Finnish screening technology to help healthcare challenges in India

Aqsens Health Oy is developing an application for the early detection of oral cancer and anaemia in India with an easy-to-use, inexpensive and quick saliva analysis. Finnpartnership’s support helped the company to launch operations in India.

 Aqsens Health’s screening method, which is based on saliva analysis, and its underlying technology have been developed in Finland since 2015. The first preliminary screenings were carried out in India in 2016 together with local partners and the University of Turku. Approximately 500 saliva analyses were performed at that time, and as they provided encouraging results, the company decided to invest in product development and set out to make a plan for the development of saliva- and urine-based screening methods for healthcare needs. In India, the company aims to develop a saliva-based health screening method with a focus on oral cancer detection. If the project is successful, it will especially benefit the poorest part of the local population, among whom the biggest problem is oral cancer and it going untreated.

Working locally was a prerequisite for the operations

In spring 2016, Aqsens Health (then Aqsens Oy) decided to launch a project in India to establish local partnerships and to set up operations in the country. In spring 2016, the company applied for Finnpartnership’s Business Partnership Support so that it could focus on the Indian market and find partnerships there to build on its future activities.

The first step in the project was the establishment of a subsidiary in India, as ethical and other permissions must be in order when carrying out validation tests in the medical field. Timo Teimonen, Aqsens Health’s CEO, explains that the establishment of a subsidiary was also a prerequisite set by the Indian Department of Biotechnology to get the project started, so the company knew what had to be done.

The company found a suitable legal partner with the help of the Finnish Embassy, which helped to set up the subsidiary quickly. Six weeks of close collaboration saw Aqsens Health Pvt Ltd established in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state. This six-week period already included several examples of the way things are managed locally, and Teimonen thinks that if they had relied on Finnish expertise and procedures, the process could have taken up to six months. He says that perhaps the most interesting task was the opening of a bank account in India and the required verification of the home addresses of the Finnish employees for the bank’s documents; this was, however, also sorted out within a few hours with the assistance of several local experts.

Collaboration with a local law firm that understands Finnish operating models also laid a good foundation for finding the actual local business partners.

The importance of building a local partnership network

 In addition to its own in-country operations, choosing the right partners in India has been extremely important for Aqsens Health. The project, which received Business Partnership Support, helped the company to establish a partnership with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). This partnership with an internationally recognised research organisation is now an important cornerstone of the company’s operations in India. Aqsens Health conducts its product validation tests in India with the help of PHFI; without this, the company would not have access to the Indian market, as products used in health screening must have proper local validation.

When operating in the international market and particularly in a culture that is different from Finland’s, the support received from Finland and Finnish networks is also extremely important according to Aqsens Health. Local experts recommended by Business Finland and the Finnish Embassy were invaluable when setting up the subsidiary. They have also played an important role in strengthening the company’s relationship with local authorities and finding contacts among potential partners.

Teimonen says that what has been even more important has been the Business Partnership Support granted for the project by Finnpartnership. He explains that entering a market the size of India is a big issue for a Finnish start-up; not only is it costly, but even if the market has huge potential, individual investors may deem such projects too risky in their early stages. Finnpartnership’s support has allowed the company to launch its operations in India while enhancing its credibility among local investors. Finnpartnership’s support has also made it possible to keep social impacts and related assessments at the heart of the project, which is another important issue for the company and its partners and customers.

Aqsens Health’s next tasks include completing the validation tests, finding manufacturing and distribution partners, building a local organisation and training its staff. The company is already looking forward to the launch of the Indian subsidiary’s activities and, according to Teimonen, thanks to the support and partner network, this is already closer than the company could have dreamed of when the project started.

 

Picture: Aqsens Health Oy

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