Could you give us a brief of Atrimed and your journey in Karnataka?
Atrimed Biotech is the company that I founded with the support and help of my mentors with a vision to revolutionize Phyto molecule research. There are many companies that claim to do research but there is none that work at the level of cell signaling pathways, protein or ligand binding, molecular level of activity of plants like us. Atrimed Biotech is one of the rarest of rare companies that works with plant chemistry, biology, and cutting-edge technology like bioinformatics. So, it is a unique company that we founded in 2016 and we have come a long way in the past four years to the stage of creating therapeutic products for human use that have global acceptance.
We are currently working in the field of developing anti-virals for SAARS CoV2, inflammation that concerns many autoimmune diseases like Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc, atherosclerosis, cancer biology, immune-modulation, anti-aging, etc
Atrimed Biotech has been selected as one of the top 100 technology-based startups. Tell us about the rationale of the company and your role.
I am the founder of Atrimed Biotech and lead the research team. Our basic rationale is to solve the unmet needs of human healthcare by developing highly effective and safe plant-based products using advanced scientific technologies.
We have broadly 3 teams, Bioinformatics that evaluates the activities of plant molecules against a host of disease targets in silico, Biology team that works on microbiology, in vitro studies, molecular biology and Medicinal chemistry department that works with plant extraction, isolation, and characterization.
The advanced computational biology and computational chemistry techniques that we use for drug development are very unique. The extensive plant molecular library that we have is probably one of its kind in the world. This gives us an immense advantage in evaluating a huge number of plants with untapped therapeutic potential.
We have collaborated with various institutes of repute for in vivo studies to assess and establish the safety and toxicity of our products.
As you know, the state has invested heavily in R&D and innovation facilities. Could you tell us about how Atrimed has benefited?
I would say Karnataka should be called the science and R&D hub of India because the whole ecosystem in Karnataka is science and research-friendly. Government initiatives are extremely encouraging. We are benefitted directly and indirectly. The direct benefit is to have so many incubation centers like BBC, IBAB, etc where you can get a bench space to start with as little as Rs.10,000/- and have access to high-end labs at a very reasonable price.
We are fortunate to be incubated at Bangalore Bioinnovation Center, thanks to Karnataka Government and its initiative to support scientific growth. Indirectly we enormously benefit from having access to a world-class knowledge pool in having scientific institutes like NCBS, IISC, IBAB, C-camp, BBC, etc. Another advantage is accessibility to suppliers for various R&D works like assay kits or equipment from all across the globe. You name it; we have their representative here in Bangalore. This expedites and eases the work process significantly.
What state partnerships, policies, and programs have Atrimed found most useful?
The state partnership is of the greatest help to us primarily. It is the state partnership with BBC that helped us to have our space and get access to excellent lab facility without which we could not have come this far. It has helped us to get access to various mentorship and training programs conducted by allied centers like KBITS, IISc, etc. Secondly, the Elevate program by the Government of Karnataka of which we were the winners of 2017, was a huge shot in the arm in our growth. This initiative provides financial assistance to 100 innovators every year. I doubt if any other state has such a program. It is also heartening to see the concerned ministers equally participate and support the progress of our innovation. We were also fortunate to represent India a Global-Bio twice, once at Philadelphia and then at Boston through the recommendation by the state government and BBC. In short, we have hugely benefitted from the state policies and programs towards research and innovation. Hope the encouragement continues to grow.
As a woman leader in STEM, what are the steps we can take up to encourage more women to be part of the ecosystem?
Science and technology are the pillars of any economy. STEM is the driver for a robust economy. It’s where innovation and creativity occur. It is also the place where we can solve problems and make a difference in the world at large. Sadly, women are largely underrepresented in the STEM field all over the globe and the scenario is not different in India. Representation is the key. We don’t know Janaki Ammal or Lise Meitner as much as Einstein or Charles Darwin! We need to inculcate the habit of representing and highlighting impactful women contributors in STEM. For. eg. Asima Chatterji, Dr. Aditi Pant, or Gertrude
B Elion. It is a welcoming gesture that our Government has chosen to name STEM chairs after 11 women scientists. This should be popularized across the educational institutions, through the curriculums. They should be represented on the board too. I am proud to say that our company boasts of women directors and an increased ratio of women scientists as employees. More group mentorships for women to stay and sustain in the field of STEM helps.
An extensive scholarship program for women in STEM is desirable. Diverse possibilities of opportunities in STEM should be discussed at school and college levels. The scientific mindset should be developed at a very young age in society. Progressive states like ours can surely be the pioneer in fostering women in the field of STEM. Personally, being a woman never hindered my presence or participation in the work. In fact, it has only helped in looking at the problem in a more balanced and holistic way. I believe that the team reflects the character of the leader. I strive to work towards improving the knowledge pool and foster an ecosystem that breeds thinking and inquisitive minds. I am equally fortunate to have teammates who breathe and live science!
Were there any important mentors or influencers in your life that led you to your current position?
I owe my gratitude to all my teachers who instilled the scientific mindset. I Especially I thank Dr. Shiban Ganju, and my husband, Dr. Hrishikesh Damle both being doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs themselves, for mentoring my every step. I also thank my parents for nurturing me in a progressive, genderunbiased environment.
What advice would you give a young woman starting out in her career?
Any career to grow into the desired form that you dreamed of: needs 3Ps –Patience, Perseverance and Positivity. Being also a clinician, I see women easily neglecting their health over their ambitions or responsibilities. Importance of physical and mental health should be imbibed from the young age itself. Remember, only a healthy mind and body can think clearly It is also important to acquire trans-disciplinary knowledge needed in one’s business. More you know, stronger you are. Knowledge has its significant advantage
What advice would you give a woman going into a leadership position for the first time?
Be more empathetic, focus on teamwork, and reduce stress and anxiety. Dream big. Don’t just believe, don’t just ask, try to find out the solutions.
Try to inspire and motivate. Women, by nature, are known to balance multiple tasks. This should help to handle the crisis better
What are the biggest challenges facing women leaders today?
In general, women are expected to fare better, and more is expected from them. They need to be considered equal. Like in any field one has to face general, societal gender stereotype expectations. However, this is far better compared to yesteryears owing to increased participation by women and a slow paradigm shift into progressive thinking in the society
Participation by women and a slow paradigm shift into progressive thinking in the society
Future looks extremely promising and bright. While I am telling this, we have been selected for Top 500 global start ups by Asia’s deep tech start-up platform and we are on our way to win one in 100. We hope to establish multiple facilities and our own state of the art lab with manufacturing facility. We will also have distribution and marketing team in Karnataka. We hope to continue working and growing in the field of human healthcare creating more effective products than the average herbal products in the market. With the growing demand for natural products, our future looks very encouraging and favorable.