Over the years, innovators have been trying to create ways for digital and medical technologies to converge, to enable newer and better diagnostic solutions for the healthcare industry. The advances in the digital industry now provide the healthcare industry with tools that can be redesigned and re-engineered for more cost-effective solutions in the imaging and diagnostics space. Delhi-based J. Mitra & Company has been focusing on creating cost-effective and mobile solutions for the Indian medical industry. The company’s latest invention, the iQuant analyser, addresses the shortage of low cost medical test equipment in local diagnostic centres.
By Paromik Chakraborty
The dearth of low cost medical equipment often renders local medical centres incapable of providing quick test reports and medication to patients. Those that have the facilities, often charge high fees to patients because of the huge investments made in the diagnostic machines. Besides, the restricted availability of such facilities results in poor delivery of timely healthcare to semi-urban and rural areas. Time consuming procedures sometimes result in delays of up to 48 hours for generating reports. The lack of portable machines forces patients to travel to distant locations. And the complexity of the machines requires skilled personnel to run the tests, apart from the need for 24×7 electricity leading to higher operational costs for the medical centres. All these challenges motivated the J. Mitra team to design iQuant.
Jatin Mahajan, MD, J. Mitra, says, “My father, Lalit Mahajan, and I are research and innovation-driven people. We constantly deliberate on how we can make our solutions more affordable and accessible. Recognising the various shortfalls in India’s disease-detection and diagnostics system, we decided to work towards a solution that would reach out to the masses rather than the masses having to reach out to it.”
Mahajan and his team prepared their business blueprint and reached out to Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre (HTIC), a multi-disciplinary R&D centre jointly set up by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), government of India. They collaborated to create a point-of-care diagnostic instrument that could rapidly read quantitative test kits and provide a numerical value of the test results in less time. The R&D and design work by J. Mitra and HTIC led to the creation of iQuant.
The beta version of iQuant was launched in December 2017 to test the product and evaluate its potential in the Indian market. The official launch took place in August 2018. Currently, iQuant supports eight diagnostic tests — the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T3 (Tri-iodothyronine), T4 (Thyroxin), Vitamin D, Dengue NS1 antigen, Dengue IgM, Dengue IgG and the HbA1c test, the results of which can be made available in 10-45 minutes.
Healthcare specialists, medical practitioners and diagnostics solutions providers form the target group for iQuant—especially in rural areas, remote locations and settings with limited resources. The product is scaled for small and medium labs, and hence its compact desktop form factor. It allows doctors to quickly diagnose suspected ailments, and as a result, offer quicker treatment leading to faster recovery.
Mahajan adds, “From an end-beneficiary perspective, it is about reaching out to all those patients and diagnostics-seekers who find it extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive to receive quality diagnostics solutions in their vicinity. The iQuant analyser uses test kits created specifically for Indian conditions.
How it works
The iQuant analyser is an immunofluorescence assay reader, which follows the biomedical principle of detecting fluorescence emissions from fluorescent immunoassays. A modern fluorescent immunoassay uses, as the detection reagent, a fluorescent compound which absorbs light or energy (excitation energy) at a specific wavelength and then emits light or energy at a different wavelength.
iQuant consists of a lateral-flow immunofluorescence assay test kit-reader (the test kits were also developed by HTIC and J. Mitra). It captures the fluorescence created by the chemical reaction occurring on the test kit with the help of a specially designed optics module (which houses optical elements, and a photo sensor), and applies the necessary calibration information to convert the electrical signal into the final result.
The advantage of the design lies in its portable, lightweight form factor. The device weighs about 2kg and has a 1-hour battery back-up in case of power failure. Its inbuilt memory stores up to 100,000 patient records. A processor unit enables quick report generation. The results can be viewed on a 25.4 cm intuitive touchscreen display. Data can be transferred to a proprietary cloud facility (iQCloud) or can be printed wirelessly using a Bluetooth printer.
Beating the odds
Building a single system to analyse different kinds of test kits, that too in an ergonomic and economical form, was not an easy task. Mahajan recalls, “When we initially came up with the idea, just looking at the number of parameters that we were trying to tackle – lowering the cost of equipment and of the test results, shrinking the size of the equipment, increasing portability, improving ease of handling and scalability, increasing the number of tests it could handle, etc – all this made us sceptical about our ambitions. But we already had a very potent ally in HTIC (IIT Madras). Both of us hit the ground running, from Day One.”
The beta launch phase allowed the teams to further iron out the minor flaws and limitations, enabling them to optimise the solution. iQuant is being manufactured under the guidance of HTIC. Mahajan informs, “We do face operational challenges because the components have to be sourced globally, as currently, there is no ecosystem in India.”
The team at J. Mitra also ensures stringent quality control and has a zero-error tolerance policy. The product meets the quality requirements for certifications like ISO 9001:2015, EN ISO 13485:2016, WHO-GMP and CE.
Expanding the market
J. Mitra is currently offering iQuant to the Indian market only, having sold over 400 units in the first four months, since the official launch. “Demand far exceeds our production capacity, currently. So, we will only focus on international markets after we have fulfilled local demand,” says Mahajan. J Mitra already has export channels to over 45 countries across Europe, Latin America, the Middle-East, Africa, the SAARC nations and South East Asia, as well as the US and UK. These will eventually help the company to get the iQuant analyser to customers abroad.
While there are no immediate upgrades planned for iQuant, future plans are to enhance automation to further improve ease of use. J. Mitra may also consider increasing the number of test parameters (diagnostics) that iQuant can handle. With a patent for iQuant filed jointly by J. Mitra and HTIC, the company aims to change the face of India’s healthcare sector.