How a plasma network start-up turned a crisis into an opportunity

Co-Founders, Dr Neil Pinto and Karina Thakrar’s Pint Network essentially creates a centralised workflow in the donation process and ensures that a critical need is met during this crisis

Sometimes the world needs a crisis to yield new opportunities. And the COVID-19 pandemic has given just the right incentive and motivation to change traditional approaches and question paradigms that pre-existed. This pandemic has potentially led to new cooperative behaviours and even to the creation of new systems, structures and new business models. This is evident from the collective adrenaline rush that we see amongst health innovators and entrepreneurs leading to rapid problem solving and innovation.

Well, here is a story of two very young and ardent entrepreneurs, who in this crisis have discovered a way to fix a critical need and develop a sustainable healthcare business model. 

India’s first nationwide digital initiative for plasma donors/patients

Dr Neil Pinto (23 years) and Karina Thakrar (22 years) recent college graduates have worked tirelessly to develop an online platform-Pint Networks that aims to connect plasma donors with patients in various parts of the country, to facilitate plasma therapy, that can help in the recovery of critical COVID-19 patients. ICMR has approved the use of convalescent plasma therapy in treating COVID-19 patients having moderate to severe conditions. The therapy uses the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients and requires consent from patients and their families. Therefore, the demand for plasma suitable for COVID-19 has heightened. 

While there were not many plasma banks in the country, a need for a platform that can connect patients to donors exist. And this is where Pint Networks comes to the forefront.

Dr Pinto and Thakrar sharing their experience mentioned that they found a sense of helplessness amongst COVID-19 patients and their relative as it takes days for them to find a single donor and by the time they do, the patient’s condition has already worsened. To be able to find these families a donor within 24-48 hours and experience their relief and gratefulness has truly motivated the duo to build this platform further and expand their reach.

The initial response

Interestingly, the initial response has been very impressive. In just seven days from the launch, they have been able to reach 100+ patients and 60+ donors across eight major cities in India including Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru. They are currently in talks with a few local government hospitals to provide them with a donor base for their ongoing ICMR clinical trials. Moreover, after Delhi government announced the launch of a plasma bank, the duo is looking at ways where their network could redirect donors to the government plasma banks and help the government strengthen their plasma capacity further.

“Our business model is fairly straightforward. We have two separate workstreams, one for registered donors and the other for registered patients. Once we have verified the details provided by the above two streams, our algorithm matches the donors to the patients, exchanges their contact details and allows them to connect and take the process forward. A plasma bank essentially collects plasma from the donor without the donor knowing where or which patient it’s going to be administered in. What our network does is that it allows the donor to directly be in touch with the patient in need, allowing a sense of human touch and fulfilment for both the donor and the patient. We believe that the human bond can go a long way in continuing this chain of plasma donation”, state a very confident Dr Pinto.

While Dr Pinto and Thakrar seem optimistic about their initiative, they have had a tough time joining every dot in establishing this network. “Given the urgency of the situation, we knew we had to get this platform out there as soon as possible. With the help of a software engineer and a few all-nighters, we were able to build this platform on Zoom and get it up and running within seven days”, shares Dr Pinto.

Speaking about the challenge they continue to face, Thakrar chips in, “Another hurdle we had to tackle and are currently tackling, is reducing the fear and stigma that surrounds plasma donation. Several recovered patients are unwilling to revisit a hospital setting and we’ve taken it upon us to turn that around and help recovered patients become the warriors our country needs to fight this disease.”

The initiative is good indeed, but are the quality standards maintained? How does the algorithm work? Is data privacy and security of both donors and patients are taken into consideration?

Quality checks and firewall used

The duo informs that verification of donors is an important part of their process. Explaining further on the process, Dr Pinto goes on, “The process is very simple. Both donors and patients register on our platform by filling in a form with their contact details and medical history. Our algorithm matches donors with patients based on their location and blood group as well as if the donors meet the general blood donation and convalescent plasma donation criteria. Once we’ve created a successful match, we provide the patient with the donor’s details to enable them to connect and take the process forward. Moreover, both our front end and back end as well as our servers have been thoroughly tested and are a 100 per cent secure. We ensure the data privacy of both the donors and the patients by exchanging their contact details only with the person they matched with and no one else for confidentiality purposes.”

“We verify all the donors on our platform by calling them and ensuring they meet all the general blood donation and convalescent plasma donation criteria. We also follow-up with them once they have matched to see if they need any assistance in the plasma donation process. At the end of the day, we are only facilitators in the process, helping patients in need of plasma find a donor, so we leave the actual testing and collection process to be done in a hospital or blood bank setting,” Thakrar further clarify.

A scalable business model in future

As per the entrepreneurs, their business model is essentially creating a centralised workflow in the donation process that not only speeds up the time taken to find a donor but also makes sure that he/she is in a suitable location as well as meets the stringent eligibility criteria required for donation. This ensures that a trustworthy system is built. The value created for the business in this process is worthwhile for its future expansion. For instance, right now there is no monetary value or incentive attached to their platform and they are currently only looking at addressing the need factor. In this process, they will gain immense goodwill that can be extremely useful when they introduce more services.

Revealing their business strategy, Dr Pinto concedes, “A steady plasma supply is crucial to extract a variety of life-saving medicinal products like immunoglobulins and clotting factors. India remains largely import dependant as far as plasma-derived medicinal products are concerned. We hope to build a network of plasma across India to help our nation eventually become self-sufficient in plasma and it’s many vital products.”

Adding to this, Thakrar goes on, “Post pandemic, we see this platform branching out to overcome the many hurdles in the complex blood donation process across India as well as major hospital chains. There is a huge shortage and unavailability of blood at the right time and the right place across hospitals in India. We are keen on solving these challenging problems and helping bring about a centralised system for blood donation and availability as well.”

Just as these very devout entrepreneurs set out to expand their services, they disclose that as they gather enough data, they will be looking at deploying an AI-integrated system in Phase 2.0.

blood donationCOVID-19 patientsDr Neil PintoICMRICMR clinical trialsKarina ThakrarPlasma bankplasma for COVIDplasma therapyRaelene Kambli
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  • Christabelle Lemos

    Can you please give the link to the website of the PINT Network? I cannot seem to find any link anywhere or even any contact number for either Dr Neil Pinto or Dr Karina Thakrar