Around 2011, the National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology in Bengaluru were studying the diet patterns of Indian civilisations from three periods — Indus Valley Civilisation, the Vedic Civilisation and the Iron Age.
It was found that our ancestors were growing and consuming prebiotics like lentils and tubers that help in strengthening gut health by increasing ‘good’ bacteria and fighting pathogens.
So, for generations, Indians have given importance to gut health, and sciences like Ayurveda and Naturopathy have always promoted it. The sciences have focussed on how a healthy gut keeps the mind and body healthy too.
Exploring the aspect of how gut health is the root cause of all lifestyle-related diseases, a Bengaluru-based startup has found an innovative tool to detect the same. Leucine Rich Bio Pvt Ltd developed BugSpeaks, a kit that analyses microbiomes in the human intestine and provides recommendations to re-balance the gut microbiome.
The kit also helps in catching the risk of 16 diseases like Type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, hypertension, and rheumatoid arthritis. Based on the patient’s reports, the kit suggests necessary corrective actions.
Bugspeaks was launched in 2019 and since then the company has sold around 4,500 kits.
Founded in 2014 by Kumar Sankaran, CEO; Prabhath K M, chief product officer and Dr Debojyoti Dhar, director, business development & innovation, the company has a team of scientists with specialisations in microbiology, molecular biology, immunology and systems biology that helped in developing the kit.
“We wanted to develop a solution which will change the healthcare paradigm, shifting it from ‘sick care’ to ‘health care’. We felt that the microbiome, especially the gut microbiome, is the perfect way to do this. All the science is relatively new, the impact of the microbiome on human health and wellness is enormous,” Sankaran tells The Better India.
The company has received the ‘Frost & Sullivan Award’ twice and in 2021, they won the National Start-up Award in the ‘LifeSciences’ category.
Tailored for Indian People & Food
The three founders met while working for a drug company and realised a gap in consumer microbiome tests that were otherwise readily available in other countries.
The trio then developed a dry lab, software and two algorithms. Their database contains details of all the microorganisms and their relation with various diseases. Another section updates itself with the latest research articles and the third one provides information on nutrients.
In the initial period, the company conducted trials and projects to test their accuracy on microbiome data.
“When we started there was no Indian microbiome data. We went around collecting samples from different parts of the country, starting with mine, to evaluate the Indian microbiome. Simultaneously, we did a slew of consultancy projects for academia such as Human Microbiology Institute, New York, Emory University, Atlanta, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the University of Arkansas For Medical Sciences and the University of Virginia, School of Medicine. They would send their microbiome data, we would analyse the data and share it back with them. With every project we iteratively improved our algorithms and data analytics,” says Sankaran.
They conducted studies with the Healing Hands in Pune and Bengaluru Wellness Centre (Potential Health Development) as well.
The main USPs of BugSpeaks, says Sankaran, is that the kit is tailored for the Indian population and Indian food recommendations. And he claims to be the first company in India and South Asia to launch a product in the microbiome domain.
The kit is for both consumers and doctors and clinics who prescribe the test for their patients.
“Earlier, we had to send our samples abroad but now we use BugSpeak which has cutting-edge technology. In the last couple of years, we did more than 500 tests. All their results are customised as per an Indian’s gastrointestinal system which is very different from a caucasian due to our diverse food range,” says Ramakrishna, who handles business and product development at Giga Healthcare and Potential Health Development.
How Does BugSpeak Work
The primary aim of the non-invasive test is to detect the imbalances in the gut microbiome using parameters like metabolic activity, gene expression, symbiotic and parasitic activities.
All one has to do is register, take a small quiz and book a test on their website.
The company will send the kit to the patient’s doorstep to collect stool samples. It will pick up the sample to extract DNA and sequence it. The raw data is then used to analyse the microorganism. The results are fed into the interpretation engine which gives out the final report.
The report is divided into three parts. The first part gives information on the risk of diseases, the second suggests a personalised nutritional diet and the third contains information on prebiotics and probiotics.
“The test gives a snapshot of your current health, the diseases you may be susceptible to and the changes in diet and lifestyle that are required to reduce the risk of getting a disease. At one shot you can mitigate a lot of adverse health outcomes,” says Sankaran.
The starting price of the test is Rs 9,999 which is almost Rs 16,000 less than when it was introduced. The company hopes to bring down the price further.
They also hope to launch an app soon which will focus on community-driven engagement on gut health and health in general along with personalised recommendations from the test.
The team is currently working on developing a testing system for other microbiomes like oral and skin and will be launched in the next few months.
Down to Earth
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)