Stem cell banks have flourished in India over the course of a decade. The market now sports names such as CryoSave, LifeCell and Stempeutics. Eventually, though, the storage model had to make way for players that champion research and therapy – Reliance Life Sciences and Stempeutics are two of the big players there. But take a look at how one newer, smaller entrant has chosen to play the Indian market.

Advancells was set up in 2013 by Vipul Jain, a serial entrepreneur, who has had commercial interests in medical tourism. Over a period of two years, the company has kept its focus on research, even though stem cell storage was clearly the cash cow.

“There’s a phenomenal amount of research going on in developed markets. I knew I had this once in a lifetime chance to be involved in something revolutionary,” says Jain, CEO, Advancells.

‘Profitability is set’

Even until a few years ago, smaller companies that were reportedly carrying out clinical trials weren’t registered with the Indian Council for Medical Research. Combined with lukewarm confidence among consumers, or the opposite – the expectation among many takers that stem cell therapy works magic even though it sometimes may not – government’s understanding and regulations have also affected how many could have thrived in the sector. It’s not the easiest of spaces to make significant profits just yet.

Still, Jain declares, “We’ve had operating profits for a while now. We’re making enough to manage the business and pay salaries. And even if we have to offer some pro bono services, in the long run, profitability is set.” From March, the company’s revenues are ₹1.5 crore for six months.

Gunning for reach

About $2 million has gone into setting up the company and keeping it going. But having bootstrapped well, Advancells is now aiming for a $3-5 million Series A round of funding.

“There aren’t too many players like us after you consider the large names. There are also very few investors willing to back a research venture while having the patience to see the business through to a fully commercial model,” says Jain.

If the funding comes through by December, Advancells will look at partnering with more hospitals across the country.

With a research facility in Noida, the company has partnerships with 4-5 of the largest hospital chains in north India. It serves 10–15 individuals each month across both trials and therapy; Jain says that with a significant capital infusion, this number could grow to 50.

Advancells will in the shorter term use funds raised to kick off trials in cardiovascular and cerebral palsy cases. If regulatory log-jams are resolved, the space will potentially open up for specialty ventures that could serve the larger market.

“There’s a phenomenal amount of research going on in developed markets. I knew I had this once in a lifetime chance to be involved in something revolutionary.”