5 minutes with...Dr Vijay Aggarwal

October 3, 2022

After closely following the journey ofOrbis Diagnostics for two years, Dr Vijay Aggarwal could see how the company’squantitative immunoassay technology could be a key driver in the shift tomaking lab-accurate diagnostics more accessible and convenient for patients. DrAggarwal is now Chairman of the Orbis Diagnostics Board.


You have had extensive involvement in point-of-care diagnostics, what makes Orbis’technology so unique?

I’ve had a lot of exposure to the point-of-carehealth industry during my career and with the growing need to take diagnosiscloser to the patient, there are a lot of companies focusing on thepoint-of-care space.


What Orbis has been able to achieve really sets the company apart. It’s the only company I’m aware of that has combined a quantitative immunoassay which offers the same level of diagnostic accuracy that you get in a lab with a point-of-care device. The engineering and precision required to achieve this is phenomenal; I know many people have tried but the team at Orbis have cracked the code which is really impressive.


So you became interested in the company but what inspired you to become Chairman of the Board?

After being in the diagnostics industryfor around 40 years I’ve developed a fairly good filter to determine whattechnology might address a need and be successful and what won’t. I'm now at the point in my career where I’m fairly selective about what I get involved with and Orbis presented a really exciting opportunity to get involved with a company that has a very unique value proposition and is completely different to what other companies are doing.


So, in deciding to become involved in Orbis I obviously had discussions with a number of the key people and reviewed the business plan tobounce this against my own knowledge of the point-of-care space and my understanding of the competitive environment. What I worked out is that Orbis was a company that not only has a fairly easy regulatory path, but the team have a really good idea about how to commercialize the technology and they have a deep understanding of the market needs. Looking deeper, the ability to simultaneously perform multiple diagnostic tests from a single blood sample at the point ofcare using immunoassay is something I have never seen. The more I looked themore I knew I had to be involved in Orbis’ journey and I’m thrilled to be part of the team.


Let’s talk about the unmet need. In your view what health needs will Orbis’ technology address?

To start with we need to look at areas where there are challenges in delivering meaningful healthcare. The obvious one is rural populations where people can live hours away from a medical clinic or hospital. Then there’s the undiagnosed population of patients that are wandering the streets of our urban cities. So whether it’s the streets of Manhattan, the outback of Australia or inner-city Auckland, there are always pockets of individuals who have been exposed to infectious disease and other conditions who don't have access tohealth care.


The ability to provide diagnostic screening for these populations is really critical. Often these individuals may not have access to a doctor, but they might go to a health clinic or a pharmacy. But just as importantly they're patients who are also very often transient so while they might go to a doctor’s office one day, they won’t go back which makes any follow-up treatment really difficult.


Being able to provide a result straight away and start treatment while the patient's sitting in the office as opposed to trying to find them three weeks later or two weeks later, is a huge benefit. So whether it's an urban environment or a rural environment or a person walking into a pharmacy, I look at it as offering a single set of capabilities to address the need for immediate testing, immediate feedback and immediate follow-up.


But the opportunity is not just for the sick, wellness is a huge opportunity. Myvision is an Orbis platform sits in a pharmacy and, for example, offers a testfor vitamin B12 deficiency right next to the vitamin counter that sells B12supplements. The whole idea is a person walks into a pharmacy with a question about their health and well-being, gets a test and can do something about it right then and there.


So, is the world ready for this technology?

I think so. We’re all so much more interested in keeping ourselves healthy but we’re also understanding the benefits of having timely knowledge about our health. I look at the financial services industry as a stalking horse for the health care industry. 30 years ago, everybody had a pension plan, and it was administered by the company. You'd get a statement every quarter or every year, and that was pretty much it. Now, virtually every retirement plan is something that individuals take charge of and direct by themselves. I think the healthcare sector is going through that same transition where it used to be that you'd go to a healthcare facility and somebody in a white coat would tell you what to do and you do it. And now I think we were transitioning to patient-directed care,where the individual takes responsibility for their own health and wellness. They're looking for information and while they can find good information on the Internet about disease states, what they can't find as readily is access to diagnostic testing to help inform that disease decision.  I’ve always said that no matter how good your doctor is and no matter how committed he or she is to your health and wellness,their level of commitment is probably just a little bit less than your own commitment to your own health. The patient is the one who has the greatestvested interest in their own health and wellness. So yes, I think we’re ready.


Can we talk about challenges and opportunities for the company?

Sure. While immunoassay testing at the point of care is very unique, the challenge is how you interface that with the existing health care delivery system which often requires other diagnostic tests in addition to an immunoassay. So even when we talk about the liver panel and hepatitis testing, and even though assays for hepatitis are critically important, there are other non-immunoassay tests that are also important when making a definitive diagnosis. So here the key opportunity is to implement the technology as a screening tool which will be critical toaccessing vulnerable populations who are susceptible to diseases such as hepatitis.


What I've been impressed with so far in all my dealings with the management team is they’re doing a good job of being extremely capital efficient and keeping focused on the task at hand. When you are in a technology company it’s so easy to get distracted by the latest bright, shining light and you can end up spending alot of time and money looking at interesting things. Orbis are definitely focused on developing the elements required for a commercial launch.


Last question. What advice were you given at some stage through your career that you still stand by today?

In my very first job, I was working in a laboratory and developing a bunch of new tests and working with the instruments and equipment that I loved and just having a blast. One day I went to talk to my boss who was in fact the first boss I'd ever had in my life. And I said, you know, I'm doing all the fun stuff, I'm in the lab working away and publishing papers and developing new tests. All you do is sit at a desk and work on whatever you're working on. I can't imagine how boring that must be. Do you know what he said? "Well, Vijay at some point in your career you'll realize that the joy of creating an environment for others to do what you're doing can be just as great, in fact, sometimes greater thanbeing in the lab, doing it yourself."

That was the advice that I've always thought about. It's been many years since I've put on a lab coat, but I've really enjoyed creating an environment or multiple environments where other people can do the lab work and enjoy that part of it. Just as I enjoy creating an environment for innovation and new diagnostic development where people can explore the latest, greatest new thing. This has been really exciting and I credit my first boss for setting my perspective that being in the lab is one thing but managing and directing and building other labs is just as enjoyable.

Dr Vijay Aggarwal is based in the United States. He brings extensive leadership in clinical diagnostic services as well as institutional and individual investment experience to the Board of Orbis Diagnostics. Throughout his stellar career, Dr Aggarwal has led several pharmaceutical and biotech ventures through successive phases of high growth, including as the former President of Quest Diagnostic Ventures.