(October 5, 2021) From a major in physics to a pioneer in genomics, Anu Acharya’s journey has traversed quite the trajectory over the years. The IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, who founded Mapmygenome over 20 years ago, has been pioneering genomics in the country ever since. The company’s flagship product Genomepatri helps you discover your genetic predisposition by building your gene profile. This in turn, helps you understand your susceptibility to different diseases and work towards preventing them.
Having been at the forefront of genomics for over 20 years, Acharya has been working to make personalized and preventive healthcare available to the masses. With a vision to touch 100 million lives, she established Mapmygenome back in 2013, heralding the advent of improved healthcare through genomics-based medicines in India and other neglected populations. In the recent past, the company has also been at the forefront of Covid testing with two approved labs in Hyderabad. With her work taking her places, Acharya was named in the 2018 W-power trailblazers list by Forbes and in 2011 was conferred the Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Acharya was also named by Red Herring Magazine in their list of 25 Tech Titans under 35 back in 2006.
We met with the dynamic hon minister @KTRTRS garu as part of the Covid kits(DirectDetect) donation drive along with @ZymoResearch.
I thought it apt for the witty & knowledgeable minister to be presented with a T-shirt #curiosityisinmyDNA. @mapmygenome @MinisterKTR pic.twitter.com/ledorLT2xy
— Anu Acharya (@anuacharya) October 2, 2021
The girl from Bikaner
Acharya was born in Bikaner and spent most of her life in Kharagpur, where her father worked as a Physics professor. As she spent her days in her father’s lab, Acharya was drawn to the subject and chose to obtain her Bachelors in Physics from IIT Kharagpur. In an interview with YourStory, she said, “I would hang out with my father in his physics lab and most of the people kept talking about science and technology. There was nothing else I could even think of. We didn’t have TVs or mobile phones; we only read and our birthday gifts were either books or a science kit.”
In 1995, she moved to the US for her Masters in Physics and MIS (Management Information Systems) from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her shift to Information Systems happened as it combined her love for computer science and management studies. “When I was a child, I wanted to be a physicist. But by time I was in my second year in IIT, information systems seemed more exciting – it was a mix of business acumen and computer science,” she said.
She began her career as a team leader at Mantis Information, a Chicago-based startup, before moving on to SEI Information, a tech consulting firm, as a consultant. For Acharya those were exciting times as she spent days and nights brainstorming and coming up with and running codes.
Engineer turned entrepreneur
By early 2000 this Global Indian had moved back to Hyderabad in India and decided to launch her own company. She decided to team up with her husband Subhash Lingareddy and a relative Sujatha Pami, a relative with a background in genomics, to launch Ocimum Bio Solutions. Though registered in the US, it operated out of Hyderabad. This was the time the human genome was being sequenced and Acharya was in the thick of all the action. Building the team though was a whole other ball game for not many were qualified at the time for genomics and bioinformatics. So, what Acharya and her co-founders did was tie up with University of Michigan and University of Alabama to create certificate courses.
As things took off, Ocimum competed with MNCs like Accenture, and the team would pull all-nighters to finish products for clients in less than a third of the time. Some of their products such as Oppgene, which optimizes the genes that you are looking at, are used by several companies even today. Soon Ocimum was also taking over other smaller companies. In an interview with Humans of Data, Acharya recalled how they made their first takeover. “This happened in 2005, we were a small company, not even a million dollars in revenue. We were in the process of acquiring a customer who would have given our revenue a big boost. Suddenly, they went through some financial trouble, and one day I got a call from their CEO asking whether we would be interested in buying their company. It was a strange shift, from pitching for their business to being in a position to buy them out. On that phone call itself I said, ‘Sure, that sounds great’. That one decision had a big impact on the company. It’s not the way small companies make such decisions, but I did it. On the other hand, because we were a small company, we could jump at that opportunity. A larger company would have taken much, much longer. Though I should tell you, in the end the numbers also made sense!”
Ocimum was essentially a software company that built bioinfomatics and sequence analytics software. It soon became one of the largest service providers in the space in the world, however, most of the data it collected was of Caucasians. Since India didn’t have the same access as the West, the amount of data available on the Indian genome was rather limited. That is when Acharya decided to set up Mapmygenome in 2013.
The company started off with different markers, writing algorithms for risk prediction, genetic components etc. Gradually, they also began getting research material for Indian data sets and that’s how Genomepatri came about. Today, the product detects over 100 conditions; when they first started, they would do 30 to 40. Mapmygenome has now tied up with several hospitals and laboratories.
Today, the company is a leading molecular diagnostics company that leverages state-of-the-art DNA sequencing and SNP Genotyping technologies coupled with latest research to screen for genetic predisposition and diagnose complex genetic disorders. Some of its popular products include Genomepatri, MedicaMap, Myfitgene, BRcaMap, Whole genome and BabyMap Mapmygenome.
Acharya, who was recently conferred the Pride of Telangana award, has been ensuring that Mapmygenome has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 testing with two approved labs in Hyderabad. Recently, the company also handed over one lakh COVID test kits to the Telangana government as part of their initiative with Zymo Research. The initiative aims to donate one million such kits across the country. The kits include the new DNA/RNA shield – Direct Detect reagent which makes testing for covid and collecting samples safer and significantly reduces testing time as well.