Emerging Entrepreneurs

Gut feel: How Leucine Rich Bio is helping people stay healthy

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on June 22, 2020

(from left) Kumar Sankaran, CEO; Debojyoti Dhar, Co-founder and Director - Business Development & Innovation; and Prabhath Manjappa, CPO, Leucine Rich Bio

The company has developed BugSpeaks, which analyses microorganisms in the human intestine to detect susceptibility to diseases

It is not the “instinct” that Debojyoti Dhar refers to whenever he mentions the word “gut”. He is in fact referring to the human gastrointestinal system that comprises the gastrointestinal tract and the digestive system when he talks about the gut. For, analysing the microorganisms present in the human gut is what the venture he co-founded with two others does.

Debojyoti graduated in biochemistry and did a Master’s in biomedical science, both from Delhi University, and then obtained a Ph.D from the Indian Institute of Science and a post-doctoral programme from UMass Medical School, before returning to India to work in the drug discovery and pharma sectors. It was at drug discovery company Connexios Life Science that he met his co-founders – Kumar Sankaran and Prabhath Manjappa – and they decided to start a venture. Both Kumar and Prabhath are Master’s in biotechnology from Bangalore University.

They founded Leucine Rich Bio Pvt Ltd in August 2014 and initially toyed with the idea of helping oncologists by looking at genomic data to find out mutations and give them recommendations. Debojyoti says they realised that they were ahead of the time. Instead, given their background in genomics, systems biology and bioinformatics, they thought of providing applications of genomics reports.

At that time, microbiome – the genome of all microorganisms present inside and on the body – was an emerging field. The three decided to concentrate on gut microbiome, which looks at the microbiome of the gut, as a field for their venture. The existing pathological microbiology techniques depend on culturing methods, whereas Leucine Rich Bio decided to use next-generation sequencing.

“Without even culturing I will know which bacteria were present in the sample. I will also come to know which viruses were present, which fungi were present. This technology adds a lot of teeth to the whole process. That is the technology that we use for our gut microbiome tests,” says Debojyoti, who is co-founder and Director – Business Development and Innovation of Leucine Rich Bio. Kumar is the CEO and Prabhath the CPO.

Leucine Rich Bio, according to Debojyoti, does not have a wet lab and outsources the sequencing and extraction. What it has are the dry lab, the software and the servers. “We have two patent-pending algorithms. We have developed a few databases,” he says. One database has information on all the microorganisms irrespective of their nature and their association with various diseases, another looks at research articles and constantly updates relevant information, while the third contains information on various nutrients.

BugSpeaks, a microbiome test

The company relies on stool samples to extract the DNA, sequences it and uses the raw data to find out which microorganisms were present. Information from the three data bases is fed into the interpretation engine which then spews out a report. “We have developed this test called BugSpeaks, a microbiome test,” says Debojyoti. Those wanting to get the tests done can book one on the company’s website after which the company will send them a test kit. The sample will be collected by courier and the sample tested at an outsourced wet lab.

The report, says Debojyoti, consists of three parts. The first gives information on disease susceptibility, including for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The second part of the report is a personalised precision-guided nutritional recommendation and the third is supplementation information regarding prebiotics and probiotics.

According to him, theirs is a B2C and a B2B2C business model. Apart from customers directly asking for tests through its website, Leucine Rich Bio also works with doctors and clinics who prescribe the tests for their patients. The company was doing 30-40 tests a month – both booked directly on its website and from doctors and clinics – before the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world. It has a global website and was getting a few tests requests on that site too.

Looking for more funds

The company raised a seed round of ₹2 crore in 2017 from Omphalos Ventures and ₹50 lakh in 2019 from an angel investor. It is now looking to raise about ₹15 crore ($2 million) and a bridge round of ₹3-4 crore. The fresh funds, according to Debojyoti, will be used to have its own wet lab, which will help in bringing down the cost of the test substantially, and for filing product patents. A test now costs about ₹14,000 and Debojyoti is confident that with their own wet lab and control over reagents, they will be able to bring down the cost to around ₹10,000.

Leucine Rich Bio, according to him, would like to conduct pre-clinical trials of the products and if it is successful with those trials would like to go in for clinical trials. It also plans to launch its own brand of nutraceuticals. The money will also be used to increase the team size from 10 now to about 25, and increase marketing efforts.

Debojyoti says the company plans to incorporate a subsidiary in the US to fuel its global ambitions. “We need the money to scale our operations. One is the global footprint that we want to develop. Second, we want to get into drug discovery. We already have a lot of data and we are all scientists. We are working on that data. One of the products is ready and we will soon take it to pre-clinical trials,” says Debojyoti, 42, who describes himself as an aviation enthusiast and an animal lover.

Published on June 22, 2020

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