Movers & Shakers with Ms. Anuradha Acharya, Founder and CEO of Ocimum Biosolutions Ltd., India

Published: 5 May 2005
Ms. Anuradha Acharya - CEO Ocimum Biosolutions
Ms. Anuradha Acharya heads the development and management team at Ocimum Biosolutions and is the company’s Chief Software Architect and Chief Executive Officer.  Prior to joining Ocimum she worked in several roles, from an IT professional to a technical leader, with six years of experience in full development life-cycle projects.  An experienced business and technical analyst, she has conducted object-oriented analysis, evaluated the effectiveness of Web sites, and designed, developed and implemented complex business systems.  A Microsoft Certified Professional, she is skilled in ASP, SQL, C++, Java, Perl, Visual Basic and other Internet Technologies. Her current technical interests lie in Bioinformatics algorithm development and Lab automation systems.
 
Ms. Acharya has an MS in Management Information Systems from the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She also has an MS in Physics from the same school.  She has a Bachelors and Masters from the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur.  She worked as a Computer Analyst for two years at the University of Illinois while pursuing her Masters. Subsequently she worked for Mantiss Information, Chicago, (now part of Dynegy) where she designed and implemented an automated intranet sales system for a well-known Long Distance Company.  She then joined SEI Information Systems also in Chicago, where she designed and implemented an online recruiting company for entrepreneurs, before founding Ocimum Biosolutions with Subash Lingareddy and Dr. Sujata Pammi in October 2000 in Indianapolis.
 
Frost & Sullivan: Ocimum Biosloutions seems to be creating a niche for itself in both  Bioinformatics and Microarray markets? How do you envision growth and perceive technology uptake in this area in the industry (Drug Discovery/Diagnostics)?
 
Ms. Acharaya: If you just look at the microarrays, there is a lot of bioinformatics involved. We need to design the oligos that are on the chip which require a lot of initial computational biology techniques. We already had the data analysis software, which involved capturing data right from a heat map and analysing it sticking on to the pathways. There was a missing link that’s filled in by the microarrays. Thus, completing the product cycle.
 
Going forward surveying the space in the diagnostic arena, Ocimum has a strong foundation.  With the current scenario there is around 10% of microarrays used in the diagnostic applications end. Affymetrix just got an FDA approval along with Roche for the diagnostic chip and the FDA released Pharmacogenomics data submission guidelines last month. This is an indication that microarrays can change the dynamics of clinical diagnostics if we are able to give the customers a cost effective solution, cheap, small and portable system with reliable and right kind of results. Idea for Ocimum we have to think about our R&D investments or license technology from companies. Definitely, Glass slides will not last forever. Being a competitive company, we strive towards maximising available opportunities and offer customers the best we can in terms of support, bioinformatics solutions and cost effectiveness.
 
Frost & Sullivan: For microarrays to become a household term, what are the current challenges to tackle?
 
Ms. Acharaya: Although we are in the post genomic era and with microarrays having added a lot of value to accelerating drug discovery solutions and showing a novel pathway to clinical diagnostics, there are many challenges that need to be addressed to move on the road ahead. Firstly, standardisation of the microarray data capture and analysis is needed. Cross comparison and reproducibility of data across different platforms also needs to be addressed. For diagnostic space, the array readouts have to boil to down to a “Yes/No” result thus enabling the doctors to focus on higher-level decision-making. This calls for ease of use of these systems with reliable and robust infrastructure thus giving consistent results in the clinical research phase. If we can get relevant statistical analysis out of the research phase, I am certain that this cutting edge technology will find its way from the “bench to bedside” effectively.
 
Frost & Sullivan: Bioinformatics seems to have provided a wealth of data but there is still a lot more room for churning out meaningful information for realising into applications. What are the steps taken by your company in terms of honing up your infrastructure to support this?
 
Ms. Acharaya: Bioinformatics progressed from the BLAST search databases to smarter tools trying to link it to the disease pathways and solve relevant biological questions.  There are new tools and algorithms developed by people all over the world and time will not be far where we can resolve the standardisation issue, which is a current teething problem.
 
For instance, the iRNAchek™ provides a comprehensive and intuitively designed environment for organisation of sequence data, design of siRNAs, and tracking and analysis of successful templates. iRNAchek™ provides a facility to design the siRNA based on the regions of interest. Hence it can be discerned that from standard sequence analysis, we are moving forward in the direction of building newer tools and platforms. Like every other industry, this market will also take its time. With strategic alliances from the academia and the commercial sector rich dividends can be reaped out these R&D investments.
 
Frost & Sullivan: As genome arrays and protein arrays are a growing market, there will be more niche players leading to more competition.  Can you tell us about your clients and the competitive landscape?
 
Ms. Acharaya: The market is monopolised by Affymetrix who is the industry gold standard in microarray technology. There are many niche players trying to come up with innovative product lines. Ocimum’s biggest asset is the acquisition of MWG arrays, which is an open technology. So it can be compatible with many instrumentation support systems. Currently we are branded as “Oci chips”. All our clients, who have used these arrays in the past, are happy with the technology.  Pharma, biotech companies and universities are the target clients.
 
Frost & Sullivan: Contract research services for diagnostics seem to be one of the focus areas. Customising arrays for tailor made applications is one the processes in this sector. So how is the end user feedback to your products?
 
Ms. Acharaya: Contract research services so far have been confined to the molecular biology products targeting seed companies. The trend is now changing and we are trying to survey the space into Pharmacogenomics, toxicogenomics. We feel that with right kind of products in the microarray market, customer satisfaction can be honed up.
 
Frost & Sullivan: How do your biochips/diagnostic chips address issues of cost and performance?
 
Ms. Acharaya: Cost effective solutions are the main need of the hour in the microarray product solutions. Mainly companies target their pricing based on the competitive landscape. Our advantage is the possession of German engineering technology and manufacturing chips in India. This is a good cost cutting measure.  Secondly, if we can sign up with institutions that target diseases for long-term contracts we can offer cutting edge tools as good strategic alliances with such companies will ensure a win-win situation. As they will be able to get the slides out at a cheaper rate and Ocimum can ensure lower prices by making more volumes thus offering the right kind of discounts for the customers.
 
Frost & Sullivan: How does your product portfolio fit into the scheme of use in global markets?
 
Ms. Acharaya: Our existing portfolio of clients (nearly 60%) has come from the European sector. Europe plays a major role in our business and we are retaining some of the customers and they have come back to us with a positive feedback. There are some test drives that we initiated in the Indian markets. It was astonishing to see the big interest attracting Indian drug discovery companies, as many are inclined towards research-based activities. The main concern has been on the price; nevertheless the big question prevailing is on cost reduction. With the current guidelines issued by the FDA for Pharmacogenomics, this has been a major impetus to accelerate the research phase using these arrays. Microarrays have no doubt revolutionised drug discovery applications and clinical research. With this ongoing trend, I will be pleased to sign off with an optimistic note that they will complement the existing tools and be a great value addition.

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