Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni shares the story of establishing a start-up amidst the COVID-19 lockdown
- September 22, 2020
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Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni is a seasoned molecular biologist with more than 16 years of experience. In 2018, he co-founded EdubioSkills, a startup focused on transforming the way biology is taught across schools, universities, research labs and diagnostic centres. During the COVID-19 lockdown, witnessing how our nation was brought to a standstill by the pandemic, Dr. Prabhakar was driven to do something about it. He decided to establish a company developing kits for COVID-19 testing amidst the lockdown. Though a gruelling task, he and his team persevered and successfully commenced operations in May 2020. Discover more exciting details of his journey below.
Team Microlit: Hello Dr. Prabhakar, how are you? Please share a little bit about yourself and your start-up, NeoDx Biotech Labs.
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: Hello, I am good, thank you for asking. I am a molecular biologist and an expert in in-vitro diagnostics. I hold a Ph.D in nanotechnology.I co-founded NeoDx in May 2020. It’s a molecular diagnostic company, involved in the manufacturing of RNA Extraction Kits & RT-PCR Detection Kits for COVID-19 testing. These kits are approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Team Microlit: It’s amazing to learn that NeoDx was founded amidst the lockdown! So, what was it like to establish a company during a difficult time like this one? We’d love to know more about that.
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: Well, it was not easy. We are immensely thankful to have received the right support at the right stages. We are incubated in Bengaluru by an innovation hub called the Bangalore Bioinnovation centre. It’s the Karnataka government’s initiative and without it, I can’t imagine our company developing the kits for COVID-19 testing. I would also like to thank the police officials who were on duty during the lockdown. Not once did they halt us for longer than necessary at checkpoints and were cooperative enough to provide us with a pass.
Team Microlit: Inspiring! We are glad to learn that NeoDx is contributing to the country’s fight against COVID-19 by manufacturing RNA Extraction Kits & RT-PCR Detection Kits. How did you come up with the idea to work on these products?
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: As I mentioned earlier, I am a molecular biologist with expertise in in-vitro diagnostics. Throughout my career, I have developed assays for malaria, tuberculosis and a range of infectious diseases. Since COVID-19 falls in the latter category, we decided to develop detection kits for the same.
Team Microlit: That’s great! So, how did you go about making the RNA Extraction Kits & RT-PCR Detection Kits?
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: We didn’t have a production facility initially. Setting one up and getting the relevant ISO certifications was quite a task but we did that successfully and immediately commenced working on the RNA Extraction Kits and the RT-PCR Detection Kits.
Team Microlit: How do these kits exactly work?
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: The extraction and the detection kits are used in an RT-PCR Test. It’s a screening as well as a confirmatory test. It targets 4 genes – 3 genes of the COVID-19 virus and 1 human gene – in a simple assay in a single tube that just takes around an hour. RNA is isolated using RNA Extraction Kits and then amplified. At the end of the hour, the presence or absence of COVID-19 virus is detected.
Team Microlit: Interesting. How did you ascertain the accuracy of the kits and what measures do you undertake to ensure that it stays high?
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: The kits have been validated by multiple centres. ICMR has also found them 100% specific and 98% sensitive. To maintain their performance & accuracy, we conduct all our procedures in accordance with the guidelines of ISO 13485.
Team Microlit: How long have you been associated with Microlit? Which product of ours do you use and for what purpose?
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: I believe that we have been associated with you since 2015. We are currently using Microlit Lilpets (mini fixed volume micropipettes) and Microlit Beatus Bottle Top Dispenser. Out of these, we predominantly use Lilpets.
Team Microlit: Great. So, would you like to share some thoughts with the young researchers/peers out there or the people around you?
Dr. Prabhakar Kulkarni: Yes, definitely. I’d advise everyone to be flexible and open to discovering opportunities even in unfavourable circumstances. Adaptation is the key. When time demands contribution and if we are capable of contributing positively, we should definitely give our best shot.