize the vision at a time when such a technology was not available in India remained. One also needed to convince everyone that there was a demand for a technology that aimed to map a person’s genetic risk to chronic illnesses.

Also the other big challenge for Saleem was to form a core team; that right mixture of expertise and commitment to take things to the “next level”.

Saleem has learnt his lessons well. He understands from the time the idea was incubated at the Vellore Institute of Technology in early 2011 (by him) that people invest in people and not businesses.

Similarly, creating the right awareness, in a country grappling with lifestyle diseases, has been critical to attain success (for the start-up).

Successes and Funding

Lessons learnt, Saleem can safely lay claim to his laurels.

Xcodes within the first two months of its launch has acquired over 50 customers and is in talks with hospitals for the tie-ups. “We are in closed talks with several hospitals and health providers to offer our service in conjunction with their existing services,” he maintains.

That’s not all! Not one to rest on his laurels, Saleem is now busy trying to raise the second round of capital for the start-up. Xcodes has already received an angel investment of $ 2,50,000. And another round is expected within the next two months.

Firming up the organisation’s future path is also on cards. He is planning to include a cancer research panel along with the existing services. Firming up the tie-ups with healthcare providers too is another area.

“We plan to build sophisticated models that will accurately predict when the diseases are likely to hit given a set of parameters. We believe in the next 2-3 years we should have accumulated enough data to answer essential questions,” Saleem adds.

> abhishek.l@thehindu.co.in

Published on February 01, 2013

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