Major Programs under
Grand Challenges India (GCI) program is the flagship program managed by the PMU at BIRAC for the Department of Biotechnology and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnership.
GCI is the Indian arm of the Global Grand Challenges program launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Foundation launched Grand Challenges, as Grand Challenges in Global health in 2003, to focus on 14 major scientific challenges that if solved, could lead to improving the health of people in the developing world. Today, Grand Challenges has awarded 44 grants with a total funding of over $450 million across 33 countries for research projects during the course of its existence. The scope of the program has also expanded over the last decade to include challenges to global development along with global health.
Grand Challenges India was launched with the aim of fostering Indian innovation and research to develop affordable and sustainable solutions to improve health, in India and across the globe.
The ambit of Grand Challenges India is varied and includes health and development priorities. These include; maternal and child health, infectious diseases, vaccines, point-of-care diagnostics, agricultural development, food and nutrition, among others.
GCI is committed to seeking and rewarding both established researchers and young entrepreneurs, and other innovators, with the overall goal of expanding the pipeline of ideas for developing new preventive and curative therapies, piloting new technologies, and researching new ideas.
GCI supports projects under specific calls or programs by providing financial support in the form of grants, cooperative agreements and contracts, which are co-funded by the partner organizations or funded individually. PMU-BIRAC is responsible for managing these projects and providing technical and financial oversight.
The following are the three Grand Challenges India calls managed by the PMU at BIRAC. Please click on the individual links for more details on each.
Healthy Birth, Growth and Development knowledge Integration- India
Wellcome Trust Affordable Healthcare in India and Innovation Awards
Grand Challenges Exploration-India
The Grand Challenges Exploration-India (GCE-India) is one of the pathbreaking programs under Grand Challenges India (GCI) initiative. This fast-track program is aimed at identifying, nurturing and encouraging innovative ideas to create novel, indigenous technologies to improve the public health situation in India. Although, GCE-India mirrors the global GCE program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in its mandates, being India-centric, it also addresses challenges that are specific to the Indian health ecosystem.
As grantees are supported for 18 months to the tune of $100,000 to test their idea and generate initial evidence, the calls for application only requires a two-page proposal on the basis of which ideas are chosen. The ultimate goal is the quest for new medical technology devices, drug delivery systems, diagnostics, and technology enabled service models that can potentially be made available to people from all socio-economic strata.
The award is open for all spheres of scientific community, ranging from academia (faculty, postdocs/researchers in colleges/ universities/government laboratories/ institutions) to industry (large corporates, small-medium enterprises, start-ups), non-governmental organizations as well as non-profit organization, and Individual researchers. The two-page proposals are evaluated for novelty, societal impact, alignment with the goals of the partners, affordability to end user, sustainability, execution capability.
The outreach of GCE-India calls is collaboratively done by PMU-BIRAC (managing partner) and IKP team (the implementing partner). The calls are publicized in all major newspapers (all India Editions). The emails blasts are done from the BIRAC, IKP and ABLE database. The call promotion is also done through stall at various BIRAC and IKP events. The PMU-BIRAC and IKP team collectively organises the road shows for call outreach.
For all the applications received under this call, the initial eligibility triage is done by by PMU-BIRAC (managing partner) and IKP team (the implementing partner). All eligible proposals received are appraised by three experts on the scale of 1-10 on 6 criteria namely Novelty, Feasibility (technical), Sustainability (cost to user against current/new alternatives), Accessibility (ease of deployment in low-resource settings), Potential Impact, and Team Execution Effectiveness. For each reviewer the scores are normalized and the normalization process is conducted twice to select the applications for pitch presentation.
Since, inception (August 2015) four calls have been launched under this program and altogether 19 innovative ideas have been supported from a diverse domain of maternal and child health (MCH), health or behaviour change wearables, medical devices and diagnostics; technology enabled delivery systems for tackling various public health challenges, antimicrobial resistance and nutrition and agriculture.
The PMU-BIRAC in collaboration with IKP Knowledge park provides effective grants oversight, periodic review and monitoring throughout the life of the grant. Monitoring involves both financial and milestones review. The team maintains a grant tracker for reviewing each milestone date to assess compliance, and document any deviations. The tracker is shared with the awardee for regular updates and the fund disbursements are done after evaluation of proposed milestones.
Round and Launch
Number of awards made
Round-1 Call, May -June, 2016
Two (2) awards
Round-2 Call, January – February, 2017
Five (5) awards
Round-3 Call, July – August, 2017
Five (5) awards
Round-4 Call, February – March, 2018
Seven (7) awards
Round-5 Call, January
Received 703 applications, under review
Round -1: Two projects were recommended for funding support
1. Title of the project: Novel tool for surveillance of antimicrobial resistance among urinary tract infections seen in primary care settings
Organization: OmiX Research and Diagnostics Laboratories Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore
The project is focussed on developing a point of care antimicrobial resistance (AMR) test and polymer card combined with a phone-based surveillance system to detect and track AMR molecular signatures in primary care settings or settings where access to AMR testing is currently unavailable. The project intends to develop proof-of-concept for detection of AMR in urinary tract infections (UTI), establish and validate a 5-gene AMR signature assay in the proposed AMR test. Target genes are CTX-M-15 for Cephalosporin resistance, NDM-I for Carbapenem resistance and Fosfomycin resistance, genes fosA, fosA3, fosB for antibiotic stewardship of Fosfomycin.
The test is intended to be demonstrated on the proprietary polymer card with the results comparable to an in-lab assay. The smart-phone application for AMR surveillance will be deployed on at least 3 smart-phones and tested in 10 locations. The entire system will be deployed at one primary health center.
2. Title of the project: miRNAs as Evaluation Biomarker of Tuberculosis Treatment Response
Organization: International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi (ICGEB)
The project proposes to identify miRNA patterns and their correlation with the TB treatments response, treatment outcome and possible resistance generation. miRNAs are stable, small RNAs of 18-25 nucleotides that orchestra the immune response by inhibiting mRNA translation leading to mRNA target degradation. The selected miRNA pattern will be a valuable evaluation biomarker to predict response to anti-TB therapy, distinguish fast and slow responders to treatment and thereby offer early information to predict possible drug resistance development or individualised shorter drug regimens.
Circulating miRNAs patterns are promising molecular markers for diverse pathological conditions and may aid in diagnosis, prognosis and monitoring treatment response. Patients will be followed up during their course of treatment with first line anti-TB drugs, and the team will isolate, sequence, identify and quantitate circulating miRNAs in sputum and plasma of these individuals at one month, two month and 6/9 months of treatment.
miRNA patterns will be identified as potential biomarker as per Receiver Operating Characteristics (ROC), to identify quantitative patterns of circulating human miRNAs which can be used as early biomarker to predict outcome of the anti-TB drug therapy.
Round -2: Five projects were recommended for funding support.
1. Title of the project: A portable brain scanner with tele monitoring platform for detection and management of neonatal HIE
Organization: Arogya Medtech Pvt Ltd, Kolkata
The project focusses on developing- CEREBROS- a device which is a modular unit that combines electroencephalography (EEG) and near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to identify signatures and an Internet of Things (IOT) component integrated with a telemonitoring platform. This allows continuous remote monitoring of cerebral hypoxia and seizures and early detection and management of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) at point-of-care. The device is in the form of a wearable cap over the head of the neonates. The device will also consist of a multivariate classifier incorporating quantitative EEG metrics and cerebral oximetry metrics, which will identify disease specific patterns that can be presented remotely by a neonatologist simultaneously in voice, text, pictures or video or animations.
In the first phase an observational study including 60 infants will be conducted- term new-borns delivered at gestational age higher than 36 weeks and with birth weight higher than 1800 g admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) of the two centres (30 infants per centre). Use of the telemonitoring module would also validate the feasibility of structured multimodal delivery of clinical guidelines at the point of care setting. The device will be used for continuous data collection for 72 hours. The device has been proposed to be provided to care providers, both Public and Private, under an affordable Rental or Pay-per-use model.
The device would provide an easy to use alternative to structural imaging using CT or MRI that has better sensitivity and specificity especially for neonates or infants less than 2 years old.
2. Title of the project: Glucometer used by diabetics for economical HIV viral loading testing in resource limited settings
Organization: Wobble Base Bioresearch Private Limited, Surat, Gujarat
The study intends to develop a glucometer to detect HIV (Viral) RNA. The existing three major methodologies for viral load quantitation are the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, the nucleic acid sequence-based amplification and branched chain DNA (bDNA) technique, require sophisticated infrastructure and reagents that generate high priced tests (>50 USD per test) which are often not feasible for use in resource limited settings.
The proposed assay involves amplification of viral RNA and its detection by the use of glucometer. RNA from lysed viral particles in serum is trapped using specially designed device containing padded silica-coated filter paper, ethanol washed and eluted for reverse transcription which is subsequently amplified using Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) based method. The amplified cDNA is then captured onto streptavidin coated magnetic beads coated with specific capture-probe and concentrate HIV targets. This is then hybridized to complementary DNA-invertase enzyme conjugate to make HIV cDNA-DNA-invertase complex. This complex is added to sucrose solution to generate glucose through hydrolysis by invertase enzyme that is detected using glucose meter. The amount of glucose detected is a function of HIV copy number.
3.Title of the project: Rapid, personalized susceptibility test to accelerate AMR epidemiology study in remote settings
Organization: Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP), Bangalore
Anti-microbial Resistance is big healthcare challenge worldwide, more so in India. Through susceptibility assay, it is vital to study emergence of new AMR strain(s) in a community or geography especially during epidemics. Current susceptibility tests are not suitable for epidemiological study & transmission of AMR in remote settings of lower/middle income countries on global scale due to the requirement of sample transport, cost of instrument, cost of test and most importantly longer turnaround time. The device called Rapid Personalized Antibiotic Susceptibility Assay (r-PASA) is a DNA based assay with pH sensors on a microfluidics platform. Microfluidic channels have been chosen due to its suitability for rapid bacterial growth. Reaction mechanism involves the accumulation of organic acids as a function of bacterial growth which changes pH of growth medium. Since testing pH at microliter (<5 W) or nano-liter volumes is challenging the device includes a DNA sensor which has a C-rich segment that bears a donor fluorophore and a mismatched duplex positions an acceptor fluorophore far apart. At acidic pH, the mismatched duplex frays as the C-rich strand forms an imotif, bringing the two flourophores close together for a Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) reaction that can be monitored by fluorescence imaging. The microfluidic channels also use various classes of commonly used antibiotics in at different concentrations to be able to ascertain resistance and quantify at the same time. The have also designed a reader that can monitor the FRET reaction which will be integrated into the device.
4.Title of the project: Acousta - A Doppler Stethoscope for Fetal Monitoring
Organization: Brun Health Private Limited, Secundarabad, Telangana
The project intends to develop a Doppler stethoscope-Acousta which acts both as a standard annular Y-shaped stethoscope and as a Doppler stethoscope. The problem in auscultating the fetal heart to identify birth asphyxia among other fetal morbidities is the difficulty, skill and training needed while using a regular stethoscope. This is mitigated by active sensing systems like the fetal Doppler systems or cardiotocographs. However, these systems are a burden to carry in addition to a stethoscope. Alternatively, Electronic stethoscopes indicate clarity during auscultation but are predominantly targeted at specialties like cardiology while still passive in their approach to sensing physiology.
Acousta is a combinatorial yet different approach of both the above systems. The current functional prototype comprises of sensors implanted in a regular stethoscope head integrated with a complete custom-electronics solution to evaluate performance. The custom-electronics solution comprises a power management module, a demodulation module and signal conditioning system to provide a clean filtered output of the signal. In addition, preliminary work has been done to model vibrational acoustics and its responses for the stethoscope construction proposed.
5. Title of the project: High Throughput Electrical Detection of Malaria Infection in Single RBCs under Low Parasite Density
Organization: Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bangalore
The study proposes to use Resistive Pulse Technique (RPT) for Malaria detection based on the established fact that the Plasmodium Falciparum infected RBC are about 3 to 10 times stiffer than the normal RBC depending on the stage of parasite growth. Therefore, flow velocities of stiffer (infected RBC) and softer (normal RBC) cells can be easily distinguished in a simple fluidic channel using RPT. In this proposal the difference in these flow velocities would be electrically measured across a spatial constriction to accurately determine the infected stage of individual RBCs.
In the 18 months various aspects of the device would be optimized such as the probe tip, working pressure, point-of-care (POC) electronics and software for high throughput detection. They would also partner with few labs in other institute working on the malarial parasite to compare and contrast infected RBC detection between whole blood RBCs and isolated RBCs; low cost methods for RBC isolation from whole blood. At the end of 18 months they propose to build a portable electrical device capable of high sensitivity detection of 1 infected RBC per micro litre of blood and also identify a clinical partner to work with infected blood samples from patients.
Round-3: Five projects were recommended for funding support
1. Title of the project: A nutrition specific intervention – nutrient loaded face cream – to tackle iron and vitamin deficiency anaemia
Organization: Cerelia Nutritech Private Limited, West Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh
The study proposes a nutrition specific intervention loaded in the form of a lotion to tackle iron and vitamin deficient anaemia. The scope of the project is to develop a novel, cost-effective, transdermal multi-micronutrient delivery system as a lotion or a similar, an everyday used item in rural and urban population, thus giving it a unique positioning advantage to enable effective & efficient delivery to the last mile – end user. The final outcome is a platform transdermal technology that enables transdermal delivery of multiple actives. The innovation offers unique benefits like increased micronutrient absorption, reduced dose wastages & malabsorption, increased bioavailability & compliance over the conventional delivery modes like oral pills and syrups etc. Company’s mission is to augment global efforts for Sustainable Development Goals 2.1, 3.1 & 3.2.
2. Title of the project: Development of a LifeBack: Priority Mental Health
Organization: Sequoia Insilico Pvt Ltd, New Delhi
The study is aimed at developing tool that will act as Expert Support System for mental health professionals. The approach is to equip mental health care with the power of 5 Ps (Personalized, Precision, Proactive, Patient Centric, Preventive, and Participatory and Predictive). The strong relation between emotional stress and clinical depression has been well established through long research where stress is an important factor leading to depression onset. Likewise, it has also been established that acoustic features of speech and voice is highly correlated and has the capacity to recognise stress condition in patients. Thus, there is very strong correlation link between acoustic parameters of the speaker and the level of stress and clinical depression among these subjects. Using this combinatorial approach, the team intends to develop multi-mode channel and assess the onset of stress and depression.
3. Title of the project: Affordable, portable, easy to use rapid and accurate diagnostic test for pulmonary tuberculosis
Organization: AptaBharat innovation Pvt. Ltd, Delhi
The objective of the project is to develop a novel aptamer based electrochemical sensor for the rapid detection of pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB). The proposed test will overcome the problems (high cost, poor sensitivity, high turnaround time, dependence on sophisticated and expensive instrument) associated with the current diagnostics modalities. The proposed test has high potential to be used as a POC diagnostics test for PTB and will guide the clinician to take an appropriate action for TB management.
4. Title of the project: Rapid AST via automated microscopy
Organization: Uscope Compast Astechnologies Private Limited Jalandhar, Punjab
The project intends to develop a rapid diagnostic device to reduce the turnaround time for antimicrobial susceptibility testing reports needed in diagnosing resistant bacterial infections. AMR is a global healthcare challenge, particularly in India where the current annual patient mortality is considerable due to mis-prescription of empiric antibiotics. A quick diagnostic test revealing the infecting bacteria’s susceptibility to antibiotics will result in appropriate antibiotic prescription by doctors and mitigate the spread of resistant strains. The team proposes to fulfil this unmet meet by developing a device which reduces the turnaround time of susceptibility reports to 2-4 hours, which is a quantum leap from existing assays/devices which take 48-72 hours. Their device uses a proprietary rapid, culture-free technology to determine bacterial viability, based on quantifying bacterial nano-motion. Their device is intended to run on a fully automated consumable cassette, where we test multiple antibiotics on patient urine samples and determine the infecting pathogen’s susceptibility to available antibiotics along with its resistance profile. Gradually, they intend to expand the application of our device to other sample types such as blood, sputum etc.
5. Title of the project: CTIRF: Miniaturized Fluorescent adapter for Fluorescent Sputum Smear Microscopy
Organization: Valetude Primus Healthcare Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi
The proposal intends to use miniaturised fluorescent adapter with conventional microscope to conduct sputum smear microscopy. The device is expected to fit on a regular smear microscope that is used across primary health care (PHCs) in India. The device will significantly increase TB detection rates, at a minimal cost, amortized over several slides read. The proposed device will be effective in increasing the conventional microscope sensitivity from 50% to 80%. The device will be using a proprietary thinning solution to increase device accuracy measures as auramine stain may not be detected with fluorescent imaging. The proprietary solution, which the team intends to use is stable for more than a year at 40 degrees centigrade.
Round-4: Seven projects have been recommended for funding support
1. Title of the project: A Micro Sensor based Instrument to Detect Antibiotic Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
Organization: Nanosniff Technologies Pvt Ltd, Mumbai
The study proposes to demonstrate the Proof of Concept that, using Piezoresistive Microcantilever Sensors and High Sensitivity Instrumentation, it can be determined if an analyte sample contains antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus or not. As the Microcantilever Sensor is highly sensitive the study intends to determine the presence of even few hundreds of antibiotic resistant bacteria within 1 to 2 hours. The semiconductor technology being used makes the instrument scalable, widely deployable and low cost.
2. Title of the project: Novel alloplastic neo-bladder for bladder replacement in patients with bladder cancer
Organization: Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore
Bladder cancer or bladder carcinoma often necessitates the removal of the complete urinary bladder. In such a situation, one of the ways to manage the flow of urine is to provide a conduit for an external pouch to collect urine. Another option is to make a new bladder to replace the biological one. As the complete substitution of the bladder with an alloplastic material has not been sufficiently explored, the study proposes to design a biomaterial by synergistically combining the favourable properties of two polymers i.e. silicone rubber and Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) through polymer melt-extrusion technology. The study intends to design a novel biomaterial which is inert and resistant to salt deposition and biofilm formation (encrustation), therefore, avoiding the complexity of both tissue engineering and complications related to the use of the intestine or bowel for urinary diversion in geriatric patients. It is expected to be affordable also.
3. Title of the project: Fetal Lite - a effective tool to predict birth asphyxia
Organization: Sattva MedTech Private Limited
Effective PoC fetal monitoring is necessary to catch fetal distress and reduce the incidence of birth asphyxia related morbidity and mortality. The proposals intend to develop a next generation labour monitoring tool based on the principle of fetal ECG extraction- termed as Fetal Lite. The Fetal Lite is a single probe monitor for measuring Fetal Heart Rate, Maternal heart rate and Uterine contractions. It can be used post 36 weeks of gestation. Introduction of such a solution at scale will result in identification of fetal distress cases and give at least 60% of such mothers a 30 min to 3-hour window to be shifted to a secondary or tertiary care centre with facilities to conduct C-sections and manage the baby. Further - this technology has been productised with several novel features designed for the low-resource market.
Please visit the GCE-India website for further details.