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Care from Core hinges on high end diagnostic tests

Nov 11, 2014

Shahid Akhter – initiative of The Economic Times – 11 November 2014 – Zoya Brar, Managing Director and Co-Founder, CORE Diagnostics, has carved a niche in clinical diagnostics. Reckoned as the youngest member, she has won accolades and appreciation as the most promising healthcare entrepreneur. Founded in 2012, CORE today offers the richest menu of high end diagnostic tests, besides a second opinion for each test!

What prompted you to become an entrepreneur and how has the journey been so far?

The inspiration for CORE Diagnostics came from an impromptu conversation with some family members visiting from the Silicon Valley. So, in a sense, it was pure serendipity... just being at the right place at the right time with the right people. But as they say, success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. We've worked relentlessly since that proverbial light bulb went on.

The question, then, is - why Healthcare, and why Diagnostics? Even there, the decision to focus on this segment was largely serendipitous. The conversation I am referring to was not even about healthcare at all.

We were talking about the growth of the IT industry in India, and how the companies in the US were no longer looking at R&D in India as a way to reduce costs. Instead, they were turning to India for access to talent.

I asked a simple question: CAN WE DO THAT IN REVERSE? Is there an industry where the demand for a service is in India, but we would need to turn to the US for access to talent. And a friend whose mother recently had cancer and had to send a sample to the US for diagnosis, blurted out: HOW ABOUT HIGH-END Diagnostics? And bang! There it was - the flash of insight, followed by an avalanche of questions. The rest, as they say, is history.

Your overview of the diagnostic industry in India?

Diagnostics market is just over $3B in India, and growing to $6B by the year 2020. Majority of this growth is going to come from the high-end sector, which amounts to a mere $100M today.

While growth prospects make the diagnostics industry interesting, there is an important attribute which make this industry really unique. In most of the developed healthcare systems across the world, Diagnostic Medicine makes up approximately 3-4% of the total healthcare cost, but it impacts approximately 70% of the total (downstream) cost. Because of this "leverage", Diagnostic Medicine is receiving increasing attention on healthcare agenda - across the globe. India is no exception. That's what makes the diagnostics segment both - important for the patient, and interesting for the entrepreneur.

What are the major challenges you see in the diagnostic domain?

The single most critical challenge is access to talent. In healthcare, we don't compete for patients. We compete for talent. We are constantly looking to create a cadre of entrepreneurs. While finding and retaining great employees is already a challenge, getting them to think and behave like entrepreneurs is even harder. Just like in the training of medicine - see one, do one, teach one. We are constantly trying to replicate that model - allowing our team to observe each other, practice the learnings, and teach each other. So far, the model seems to be scaling really well.

What is the USP of CORE and how does it differ from other competitors ?

Our single most relevant USP is innovation. In less than a year since launch, we have become the de facto destination for innovative, high-end diagnostics in India.

We have brought in innovation in various dimensions. For instance, we have the most extensive menu of high-end molecular and genomic diagnostics in Cardiology, Oncology, and Reproductive Medicine. We have brought cutting-edge genetic and genomic analysis to the mix of technology platforms. We have implemented one of the most integrated informatics solutions to generate end-to-end efficiency and quality management. See, I used the term "informatics" instead of information technology. Why? Information Technology is table stakes. It is quickly becoming commoditized. Without a good IT system, you should not be in the business. It is informatics capability - a seamless amalgamation of a few Ph.D.'s in mathematics with probabilistic data analysis algorithms - that matters. This is serious stuff.

Innovation is never static. We are constantly looking ahead. We are focused on scientific breakthroughs in three general areas - genomics, informatics, and massive reductions in cost of testing. For a market like India, all three are critical. And our R&D groups in the US and India ere extremely active in all three. We believe with conviction that we cannot go it alone. These are complex trans-disciplinary subjects that require extensive collaboration with academia and with big pharma. I want to point out my use of the term trans-disciplinary, as opposed to multi-disciplinary. The former is much harder to implement, and in the beginning, it feels really inefficient. But we believe that in the long run, we can have sustained innovation.

What are your overseas collaborations?

Our overseas collaborations are multi-faceted. For instance, in 2012, we acquired an esoteric CLIA lab, OncoMDx, in Palo Alto (now called CORE Diagnostics, USA). This lab is our global Center of Excellence for R&D. Further, we have strategic alliances with developers of unique high-end diagnostic tests, for example CardioDx, Illumina/Verinata, etc. Finally, we have tie ups with a very large panel of pathologists in all clinical specialties - based in key Academic Medical Center.

When did you look for external funding and who were the PE partners?

Artiman Ventures, a Silicon Valley based VC firm is our exclusive investor. In late 2012, we closed our Series A financing round of INR 27 Crore with Artiman. We opened for business in March 2013. Since then, Artiman has infused an additional 18 Crores into the company

Your suggestion to others looking for PE funding?

Investors can bring value in four ways: Money, Contacts, and Industry knowledge, and well, FAIRNESS. Look for investors that have all four. We have been very fortunate with Artiman in that regard. They truly are partners in business for us.

Your message and advice to the budding entrepreneurs in healthcare, more precisely the startups who have just ventured in the healthcare segment?

Your future growth plants for CORE and where do you see it five years from now?

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