Interview with Mr. Kannan Neelakanta about recent development in breast screening & thermography
Kannan Neelakanta, Head – New Product Development, CURA Healthcare
Please discuss in brief your journey into product development and the products that have been developed?
Being in the medical instrumentation space from 1991, I was fortunate to have developed friendship with doctors who were clinically brilliant and were focused on providing the best of care to their patients. Many of the improvements, that they required in imported products for better outcomes were not a priority to global players. In the past twelve years with inputs from Radiologists, Clinicians and Technologists, we have been able to develop six innovative products that were conceptualized, designed, clinically tested with regulatory certifications. These products have been well received in India and have also been exported.Two of these products received patent grants. During the conceptualization phase, we evaluate various technologies, their impact and associated risks. To move from a mindset of developing cheaper products to innovative products required acceptance from colleagues and investors and I am thankful that such an environment exists in CURA healthcare.
What are the areas Indian companies can concentrate and what is the focus of CURA Healthcare?
All clinicians across the world would require better technologies that are affordable and provide clinical value. In India, healthcare providers are already providing advanced care at low prices when compared to developed or other developing countries. This requirement forces them to look at equipment providers who can give robust, reliable product with low life cycle costs (Capex consumable and service cost).
CURA continues to provide equipment/product/services that are innovative, affordable and reliable. CURA continues to work with Clinicians, service providers, to understand critical gaps and then identify solutions that will fill the gap.
The Dialyzer reprocessing solutions, Integration of Masimo, Suntech modules with our patient monitoring systems, Virtual Medical Center for Tele-consulting, Breast Screening system (illumina360°) are key products that have been completely designed developed in India. All of the above products have the necessary certifications and have been well received in India and abroad.
Please elaborate about your product for breast screening and its salient features?
Breast thermography has been approved as an adjunct device by US FDA, many clinicians in India still have negative thoughts about this technology.
illumina360° is an effort that would revolutionize screening and cancer monitoring for Breast. The focus was to develop a product that would provide status of the breast and understand whether the breast tissues are normal or abnormal. Once classified as abnormal, clinicians can utilize other imaging modalities like Ultrasound, X-Ray Mammography, MRI, PET to identify the exact location of the lesion or cause and then take Biopsy to classify the type of lesion (Cancerous or Benign).
In India Breast screening per se is non-existent due to low awareness, self-neglect, perceived pain of compression during X-Ray Mammography, cultural issue of exposing Breast to a third person etc. In India, the number of cancer cases in the age group of 30-40 years has doubled as per Cancer.org information. Almost 50% of the women who develop breast cancer die whereas in advance countries the survival rate is close to 90%. Early detection would allow the patient to have a very fulfilling life.
illumina360° allows the examination of breast without touching, without exposure to others and does not require ionizing radiation or contrast. It is useful for evaluating Breast health for all women from 18 years onwards. This is the only system that captures the 360° information of breast skin temperature. It is the only system where the IR camera visualizes only the Breast tissue and is not influenced by the temperature information or radiation from other parts of the body (like chest, abdominal region).
illumina360° obtains the Breast Temperature information in a controlled environment. The design also allows the clinician to change the environmental temperature and monitor how the Breast tissue responds to the changed environment. The information can be used by clinicians to corroborate during ultrasound exams. It can be operated easily by a technician. The information provided by the system is completely digital and can be easily transmitted.
The clinical outcomes of over 5000 examinations have shown exciting clinical outcomes with early detection of breast tissue changes, effects of drugs on breasts given to patients during neo adjuvant chemotherapy.
The grant of patent for illumina360° reinforced our belief that we can create a product that is unique, clinically relevant.
We should also thank all the Radiologists, Clinicians who have evaluated the product and provided us with inputs that made the product provide very high accuracy, specificity.
Our special thanks to BIRAC for providing Grant and loan for developing the product. The product had received many innovation awards including Medicall 2013, BIRAC 2017 innovation award.
What are the challenges to develop a product and expectation from Govt. side?
In India, core technologies for sensors, detectors and other critical components are not available. Many a time, In India most manufacturers are actually integrating various components and calling this as product development. The focus need to shift to develop critical core technologies, components, algorithms etc. There are many brilliant clinicians in India who are willing to partner and can provide critical inputs that can help develop excellent products. The talent pool to develop products are also available.
Universities and institutions can help a lot. Many a time a student develops a product idea/algorithm up to a lab level and then graduates. If the idea/algorithm can be followed up or researched for subsequent years by the institution,it can create technologies that can benefit a large pool of manufacturers.
Currently the Government of India has many schemes that can help companies to work on concept development, product development and commercialization. Institutions like BIRAC allow companies to buy technology licenses and develop products. It is for companies to leverage and create products and technologies. CURA believes that Medical Devices/Instrumentation segment can provide India with the same leverage that software contributed to India’s development during the early 90’s. With large population, requirement of affordable healthcare, Indian companies that meet this requirement becomes relevant in at least 65-70 countries.