Auckland-based medical diagnostics company Pictor has scored its first major commercial deal, signing a licensing and distribution deal for its low-cost blood testing kit 10 years after the business started out in the founders' garage.
Now, Pictor is now seeking to raise $5 million from strategic investors to hire more staff, scale up its limited manufacturing facilities, get into new markets, and expand the number of tests in its portfolio.
Wife and husband team Sarita and Anand Kumble set up the company in 2006 after returning to New Zealand from the US and India. They met while studying for their doctorates in biochemistry at Mumbai University, in India, and lived in New Zealand in the mid-1990s when Anand was hired as one of Genesis Research's first biotechnologists.
The pair wanted to use their joint knowledge to make diagnostic testing for infectious diseases affordable for emerging countries, where traditional tests are often too expensive for poorly equipped laboratories.
The pair developed PictArrays, a patented immuno-diagnostic technology platform that allows simple and reliable blood testing for a number of diseases.
Pictor has just signed a deal with a Singaporean company established by Indonesian-based Pharos Indonesia, that country's leading pharma, they said.
It involves a "significant" up-front payment for licensing and distributing four PictArray products in five countries in Indochina. How significant is not clear as the financial details are confidential. It follows a pilot last year in 30 Indonesian hospitals.
Anand Kumble said the licensing deal "validates the need for us."
With a team of only six, Pictor wants a mix of sales through distributors and licensing where someone else deals with the regulatory paperwork required, Sarita Kumble said.
The blood testing kit's modular design took more than three years to perfect and allows up to eight simultaneous tests, with just one drop of blood on a microscopic slide. The cost is only $1 per test, significantly cheaper than competitors, they claim.
With the help of a Wellington company, Pictor has also developed a low-cost portable reader and data analysis software to obtain quick test results, which are easily integrated into laboratories of all sizes, including small-scale facilities commonly found in emerging countries.
It took until 2013 for Pictor to jump through the development and regulatory hoops to begin commercialisation. It partnered with Lilac Medicare, an in-vitro diagnostic company now taken over by Japanese-based Tosoh, to distribute its product in India, where more than 300,000 babies annually are estimated to die within their first 24 hours of life.
The ToRCH testing platform sold in India covers five of the major infant killers – Toxoplasma, Rubella, Cytomegalovirus, and Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and 2.
A second test, ENA, is used to identify lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The company has also started trials on one for the life-threatening infection sepsis and is researching others for allergies, the tropical disease dengue fever, and bowel disorder.
It has sold 80,000 ToRCH tests in India since 2014, with 300 laboratories now using the product and is negotiating with other distributors to expand further in that country and Nepal. It has also made small sales into Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and is in the early stages of working with a Japanese company to expand into China.
The most critical objective of the current capital raising was "to cover as many diseases as quickly and widely as we can," Anand Kumble said. "We want investors who understand the market and have the right expectations."
Additional funding would allow the company to develop up to eight tests at a time and eventually it hopes to have around 100.
"We will try to do some niche ones and commercial ones," Sarita Kumble said. "It's been tough with the resources we've had."
To date, Pictor has raised $3.9 million from investors and had $1.5 million in government research and development grants. Investors include Stephen Tindall's KIWI investment vehicle, the NZ Venture Investment Fund, and Cure Kid Ventures which invests in early stage healthcare opportunities that benefit child health.
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