Pranav Chopra, a product development engineer, and Neeraj Kumar, an industrial designer, were complete strangers when they met at the Stanford-India Biodesign Innovation fellowship programme held at AIIMs, Delhi, in 2014. Six years later, they are giving finishing touches to a medical device that has the potential to significantly improve the lives of ostomates globally.
Ostomates, usually colo-rectal cancer survivors or those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, have the infected part of the colon removed through surgery. The healthy end is brought out through an opening on the abdomen called a stoma through which faeces exit the body. In the absence of a better alternative, the stool is collected in a bag. Since ostomates have no control over bowel movements, there is continuous discharge of stool, which makes the bag a permanent fixture in their lives.
Apart from undermining a person’s self-image and restricting his mobility, the current practice also leads to skin excoriations in nearly 80 per cent users. These are caused due to leakage around the stoma, with the skin coming in contact with faeces.
For more than 2 million ostomates globally, including at least 3 lakh in India, the lack of access to an efficient excretion management technique has deeply impacted their physical and emotional health while casting a shadow on their social life.
Pranav and Neeraj, co-founders of Crimson Healthcare, a New Delhi-based startup, have come up with a novel and patented solution called SphinX that does away with the constant use of the bag. Made of bio-compatible silicone rubber, a part of the short catheter-like device is inserted into the stoma. The user can open and close the device through the visible portion, a handle so to speak, sticking to the skin.
“By allowing an individual to regain control over bowel evacuation, our innovation has addressed a fundamental problem faced by ostomates,” says Pranav who has more than 10 years of international experience in medical device development.
Evacuation can happen two-three times a day. “It’s simple and hassle-free. The user temporarily attaches a bag to the device to clear the intestine,” says Neeraj who had worked in various domains of healthcare and assistive technology projects for over 9 years before teaming up with Pranav. The device needs to be changed in 28 days, he adds.
The idea of SphinX was conceived at the Stanford-India Biodesign, now called School of International Biodesign (SiB). Supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India, the programme is a collaboration between All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and international partners. The product is licensed to Crimson Healthcare by Biotech Consortium India Limited, New Delhi.
SiB is a needs-driven innovation fellowship focussing on medical device innovation. The programme exposed the innovators to the healthcare environment and gave them an opportunity to observe how healthcare is delivered.
“The purpose was to watch closely where the real problems were,” says Pranav who was part of a team comprising Neeraj and Dr Deevish N Dinakara, a plastic surgeon with a keen interest in medical devices. “This was followed by a series of steps in which these observations were evaluated in a scientific manner based on several criteria,” he informs.
Broadly speaking, the guiding principles of evaluation were: The problem’s impact; the commercial potential of the solution; if a team has the requisite skills to address the problem; and whether the problem has largely been ignored by innovators.
Pranav estimates the global ostomy/stoma care and accessories market size to be nearly USD 3 billion with India accounting for 50 million dollars. But more than the business potential, what spurred the innovators to embark on the journey was the plight of Neeraj’s brother who was undergoing the same set of problems. At the age of 24, he was suffering from ulcerative colitis, which required the removal of the colon.
The founders have a lot going for them. SphinX is now ready for clinical evaluation. Human trials are scheduled to begin in the next few weeks. The med tech company has already raised capital from Social Alpha and Mumbai Angels Network.
Why Social Alpha invested in Crimson
Crimson drew Social Alpha’s attention when it won the Social Alpha Quest for Healthcare Innovation (SAQHI), jointly organised by Tata Trusts-PATH Impact Lab and Social Alpha in 2018. More importantly, SphinX fitted the bill in terms of social impact, tech innovation, sustainability, and scalability – the four parameters that forms the basis of Social Alpha’s engagement with a product or a service.
Crimson’s product has drastically improved the quality of life of ostomates by giving more autonomy to users. The innovation has brought about a paradigm shift in stoma management. Earlier, the improvements mostly revolved around enhancing the quality of the bag. With SphinX, the entrepreneurs also addressed the problems of skin excoriation that happened due to the faeces coming in contact with the skin owing to an ill-fitting appliance or possibly an allergy to the appliance.
Throughout the product’s journey, the professionalism, skillset and vision of the entrepreneurs have been unwavering. SphinX has been backed by multiple reputed agencies, which greatly enhanced its reputation. This explains why even during the pandemic, when funders are busy tightening their purse strings, Crimson managed to raise Rs 2.9 crore. Lastly, by planning to offer competitive pricing, the entrepreneurs want to make the product more inclusive.
Life after an ostomy surgery is never easy but SphinX can bring a spring in the step of ostomates around the world.