Headquartered in Boston, Mitra Biotech supports personalized oncology therapy selection and drug development. Mitra, founded in 2010, maintains a significant research and laboratory presence in Bangalore, India. Mitra’s CANScript provides personalized responses to cancer care treatments. It recently raised $27.4 million in Series-B funding co-led by Sequoia India and Washington-based Sands Capital Ventures, and with participation from Boston-based RA Capital Management and existing investors Accel Partners and Tata Capital Innovations Fund.
In an interview with Entrepreneur, founders Mallikarjun Sundaram and Pradip K Majumder opened up about the challenges in the healthcare sector and their ambitions with the company. Mallik comes with a string of qualifications in medicinal chemistry, bioengineering and management studies and Pradip comes with an educational background in cancer pharmalogy and cancer biology.
Birth of a concept
While running Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc, Mallik was introduced to Pradip through a common friend Shiladitya Sengupta, another co-founder. They actively discussed about the cancer diagnostics space and the potential opportunity that exists. “Over a period of time we realized that there was a huge mis-match between the patients and drugs available,” Mallik says.
Mitra’s CANScript platform has been validated using thousands of cancer patients, and has demonstrated an extremely high correlation to actual clinical responses.
Even though India has healthcare scions like Kiran Mazumdar and Devi Shetty, this domain remains a challenging to crack considering the amount of regulations and pricing hurdles. “The fundamental reason of this sector being so tough is because of the product cycle life. The challenge is to have the right kind of funding mechanism and team,” Mallik says.
He further says that their strategy has always been to have a “pull strategy” and not a “push strategy”. By pull strategy, Mallik explained on how the company first decided to develop the technology and present it at top medical colleges and conferences, thereby getting validation from industry experts. Talking about pricing, Mallik says that one needs to be flexible with pricing without budging on quality.
Advice to entrepreneurs in the healthcare space Healthcare has been one of the most preferred sectors by investors.
Advising entrepreneurs catering into this space, Mallik said that one needs to have a team that has a complimentary skill set. Even if somebody doesn’t come from the healthcare space he can work on something that requires him to know certain other niche sub-sectors Pradip stressed entrepreneurs need to come up with more innovative ideas in the healthcare space and not ape existing successful models.
What lies ahead for Mitra?
Mallik says that for companies such as Mitra, the two options that they would look at would be an IPO or a strategic buyout. “We believe that if we keep getting the fundamentals right, one or both of the two events can definitely take place,” he says. The company would prefer to go for a listing in the U.S. market.
It aims to become a global leader in therapy selection in oncology. “There can be different technologies that can be used, such as CANScript that we are using at the moment. But the ongoing efforts, within the company and externally, we are looking at assets that can complement our existing assets and expand our product portfolio beyond CANScript and other autoimmune disorders,” he says.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (October 2016 Issue).