How doctor-turned-entrepreneur Chaitra Harsha wants to build India’s next big CRO from Mysore
Dr Chaitra Harsha, 43 has always taken the path less traveled. When she completed her MBBS, she chose medical research over clinical practice. Most Indian medical graduates don’t see research as a promising option. Dr Chaitra Harsha went on to get her doctorate from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. At IISC, Dr Chaitra Harsha was researching vaccines against tuberculosis (TB) as part of her PhD.
Dr Chaitra Harsha has the option to pursue post-doctoral research but she decided to become an entrepreneur. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she enrolled in Management Programme for Women Entrepreneurs at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore to learn the underlying principles of starting a business, pitch ideas more effectively, develop a business model and validation of a product or service. Dr Chaitra Harsha has dabbled in setting up dental clinics, a medical tourism venture, offered consulting services in the area of bioinformatics, among others. Building CRO Dr Chaitra Harsha had divested Smile Lounge to an Arab investor, and taken a backseat in other businesses, to focus exclusively on building a Contract Research Organisation (CRO) called Vipragen Biosciences, which she co-founded with Dr. Chandrasekhar, her senior at IISc in 2016. Dr Chaitra Harsha says CRO is a business aligned with her research background. Vipragen offers pre-clinical research services to biotech and pharma R&D companies, both in India and abroad. Pre-clinical research involves early-stage research where potential drugs are tested on animals for safety and assess for feasibility to conduct human trials. Dr Chaitra Harsha says the CRO was bootstrapped through funds from friends and family. However, in subsequent years, the startup got funding of $1 million from Indian angel investors and a two crore soft loan from the Karnataka government through a scheme that lends to women entrepreneurs at a very competitive interest rate of 4 percent. The funds raised helped Dr Harsha to a 25,000 sq. ft. international standard Animal research facility with Pharmacology, Safety, Microbiology and Bioanalytical lab at Mysore. The CRO employs around 48 people, nearly half of them are a scientist and about 35-40 percent are women, says Dr Chaitra Harsha
“Anybody doing clinical work at our lab will be able to submit the data across the world including Europe and US regulators,” Dr Chaitra Harsha, Co-founder and Managing Director of Vipragen Biosciences.
R&D assets In addition to CRO, Dr Chaitra Harsha says she received grants from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India on five projects linked to internal asset development. The company is conducting early-stage research on a seaweed-derived natural polymer that can be used in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers, a potential anticoagulant drug, two in-licensed antibiotics from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru for treating multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria, and a drug for treating Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Vipragen is expected to end FY21 with a turnover of 3.5 crore and the company had turned breakeven in the first year of operations. “The year FY21 has been a challenge for CROs, as a lot of R&D companies, reduced their spend on research due to COVID-19,” Dr Chaitra Harsha said. Dr Chaitra Harsha says COVID-19 and the vaccines developed in India at such a short time, will bring change in the mindset of investors on life-sciences. “Life Sciences projects are long gestation, it takes a lot of conviction and experience from investors to invest in life sciences, currently the investors in India are geared towards services or IT sectors which are with a shorter time horizon ,” Dr Chaitra Harsha said. Dr Chaitra Harsha also says that COVID-19 had brought the scientific community together. “The COVID-19 also made the research and industry collaborate and complement each other,” Dr Chaitra Harsha said. On why very few women take to entrepreneurship in India, Harsha says that this isn’t unique to India, even in developed places like Europe things aren’t very different. “Basically for it requires commitment, conviction and perseverance,they do need a lot of support from family and society. I blame the education or societal system for the inhibition within or lack of confidence that women feel to stand out in a group. It’s changing with the younger generation. I can see a lot of women are coming with different ideas,” Dr Chaitra Harsha
Dr Chaitra Harsha says women are known for being better organised, meticulous and are patient.
Source – moneycontrol