Three years ago, when Firoza Kothari met Dr Prathap C. Reddy, the billionaire owner of Apollo Hospitals group, for the first time, the tête-à-tête lasted for a few minutes. The 28-year-old biotech engineer from Mumbai, who forayed into patient-specific medical solutions and co-founded Anatomiz3D Medtech, has surely come a long way. Today, when she shares her views about medical-related 3D-printing and bioprinting technologies, the entire clan of Reddys sits in rapt attention.
She has built a unique startup with 15 bio-medical and biotech engineers as India’s leading ‘patient-specific’ solutions provider to the healthcare industry for design, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and bioprinting technologies. She has already secured a provisional patent for the process. Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, which recently inked a deal with her startup to establish 3D-printing labs in hospitals, is now looking at expanding the strategic partnership into a full-fledged equity sharing venture.
After working briefly with Sahas Softech, a Mumbai startup providing 3D printing solutions, co-founded by her brother Sohrab Kothari and friend Sagar Shah, her journey began six years ago by providing patient-specific medical solutions. “In 2015, I co-founded Anatomiz3D, my brother and Shah being the other founders, to focus on the needs of hospitals and patients. We met several doctors and surgeons. We began our discussions with multiple clinicians at Apollo in Hyderabad just around 18-20 months ago. The chief executive officer, Dr K. Hari Prasad, and Dr Padma helped us take the partnership this far,” Kothari, also the startup’s CTO, tells Fortune India.
They have now set up the first exclusive hospital 3D-printing lab at Apollo Health City, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. “The lab, being set up with a capital investment of ₹10 crore, will be inaugurated on Monday (February 22). Our plan is to expand it to other centres,” she said. The lab will provide medical 3D-printing services for better healthcare, through the creation of anatomical models for pre-surgical planning and education, patient-specific cutting and drilling guides, and customised implants and implant moulds.
“The fact that Apollo has chosen to adopt the technology early in the curve is something that proves our vision in a certain way. To talk about the technology, these are basically 3D models being created from patient CT and MRI scans. So, from that radiological data, we extract the patient’s anatomy, and we utilise those 3D models, along with the surgeons, to pre-plan the entire surgery that the patient might go through. It can help you to figure out what kind of planning or a procedure, the patient would require. And many a time, it might also say that what is it that one should not do on a patient,” says Kothari.
The two big things that can open up huge potential for 3D printing technologies, according to her, are surgical guides and implants. “It is basically allowing for precise osteotomy to be done on to the patient with the right angle and the right surgical planning. The 3D printing allows them to get those precise cuts and the custom-print implants which fit perfectly on to the patient. It reduces the time, it reduces the blood loss, anaesthesia time and indirectly, it reduces the number of days that one spends in the hospital for post-surgery recovery,” she adds.
For Apollo Hospitals, with its dominating presence in India with 72 hospitals having over 12,000 beds, 3,800-plus pharmacies and 15 medical education centres and a research foundation, the advances in 3D printing technology come handy in its journey towards adoption of newer technologies.
Apollo Hospitals chairman Dr Reddy is proud to be the pioneers in bringing the latest in medical technology to benefit their patients. “With the hospital 3D-printing labs, the future of healthcare is here. Personalisation of healthcare is the new mantra and advances in genomics and precision medicine are driving personalised prevention and treatment. From specialised medicines for targeted therapies to customised implants and prosthetics, 3D-printing technology is transforming the medical environment, providing a fast, accurate and economical solution to take medical care to the next level,” he says.
So, 3D printing is all set to play an important role in the medical industry.
Sangita Reddy, joint managing director of Apollo Hospitals, is convinced. “The 3D-printing is used in a wide range of healthcare settings and is helping to save and improve lives in ways never imagined until now. 3D-printing has many applications in healthcare and the in-house 3D-printing labs at the hospitals will enable better patient care and treatment planning,” she says.
The 3D-printing labs will produce customised, safer, and higher performing products with considerably lower costs. This will give doctors a better understanding of their patients and improve patient comfort level with products that are designed especially for their anatomy. Patient-specific design of implantable devices and surgical tools will help optimise surgical processes and costs. In areas such as spinal surgery, customised 3D-printing will add value to personalised medicine, enhancing pre-operative planning, leading to shorter operation times, and helping to reduce risk for the patient. 3D-printing will also help improve the skills of the new generation of surgeons with a better understanding of the disease involved.
“This is just the beginning and as the technology continues to develop, we will see the unlocking of the full potential of 3D-printing in healthcare,” Reddy adds.
“From bilateral minimally invasive knee surgeries and robotic knee replacement therapies, there are many examples of how we process the latest technology to help our patients. And today, it is one more fantastic opportunity. I’m happy to say that we’re bringing it to our patients in an ‘Aatmanirbhar’ way. We are tying up with an Indian company. Adoption of additive layering, new-age biocompatible material and bringing that together in a scientific manner with artificial intelligence and current practices… Today you’ve seen applications in orthopaedics and oncologic orthopaedics, as well as in cardiac. Ultimately, how it is helping the patients is what’s important and what always guides us,” says Reddy.
Revenues ofthe 3D-printing sector are growing at the rate of around 16% and are estimated to touch $120 billion in 2025, from $12 billion in 2020. “You reconfigure the model using additive technology. This is the closest you can get to actually opening up the patient. And if you do that in a treatment planning environment, you will enhance the success rate of complex surgeries in a significant manner. But, as this technology becomes more and more pervasive, the cost will come down and this will become mainstream,” says Reddy.
Dr Rajeev Reddy at Apollo Hospitals is certain that more orthopaedic surgeons and orthopaedic oncologists would be excited to use the 3D metal implants. “So overall, the surgical time is reduced, and the recovery is quicker. Since they are made as per the patient’s requirement, you get better results in the long run. Regarding specific and important tumours, the complicated surgeries will become simpler,” he says.
Even though 3D-printing is a costly affair today, the cost of 3D printers is expected to come down, making it cost-effective for the patient soon. “This is the way forward,” says Kothari.
Her dreams do not end here. She now dreams of going beyond the plastic and metals and creating live organs out of patients’ stem cells one day—and end human organ scarcity once and for all.