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A Movie Star and India’s Legacy of Precision Medicine

India’s MedGenome is breaking new ground in medicine and Angelina Jolie was a catalyst in their revolutionary journey.

Angelina Jolie has had a large impact on Sam Santosh’s latest venture. “MedGenome was the first in India to bring a genetic test for checking the BRCA gene for inherited breast cancer. But we would hardly get one prescription a month. Then out of the blue came movie star Angelina Jolie’s revelation on why she went through double mastectomy. She didn’t have breast cancer, but she had tested positive for the BRCA gene. She had taken the test because both her mother and mother’s sister had breast cancer. Once this splashed across the media, there was a lot of awareness built. And we started getting lots of inquiries and our sample flow went up for BRCA testing,” said Sam Santosh, founder and chairman of MedGenome Inc.

MedGenome, a genetic diagnostic and research firm, champions precision medicine. It enables early detection of diseases through DNA analysis thereby allowing early intervention of the ailment.

Precision medicine also helps identify which medical therapy and drugs our bodies will react to better – almost like customising medication to suit each unique form of genetic mutation causing the disease.

In 2010, Santosh, a veteran IT entrepreneur, switched lanes to start SciGenom in Kochi, Kerala, to provide genomics services across various sectors including human, agriculture, microbial, and animals. The growing potential of genomics in precision medicine, saw SciGenom spin off its human genomics division, MedGenome, as an independent entity in 2013. “Through MedGenome I felt that we would able to create a revolution in India in the field of Medical Diagnostics,” added Santosh.

MedGenome has launched many ‘firsts’ in India including, clinical exome, a transcriptomics technique to sequence all genes for identifying some of the rare pediatric diseases, liquid biopsy for tracking progression of cancer mutations during treatment stages and, non-invasive prenatal screening test (NIPT) for detecting chromosomal disorders in a fetus from as early as the 9th week of pregnancy. One of the recent launches of MedGenome is the genetic carrier screening test for identifying genetic mutations that are specific to the Indian population. It has completed testing for more than 5000 cases till date.

The research center is a founding member of the GenomeAsia 100K initiative to sequence 100,000 genomes in South, North and East Asia. It also developed DIABETOME, a clinical knowledge base with over 380,000 patient records to promote understanding and treatment of diabetes. This disruptive startup is working hard to leave behind breakthrough findings to help the country dubbed the 'capital of diabetes'.

Revenue of this human DNA startup has gone from 4 million dollars in 2014-2015 to 16.5 million dollars of revenue in 2016-2017. In June 2015, MedGenome received 20 million dollars from Sequoia Capital.

What started as a spinoff company today employs 350 people and has conducted over 400 genetic tests across all key disease areas and has a network of 400 hospitals for diagnostics and 10 research collaborators across the country.

“The journey has just begun and we have not travelled far. We are the only company to have both diagnostics and research so we will be able to build the Indian baseline data to aid drug discovery and development of new tests. We hope that the large diverse Indian population would be a great platform in helping global pharma companies understand diseases better and develop new drugs.”

Santosh wants to leave behind a legacy of precision medicine in India. “Just like IT was the biggest disruptor of the 20th century,” Santosh believes that, “genomics will be the biggest disruptor in the 21st century”.

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