Meet Our Alumni SDG Leaders
After completing the Global Executive MBA at the WU Executive Academy, microbiologist and neuropharmacologist Priyanka Dutta-Passecker teamed up with her employer Bioseutica to found a health-tech start-up. Her vision: using innovative findings from stem cell research to develop affordable wound healing technologies to lastingly improve the lives of people also beyond the West.
Doing research for the fun of it? “That’s also interesting, but that was never enough for me,” Priyanka Dutta-Passecker recounts. She started her career as a microbiologist, moved on to academic and industrial research, worked in business development for a while, and finally became a start-up entrepreneur. What never changed for Priyanka Dutta-Passecker, who was born in India, was her focus on patients: “Already my PhD studies in Ireland brought me very close to patients. Back then, and also later as a post-doc, I was involved in clinical studies, through which I could witness the direct effects of treatments on people,” the microbiologist shares. She did stem cell research for international pharmaceutical companies in the UK and Belgium before she founded a consulting agency for stem cell research in India. Today, she is Corporate Sales and Business Development Director at the Switzerland-based ingredients company Bioseutica. “Bioseutica looks back on many years of in-depth experience in the extraction and production of natural enzymes which can have a positive impact on human health,” she explains.
Priyanka Dutta-Passecker founded Healiva two years ago and made her employer Bioseutica a 50% shareholder.
After a while with Bioseutica, I found myself thinking: My background is in stem cell research and innovative thinking, and my employer has a lot of expertise regarding enzymes. Why not combine these two things?
The start-up seems set up for success. In 2021, the global market for wound care amounted to 15.6 billion euros, and there’s enormous potential for growth. “There are currently 36 million people around the world who are struggling with chronic wounds. In the EU alone, two million people are affected,” the researcher says. And these numbers are increasing: “Of about 60 million people suffering from diabetes in the EU today, nine million will develop wounds on their feet at some point in their lives.”
“We need to build on existing trends to accelerate innovations in this field. This will require entrepreneurial and innovative thinking,” Priyanka Dutta-Passecker holds. Her Global Executive MBA studies, which she completed at the WU Executive Academy from 2017 to 2018, have given her a lot of cues in this respect: “I really benefited from getting to know so many interesting people from all over the world. During study visits abroad, for instance in the US, Asia, and Latin America, I learned so much about how enterprises and research institutions in other countries drive innovation.
At the moment, we are developing a product based on waste from the marine industry that has enormous potential for supporting the healing process of wounds. By combining innovative manufacturing and research processes with byproducts that would otherwise simply be discarded, we create huge value and benefits for society at large,” she says.
When she founded Healiva, she was acutely aware that she did not have to start from zero: “There are so many things to build on, which will speed up the time required to bring products to the market,” she says. Healiva has just added two new products from the British medicinal equipment manufacturer Smith+Nephew to its portfolio: EpiDex®, a kind of stem cell therapy, was developed to heal venous ulcers on patients’ legs. It is currently tested on patients in Switzerland. “We plan to expand to Germany and other EMEA countries in a next step,” Dutta-Passecker says. The second product, currently called Healiva002, is based on an allogeneic stem cell transplant and used for venous ulcers that resist standard forms of treatment. The product will be further developed at Healiva. “By adding these groundbreaking technologies to our expanding portfolio, we will be able to continue our fast growth,” Dutta-Passecker says.
Already Healiva002’s predecessor, Healiva001, used stem cells that were customized for every individual patient: “We use epidermis cells from patients’ hair to grow an epidermal equivalent in the laboratory. This procedure is as effective as autografts, which were considered the gold standard in this area up to now,” the researcher explains. The laboratory-grown skin can be used to completely heal even chronic wounds.
There is also a downside, however: “Emerging and developing countries simply cannot afford stem cell research. But it’s important to me that also people from these countries have access to wound-healing procedures and our products. I also want to alleviate their suffering,” she says. For this reason, Healiva also produces affordable sprays supporting wound healing for use in hospitals in poorer countries to also bring relief to people with smaller budgets. Currently, the company focuses on Europe first ahead of the US and Asia. This was a conscious decision of the entrepreneur with Indian roots.
Her vision for Healiva? “Making the world a little better through innovation and research and providing access to healing products to as many people as possible,” she says. Besides her job, she also shares her entrepreneurial and innovation-driven mindset with students and future start-up founders. “Particularly in the field of biotechnology, you have to be fast, bold, and in possession of a good business plan. There’ll always be competitors at your heels,” she concludes.
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