In the realm of diagnostics, Aviana Molecular Technologies is a game changer. The company is currently developing its “Pegasus” technology, a portable biosensor roughly the size of a credit card. When attached to a smartphone or similar device, Pegasus enables clinicians to detect and diagnose many disease conditions within minutes from a small drop of blood. Though the global impact of this technology is yet to be seen, what is clear are the possibilities it presents.
Dr. Vanaja Ragavan, endocrinologist turned pharmaceutical developer turned entrepreneur, founded Aviana in 2009 with the goal of improving diagnostic biotechnology and delivering it to those in need. In her role as president and chief executive officer, she has cultivated a skilled team of experts who are helping make this unique vision a reality.
Vanaja’s dream is to bring Pegasus anywhere and everywhere so even the most disadvantaged communities benefit from safe, fast, convenient diagnostic services as a first step to correct treatment and better health.
Her charitable nature was influenced by her grandfather. He was a well-known professor and physician for India’s upper class who also ran free clinics to care for the disadvantaged. “His ability to diagnose patients was a great inspiration to me,” Vanaja recalled, “and I was always encouraged to go into medicine.”
Vanaja earned degrees from Harvard University and New York University before accepting a job with the Food and Drug Administration. It was then that her passion for pharmaceutical medicine blossomed and eventually led to a career in drug development in global pharmaceutical companies.
When Vanaja later became interested in angel investing, she discovered the Pegasus technology that would change her life. She found the innovation particularly unique because it converts semiconductor and radio frequency technology into human diagnostics – not an easy task when considering that electronics and fluids do not mix well. “I wanted to develop a new diagnostic, and when I came across this technology, it seemed like the perfect connection between computer and life sciences.”
One of the first tenants in the University of Central Florida’s Life Sciences Incubator, Aviana is now involved in several life-changing endeavors, cultivating new diagnostic kits for everything from snake venoms to antibiotic resistance.
It was natural for Vanaja and her team to find a home in the Florida High Tech Corridor since Pegasus utilizes NASA-funded technology. “We have in-licensed this homegrown technology here in Florida, allowing us to work closely with UCF scientists on a tested and functional technology that had already been partially developed at the university level. Eventually, we will be able to give back to the community through potential licensing fees to the university,” Vanaja said.
This sentiment was shared by The New York Times in its feature on innovation in Orlando, which focused on the Lake Nona development where the UCF Life Sciences Incubator is located.
Vanaja plans to continue developing more affordable and easy-to-use diagnostic tools for all, serving the under served just like her grandfather. “Medicine is blind without diagnostics, so we need to make sure the proper technology is brought to the forefront,” Vanaja explained, underscoring the importance of advancements in her field. “There is always a solution; you just have to look for it.”