Shaping the future of personalised medicine

Dr. Jugnu Jain

Dr. Jugnu Jain


Hyderabad-based biotech startup Sapien Biosciences aims to leverage patient samples and data for advanced diagnostics and treatment through AI and ML

Hyderabad-based Sapien Biosciences, a frontrunner in personalised medicine, aims to transform India’s healthcare landscape. In an interview with Hans India, Dr. Jugnu Jain, the co-founder, shares insights into the company’s inception and its groundbreaking vision. “Recognising the absence of a comprehensive multi-disease biobank in India, essential for understanding disease biology, I was driven to ‘be the change I wished to see,” says Dr. Jain, reflecting on the company’s founding principles. With a vision to revolutionise clinical diagnostics and treatment outcomes, Sapien aims to leverage ‘medical waste’ for ‘medical innovation’. Dr. Jain envisions Sapien as a premier biotech company, utilising advanced technologies like AI and ML to improve treatment efficacy and affordability.

What inspired you to co-found Sapien Biosciences, and how does the company aim to revolutionise the field of personalised medicine in India?

Being a charter member of TiE-Boston sparked my interest in entrepreneurship and engaging with passionate social entrepreneurs through Ashoka further fueled my desire to create something impactful. Recognising the absence of a comprehensive multi-disease biobank in India, essential for understanding disease biology, I was driven to ‘be the change I wished to see’.

Can you share some insights into the challenges you've faced while establishing and scaling Sapien Biosciences, particularly in ensuring compliance with ethical and regulatory guidelines?

Embarking on this unique venture presented numerous challenges. Personally and professionally, it was a significant adjustment returning to India after 26 years abroad. Introducing the concept of biobanking to India required clarifying the distinctions between biomedical research and clinical trials, stem cell banking, and organ transplantation to both stakeholders and ethics committees. Moreover, navigating the diverse workflows, data storage systems, and administrative structures of different hospitals posed challenges in garnering their participation and integration.

Where do you see the future of Sapien Biosciences, and how does your vision align with the broader goals of advancing clinical diagnostics and improving patient treatment outcomes?

Our vision is to be a premier biotech company that upcycles ‘medical waste’ for ‘medical innovation’, creating impactful products and services that enhance the lives of patients. Given the large number of patients and high disease burden in India, there is a critical need for a biobank to store patient samples and data systematically in order to apply research towards personalised diagnostics and medications. Sapien biobank, with its digitized datasets and corresponding samples, allows for sophisticated solutions such as AI, ML, and digital pathology to improve the effectiveness and affordability of treatments. Aligned with the vision of digital India, well-curated databases are essential for shaping public policies and funding strategies that promote the health of our nation.

Can you elaborate on Sapien Biosciences' role in facilitating collaboration and knowledge-sharing among researchers, clinicians, and industry stakeholders to accelerate the development and adoption of personalised medicine approaches?

Sapien actively shares information through various publications, including two articles each on breast and lung cancers, as well as one on brain cancer. Additionally, two studies focusing on patients with stents and the customisation of their treatments have been released. Patient data is also presented at conferences in the form of talks and posters as well as by regular posts on LinkedIn to raise awareness about targeted therapies available for cancers.

What strategies does Sapien Biosciences employ to ensure the quality and integrity of the biospecimens and real-world data it provides to researchers and pharmaceutical companies?

Collecting patient data is very challenging due to its fragmented nature and various formats like PDFs, handwritten notes, physical registers etc. It requires significant effort and expertise to compile a patient's journey from such scattered sources. Sapien employs skilled post-graduate scientists who meticulously review and organise data gathered from different sources. Both the samples and data undergo rigorous quality checks before being utilised for any project. The high standard of work provided by Sapien is valued by clients, leading many to return for future projects.

How has the support and mentorship from organisations like TiE Hyderabad contributed to the growth and success of Sapien Biosciences?

In 2020, I emerged winner in the TiE-Hyderabad women entrepreneurs competition, leading to increased recognition as a founder. The following year, I participated in the TiE-global competition, where I had the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of entrepreneurs from various industries. Witnessing their innovative presentations and observing their resilience in the face of obstacles was incredibly enlightening. Through this experience, I have also had the pleasure of networking with many TiE-Hyderabad charter and regular members.

How do you see Sapien Biosciences impacting the broader economic region and its growth, particularly in terms of job creation, research and development investments, and contributions to healthcare innovation?

For the past 12 years, Sapien has been instrumental in creating job opportunities for highly talented youth. Nearly 75 per cent of our workforce consists of women who thrive in an environment that promotes work-life balance and offers equal pay for equal work. Sapien's commitment to providing training has benefited over 150 interns, enabling many to pursue higher education or secure employment opportunities. Notably, Sapien stands out as a healthcare innovator and proudly represented India at the Global Entrepreneur Summit in the Netherlands in 2019. In 2020, I was honored to receive the 'Women Transforming India' award by the Niti Aayog.

Looking ahead, what are your long-term goals and aspirations for Sapien Biosciences, and how do you envision the company's role in driving innovation, improving patient outcomes, and shaping the future of personalised medicine globally?

Sapien has emerged as India's largest biobank and ranking among the top 10 globally. With Asian genomic data making up less than 5 per cent of the total, Sapien is uniquely positioned to bridge this gap through our extensive experience in ethical and multicentric biobanking of over a decade. The shift towards non-communicable diseases has become more prominent with increasing life expectancy, surpassing infectious diseases. Understanding the genetics of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular-diabetes, chronic kidney, liver, and lung conditions, as well as analysing current treatment outcomes, is crucial. This knowledge can inform public health policies, promote early detection, and enhance treatment effectiveness. Sapien aspires to lead in Indian population-level genomics and become a hub of omics-derived knowledge, akin to the UK Biobank. In addition to omics, Sapien is also developing a digital library of pathology slides to support the creation of predictive algorithms that can enhance the survival rates of cancer patients through the application of ML, AI and digital imaging technologies.

(World Trade Center Shamshabad& Visakhapatnam have joined hands with TiE Hyderabad to start a new startup series wherein prominent entrepreneurs will be featured. This is the 2nd interview under the series)

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