A close-up of the human eye. (Source: BloombergQuint)

Startup Street: After 3D-Printing A Liver, This Startup Has Bio-Engineered A Cornea

This week on Startup Street, a startup has taken a long stride in its innovation that addresses one of the major causes of blindness across the world. One of the world’s biggest real estate consultant is looking to support Indian startups. And a proposal to relax income tax laws for helping startups raise funds. Here’s what went on:

Pandorum’s Novel Development

A Bengaluru-based startup is creating waves after it successfully bio-engineered a cornea tissue—the transparent outer layer of the eye, a development that holds the potential of restoring vision without needing a replacement surgery or a donor.

Pandorum Technologies Pvt. Ltd. recently presented pre-clinical data for a hydrogel that they formulated which can promote scarless healing of corneal wounds by regeneration. The research was presented at the ongoing annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Vancouver.

“Being able to bio-engineer critical tissues such as the human cornea is a significant milestone,” Dr Tuhin Bhowmick, co-founder of Pandorum, said in a media statement. The work is currently in the stage of animal studies, and the startup is preparing to move towards pilot human studies in 2020, the statement said.

Corneal disorders are the fourth biggest cause of blindness, according to the World Health Organisation. It is one of the major causes of visual deficiency after cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Usually, corneal impairment involves a wide variety of eye diseases that scar the cornea.

Treatment involves surgically replacing the scarred tissue with a clear one to improve vision. But Bhowmick says that there is an “acute shortage” of human corneas available for transplantation.

“In India alone, there are over a million people suffering from bilateral loss of vision due to corneal disorders, and at least a few folds more from unilateral corneal blindness,” Bhowmick said. “At Pandorum, we are working to close this gap using bio-engineering approach—through stage-wise development of a platform, which is ultimately aimed to liberate us from the dependencies on human donor cornea.”

Pandorum’s cornea tissues, which are developed in collaboration with LV Prasad Eye Institutes, is minimally invasive. The “cell-laden” hydrogel can be directly applied to the cornea where it will start delivering stem cells to stimulate regeneration.

The challenge is not over for the startup, though. Moving such living tissue-based therapies from the lab to an actual clinic is “ardous and expensive”, according to co-founder Arun Chandru. Yet, he remains confident. “We are excited about our potential to impact millions of lives.”

This is not the first time Pandorum has shook the medical science world. In 2015, they developed an artificial tissue that could perform the functions of a human liver.

The prospect of lab-grown human organs has attracted a lot of takers too. Pandorum's investors include Flipkart founders Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal, founder-promoter of Hero Group Sunil Munjal, former Wipro Ltd. Executive Vice-Chairman TK Kurien, Indian Angel Network, Kotak Investment Advisors and 500 Startups. They are also supported by India's Department of Biotechnology. The startup also boasts of Biocon Ltd.'s founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw as their mentor and business advisor.

They have raised $3.6 million through one Series A funding round till date.

CBRE Ties Up With Nasscom To Support Startups

Property consultant CBRE has tied up with information technology industry body Nasscom to identify and support startups looking to transform Indian real estate using technology.

CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd. will hold the “Biggest Proptech Challenge”, where startups will present their ideas, according to its media statement. Entries will be divided into four categories:

  • Real estate fintech
  • Sustainability
  • Agility and efficiency
  • Made for India

Nasscom and CBRE have set up Disruptech—claimed to be India's largest proptech incubator—for the challenge.

There will be three winners. The startup that takes the top spot will get to demonstrate a proof of concept to a CBRE client, a three-month mentorship with an investor, marketing support for three months and access to CBRE's real estate angel fund.

“We are thrilled to start such an initiative in the real estate market the supports concepts working towards disrupting the commercial real estate space,” Anshuman Magazine, chairman and chief executive officer (India, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa) CBRE, said. “In a developing economy like India, it's imperative to become tech ready and encourage businesses working towards transformation that will take the industry to a truly global industry which is tech ready.”

CBRE said that a recent survey done by them showed that 90 percent of occupiers and developers of real estate are aiming to bring a technological shift in their business operations within the next five years.

That calls for innovation in the sector, according to its statement. “The collective objective is aimed to support emerging businesses with the potential to transform the real estate market with creative, innovative and disruptive thinking.”

Relaxing Income Tax Laws To Help Startups?

The Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade has proposed relaxing income tax laws pertaining to sale of residential properties and carrying forward of losses to facilitate fundraising by startups.

The suggestions are part of the Startup India Vision 2024 document prepared by DPIIT for the incoming government, the wire agency PTI reported, citing people in the know.

As part of easing regulatory requirements for startups, the DPIIT has recommended amendments in Section 54GB (capital gain on transfer of residential property not to be charged in certain cases) and Section 79 (carry forward and set off of losses in case of certain companies) of the Income Tax Act. It has suggested changes in Section 54GB of Income Tax Act to exempt proceeds on sale of residential properties from capital gains tax if it is used to fund a startup.

“Budding entrepreneurs often sell their residential properties to support their business activities,” one of the persons told PTI.