INTERVIEW: People keen on preventive healthcare, says Mapmygenome founder Anu Acharya

Hyderabad-based MapMyGenome, one of India's top preventive genomics company, studies and helps you understand your genetics and DNA – The guiding factor of your health and fitness

INTERVIEW: People keen on preventive healthcare, says Mapmygenome founder Anu Acharya

HYDERABAD: One might eat 5 times a day and not gain a single kg and one might gain weight very easily. One might take a medicine and show effective improvement and another might take the same medicine for the same illness and not improve so much. One might be more prone to a disease than another. Ever wondered why?

Hyderabad-based MapMyGenome, one of India's top preventive genomics company, studies and helps you understand your genetics and DNA – The guiding factor of your health and fitness.

MapMyGenome recently added more drugs in their testing list and went up to a total of 165 medicines, which they carefully analyse on each individual's DNA, read their response and guide on how to improve one's health based on their individual DNA.

Anuradha Acharya, the Founder and CEO of MapMyGenome, is a serial entrepreneur who has been in the forefront of genomics for over 20 years. She launched the company in 2013 as a preventive genomics company and turned it into a person's overall health-need.

In an exclusive interview with NewsTAP she said, "With MapMyGenome, we wanted to create a people-oriented healthcare system in India combining genomics, lifestyle , blood test data, other health data using machine learning. We want to empower people to take charge of the health of their families through the personalised interventions in lifestyle and screening solutions."

Here are a few excerpts from Anu Acharya's interview with NewsTAP:

1. You come with experience in the field of genetics, please explain the genesis on MapMyGenome. What was the initial response of people and what is it now?

We started as a pure bioinformatics and Laboratory Information Management Services (LIMS) company with our first start-up Ocimum Biosolutions in 2000. Within a few years we had acquired three international companies in Germany, the Netherlands and the USA making us one of the largest genomics service companies in the world with locations in India, Europe and the US.

It soon became an enterprise with top pharma labs using our RaaS(Research as a Service), solutions, genomics database, customised LIMS, and TB diagnostic kits. With 12+ years of experience in genomics, it was a natural progression for us to venture into preventive genomics. And MapMygenome was born in 2013 with Genomepatri, a simple non invasive, saliva based DNA test to help consumers to remain in a state of wellness.

Genomepatri, Mapmygenome's DNA-based health and wellness solution, helps you discover your true selfie. This provides 100+ easy to read reports that contain insights about your genetic make-up, susceptibility to health conditions and how you react to medications. Using Genomepatri, design your lifestyle and proactively take charge to achieve long term health goals. This solution includes free genetic counselling and personalised recommendations.

Our first company Ocimum was focused on offering services to businesses. Building something that appeals to consumers was a rather exciting transition. Our mission at Mapmygenome is to touch a 100 million lives.

Being pioneers in this space, it did take a lot of education and awareness to get the product out but what is exciting is that the response has been amazing and the numbers have increased rapidly post pandemic.

2. How big was the team of MapMyGenome when it started and what is the growth story now in terms of headcount?

We started with 6 people and reached 300 during Covid. We are a working team of 150 now.

3. How did you get the initial investment?

In 2015 and 2016, we raised two small rounds from multiple investors including Mr. Ratan Tata and Rajan Anandan.

4. How exactly do the tests work? Is it a one-time test especially with regard to gene mapping?

We provide health solutions based on preventive genomic tests by combining genomic profiles, health history, and genetic counseling. All our tests are once-in-a-lifetime non-invasive tests. It is a simple cheek-swab test that can be done at the convenience of your home.

You order a preventive genomics test from us, we get it delivered wherever you are.

Once the sample is picked up, we update you on the progress through emails and through our customer support. After you receive the genetic report, we schedule a genetic counseling session for you to help understand the results. Post counseling, an actionable recommendations report is sent to consumers for them to follow.

Mapmygenome also offers health checks along with preventive and clinical genomics so that consumers can keep track of their current health status

5. Now that you are branching out into testing the efficacy of medicines, does your company act as a QA (validation) agency for different medicines produced by pharma giants? Or does your company check whether the prescribed medicines in the case of a particular patient suit her/him?

No, we are not a QA company. preventive genomics company allows us to test for efficacy and toxicity of available drug molecules. Essentially we can get a profile of 165 drugs for every individual and that information can be very helpful for consumers and their prescribing clinicians.

Indians have varied responses to widely used medicines like warfarin, metformin, etc. If a medicine is a lifesaver for an individual, it could be toxic to someone else.

MedicaMap covers more than 165+ US-FDA approved drugs across 12 different specialties like cardiology, diabetology, psychiatry, oncology, etc. You can keep the MedicaMap report as a part of your medical records so that even in an emergency scenario, your doctor can quickly decide on the right medicine for you.

6. What is the market scenario and competition of MapMyGenome?

When we started offering preventive genomics services in 2013, MapMyGenome had built an algorithm to analyze data and report results. This gave us an early start over competitors.

We have created differentiation by using our own algorithm and creating services that are affordable and accessible in the preventive genomics space. We have been a category creator.

Value-added services like Genetic Counseling and an easy-to-read action report with workable plans toward better health give us the primary advantage over competitors.

7. What are the places where the company has a strong patient base?

Consumers order directly and we see that large cities, towns across india place orders.

We work with several hospital and diagnostics chains that send us samples

We work with many corporates to provide employee wellness solutions.

8. When did you first develop an interest in genetics and the study of DNA?

It all started from curiosity. I would like to say curiosity is the mother of innovation and the future of healthcare lies in bold innovations that truly help a person in their health journey.

After the success of the Human Genome Project, experts were talking about ways to harness genomics to personalise healthcare. There were discussions about how a confluence of futuristic tools – genomics, mobile tech, AI, and social tech could take healthcare to next level.

I started Mapmygenome to address two problems: the lack of a robust system based on preventive healthcare and the lack of data on the Indian genome. We are building analytics for data from genetics and correlating with health history. These analytics have the potential to transform healthcare and pharma R&D.

9. What led you to the idea of Mapping medicines' efficacy?

Globally, inefficient prescriptions add up to billions of dollars wasted. With MedicaMap, people can save on treatment costs and time while the treating clinician can move away from trial and error to personalize treatment for increased efficiency.

While in the past, we saw clinicians use preventive genomics while treating a patient, there is time lost while the test is being run. We wanted to ensure that we can work on both the cost and time it takes to run the test.

We have introduced it at Rs.6,499 for over 165 drugs, which is probably the lowest price globally. This way every individual can get this done to create a profile for themselves.

10. In the field of genetics, there aren't many people according to surveys. Does it affect the research process? Is enough proven data available in the study?

On the research front, we have a strong team backed by 22+ years of expertise. Right from the beginning we have been doing research and compiling genomic data so that we can build a solid genomic database that would help in the further future of preventive, personalised, participatory healthcare.

11. How does it feel to be a woman entrepreneur in a field that is not so common?

The fact that a term like a woman entrepreneur exists shows that a bias exists. Shouldn't we also have "Man Entrepreneur " also?

I am passionate about genomics as we can create a massive impact. That is what drives me.

12. In terms of customer base, what is the trend that MapMyGenome has seen? Do people of all ages and all levels of society approach you?

We have customers all over India and other countries. Post-pandemic, there is a significant perspective change in people about their health. People are moving to preventive mode so that they can make informed choices about their health.

13. What kind of people opt for gene mapping more? The ones already taking medications or people who want to take preventive measures?

There are three different types of customers intellectually curious, prevention-focused people with a family history of a specific condition, and those recommended to take this test by doctors. There is a growing focus on healthy living from an early stage, especially among the young crowd.

14. Some people still stigmatise getting tests done because they think that they would be tensed if they learn that they are prone to disease. How does MapMyGenome help people overcome this?

Understanding your genetic predisposition does not imply that you will get the disease. There are several other influencing factors such as family history, lifestyle, clinical history, and environmental factors. We have a team of Board Certified Genetic Counselors and Medical Advsiors who give clarity about these factors and the tests. We use social media platforms and organize campaigns to make people aware of the importance of these tests and the significance of preventive healthcare.

15. What are some of the best discoveries/findings through MapMyGenome?

Preventive genomic solutions designed according to consumers' needs, Gebiome (where we combine genomics and biochemistry tests). Personalization in its true sense in preventive healthcare. You can choose a preventive genomics solution based on your health goals. Genomepatri, our comprehensive health profile, gives your genetic predisposition to 100+ health conditions. If you solely focus on your skin needs, we have Beauty Map.

There is Genomepatri Heritage that satisfies your curiosity to know more about your ethnic roots

If fitness is your focus there is MyFitGene. You can understand your nutrition needs based on MyNutriGene and many more.

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