Updated on 23 October 2012
Dr Sarita Kumble and Dr Anand Kumble of Pictor
New Zealand-based Dr Sarita Kumble and Dr Anand Kumble wanted to create an affordable diagnostic test platform that could be deployed in those parts of the world with the highest need. The two, who completed their PhD from Mumbai, India, also had first-hand experience of the Indian healthcare system to know that improving healthcare among the rural and urban poor of developing nations required technologies and products that are extremely cost-effective, simple-to-use and readily available.
This led them to develop PictArrays, a propriety clinical diagnostic technology that enables simple and cost-effective testing of blood for a number of diseases. "Asia is a diverse market in which laboratories use products ranging in sophistication from those manufactured by global giants for their closed, highly automated systems to manual strip tests made by small, local manufacturers. We wanted to provide products that were as reliable as those from the global leaders at a cost that would make them accessible to small laboratories," says Dr Anand Kumble.
The duo started their company, Pictor, in 2006 to develop and commercialize this proprietary technology. PictArrays allows eight tests to be done simultaneously with a single drop of blood. Also, a low cost reader using either a web cam or a cell phone camera has been specially designed to obtain the test results.
The Kumbles worked at Stanford University in California, US, for a few years after their PhD and then with some biotechnology companies before moving to New Zealand. The experience came handy when they started out on their project to develop the technology. Dr Anand Kumble had trained in enzymology with Nobel Laureate Prof Arthur Kornberg while Dr Sarita Kumble had worked with renowned gastroenterologist, Dr George Triadafilopoulos, identifying early markers of esophageal cancer.
They wrote a business plan and used pitching skills honed in the tough Silicon Valley venture capital arena to attract a band of New Zealand investors and raised $90,000. This amount was matched by a New Zealand government research grant. The New Zealand government has continued to support Pictor since with grants matching the amounts raised through investment. The first investment was used to set up the company in a garage to keep costs low, while demonstrating the proof-of-concept and filing the initial technology patent at the US Patent and Technology Office, which they accomplished at the end of the first year.