Saleem Mohammed, PhD, CEO and Co-founder, XCODE Life Sciences, As the CEO and Co-founder of XCODE, Saleem Mohammed has been responsible for providing leadership for the company’s progress in the R&D space. He guides strategic ideas around the field of bioinformatics, to provide the new age citizen an opportunity to explore the world of genomic tools and applications and avail the benefits of life science analytics. Saleem holds a PhD in Bioinformatics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), USA, where he has co-authored four papers and has contributed largely to research in the field. He has been the recipient of a number of esteemed awards such as the Milton E. Mohr Fellowship Award in 2006 and the Grant Award for Start-ups from the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) in 2011. Prior to this, Saleem was a Senior Scientist and Lead-Bioinformatics Platform, at Monsanto Research Center, Bangalore, India.
XCODE Life Sciences Pvt. Ltd. is a biotechnology start-up headquartered in Chennai that innovates in the field of healthcare through research in life sciences. It was founded by Saleem Mohammed, who holds a PhD in Bioinformatics, in the year 2010. XCODE was initially incubated in Vellore Institute of Technology-Technology Business Incubator (VIT-TBI), Vellore. The TBI was established at Vellore Institute of Technology with the sponsorship of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India to assist budding entrepreneurs to incubate technology ventures. With a mission to become a leader in affordable preventive healthcare in India, the portfolio of the company spans across bioinformatics, genomics and statistics. The company, through its extensive research on DNA and genome mapping, will aim to provide personalized, professional and reliable information for all health and wellness enthusiasts. XCODE’s latest offering is LIFELONG WELLNESS, a DNA based wellness program designed by an eminent panel of specialists with the intention of identifying and preventing life style predispositions from developing into serious disorders. The company has a long term vision to help discover the mutational cause of at least two diseases, and to unseat India as the diabetes capital of the world.
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Saleem Mohammed says, “Understanding how your personal genetic code influences and affects your health and well being is critical for better health.”
What got you interested in bio-technology? Any particular company or person who inspired you?
I have always felt technology is a tool that can be used for great improvements in human life. During my higher studies in the US, I had the opportunity to interact and work with plant scientists. Their dedication to understand and explore nature and science sparked my interest in biotechnology. I have deep admiration for every scientist who is driven simply by the thirst of knowledge to discover new things that improve our lives every day.
For a layperson, what is this world of personal genomics all about and how can and its applications bring about better health?
For today’s individual, personalization is relevant in every aspect of their life. We customize our drinks, clothes, phones, gadgets and cars to our taste and requirements. Understanding how your personal genetic code influences and affects your health and well being is critical for better health. At the risk of sounding clichéd, we are also coming full circle to understanding that ‘health is wealth’ and the current generation will want to use advancement in science, technology and personal genomics for their lifelong wellness.
Explain to us your business model.
Value proposition- A holistic program that combines DNA based risk analysis to diseases and wellness through diet, nutrition and fitness.
Customer segments – We are primarily a DTC (Direct to consumer) company and are now approaching other businesses like a) corporate companies because every one of them would like their employees to lead a healthy life and b) medical centers because we will be able to bundle our service with an annual health check-up that is offered by them.
Revenues – Our revenues come through our Lifelong Wellness program and our educational program. Our future pipeline includes cancer risk analysis which will add to the existing revenue streams.
Opportunities and Challenges- With the advent of new technologies, there lies huge opportunities and benefits. The genomics industry is booming and its role in personalized medicine and nutrition is only going to increase. We are going to see a whole array of personalized food and medicinal products that are suited to an individual’s genes. With new technologies, you also face challenges, especially in raising awareness about it and the benefits it has to offer. But this is more time bound and likely to wane if you have a solid proposition under your belt.
Tell us how DNA assessment is going to bring about a paradigm shift in the area of wellness and preventive healthcare?
We are moving forward from the era of reactive medicine. This kind of medicine was hugely beneficial and will continue to play a critical role as we still try to understand many diseases and their symptoms. However, in many kinds of lifestyle related illnesses, we now know that prevention is definitely possible and a far better path than cure. DNA assessment is the trigger that puts us on the path of preventive healthcare. As we understand our individual bodies, circumstances and lifestyles, there will be a paradigm shift towards preventive healthcare.
Lifestyle diseases are on the rise. What do you think are some of the ways to bring about an improvement?
The first way to bring an improvement is through the power of knowledge. If individuals are made aware of the causes for these diseases, their own vulnerability as brought about by their genes and living conditions and provided with sufficient data as to approach such a health issue themselves, I feel we can do wonders in reducing the current statistics.
The second way is more subtle and as important- we do need to re-evaluate as a society what constitutes a work-life balance, success and the importance of good health in our overall wellbeing. This is a bigger challenge.
To what extent can one control destiny through DNA?
There are some things that are hard wired in our DNA. You cannot change who your parents and grand parents are. But your DNA cannot limit you to achieving anything humanly and lawfully possible. DNA simply allows you to look into the window of your risks, potential and strengths.
What is XCODE unique wellness program all about? What are the costs associated with this?
Usually when people talk about a wellness program it is always seen in isolation either as fitness or a diet. We are combining DNA, nutrition and fitness in a holistical fashion and offering wellness. We believe that wellness starts from basic building block of life which is your DNA because it holds the key to good health.
Predisposition to Diabetes, Obesity, CVDs (Heart attack, Sudden cardiac arrest, Atrial fibrillation, Hypertension, Coronary heart disease) and Stroke
What you get –Genetic assessment, Nutrition plan, Fitness plan, Wellness on Mobile, Unlimited cloud storage of vital clinical information, A pocket guide to healthy living
What is your USP?
Our USP is a combination of the following:
Do you also provide educational programs?
Our educational programs are a novel form of publishing. We cater our educational content to the mobile platform. Our educational content is combined with an SMS along with a one minute audio clip. The content is focused on health and nutrition. Currently, we are developing a program titled “90 things that every house wife should know about her diabetic husband”. Over 90 days we send out an SMS along with an audio clip that has information on how diabetes could be kept at bay.
What is the long term strategy of your company? Are you looking at complete gene sequencing?
Our long term strategy is to do complete gene sequencing because that’s where genomics is heading. Pricing is going to be a huge deciding factor as to when we start complete gene sequencing. There are talks that we will see $1000 human genome by end of this year. We are waiting for a radically different technology that will get us to $100 per genome. At this price point, a genome test will become very similar to getting a regular blood test.
Are you looking for further venture capital funding? What is the status?
We are currently seeking our first round of VC funding and in touch with few funding agencies. We have completed our initial round of discussion and it’s too early to talk about the status.
Our plan is to add risk identification of breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer.
How many customers do you have at present?
We currently have 50+ customers and are quite thrilled to be fast approaching our first century.
What is your marketing strategy?
Our marketing strategy so far has been online driven and we are currently adding offline marketing channels such as medical centers and corporate companies.
What has been your most exciting moment in the company?
In a start-up phase, every moment is an exciting one right from moving into a new office, getting your first round of funding from an angel/VC, getting your first customer. It is hard to say which is the most exciting of them all because to me they are all exciting.
Which was the most difficult time you had in Xcode?
Forming the team; the core team is what builds the company from strength to strength.
Your message to entrepreneurs?
If you are already an entrepreneur, you are already ahead because you have had the courage to turn your dream into a reality. The outcome of your venture is a result of a combination of factors, only some of which are in your control!
If you dream of being an entrepreneur, then go ahead and take the risk because it will always be riskier tomorrow.