This cancer startup drew lessons from a refugee camp

in the months earlier than the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to India to break out mass killings. Among them have been 4-year-antique Pradip Majumder and his own family, who left Kushtia district for one of the many refugee camps in West Bengal.
Sitting in his office in Bengaluru’s Electronic City, Majumder is an extended way from that refugee camp in Hemnagar, but it’s revel in that has stayed with him and shaped him on his journey through All India Institute Of Medical Sciences, Harvard University, and the founding of cancer tech startup Mitra Biotech. “Everybody starts offevolved from 0. However I commenced from bad,” he says with a smile.
Majumder has brilliant reminiscences of bombs exploding as his family trekked 100km to attain Hemnagar. Growing up, faculty came second as everybody laboured to hold the circle of relatives afloat. His older sister became an instructor and helped him thru high school and university. “Each degree become a triumph. Every time I notion, ‘This is the last; permit me to do my satisfactory,’” he says.
The idea for Mitra Biotech got here to Majumder while shuttling between Harvard and Merck. On the faculty at Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, he would shadow clinical fellows to take a look at their dealing with of sufferers. Many sufferers wouldn’t go back, so he asked where they have been. The answer turned into that the patients moved into hospices or had died. Pharma businesses weren’t creating the proper pills, they explained.
Two blocks from the most cancers institute, within the Harvard Medical School complicated, Merck had installation a lab. Majumder presented to expand pills better focused on most cancers. He built a crew for Merck’s first initiative in oncology and created capsules, however one “failed miserably”. When he requested why Merck informed him doctors hadn’t recruited the proper patients for his drug.
Majumder realized that matching pills and patients had to be greater personalized.
For 50 years, tablets had been examined on cancer cellular strains taken from unique tumours, cultured and saved. A drug has a 20-30% hazard of reducing a tumour. Cancer cell lines inside the lab are exclusive from a tumour in the frame. Immune cells, connective tissues and blood vessels around a tumour play a function in its increase. Majumder’s concept becomes to recreate that micro-environment inside the lab to test which drug might paintings for a selected affected person.
Harvard favoured the concept but wanted him to get a supply. That become hard in the submit-2008 commercial enterprise environment. But his buddy Mallikarjun Sundaram, adjunct college member at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of Momenta Pharmaceuticals, was fascinated. They co-based Mitra Biotech in 2010 with 1/2 one million greenbacks in angel investment.
The first hurdle became to get stay tumour samples to broaden their technology and validate it. Biological materials from patients are high priced in the US, where corporations and educational labs want them. So, Mitra Biotech moved to Bengaluru.
The early investment came from Accel, Karnataka Information Technology Venture Capital Fund (Kitten) for biotech startups, and India Innovation Fund (IIF). Kitchen and IIF were given an exit in 2016 whilst Sequoia Capital and Sands Capital co-led a series B spherical of $27.Four million. Last yr, Northpond Ventures from Maryland, led a $40 million series C spherical. Northpond’s specialization in life sciences will assist Mitra Biotech in its final lap to move commercial.
Starting up in India has blessings. “Getting get right of entry to to docs, patients and information is probably less difficult and extra value-powerful here than within the US,” says Anjana Sasidharan, essential at Sequoia Capital.
The trouble turned into that Mitra become a startup with a new concept in an immature atmosphere like India. In America, the connection between oncologists, researchers and businesses are well mounted. In the initial days, biopsy samples trickled into its lab. Over time, Mitra has installation a modern-day lab at a fee of $5 million and now receives 1,200 samples a month to test tablets and apprehend the biology of a tumour’s micro-surroundings.
At gift, there’s no clinical basis for a medical doctor to pick out a drug for a cancer. After 3 months, if one drug doesn’t work, every other is attempted. “As a population, every accredited drug works, but as a man or woman you don’t recognize for you to work,” he says. A drug that works for 30% of patients may additionally seem exceptional but can be devastating for 70%.
Mitra’s product, CANscript, can inform for eight forms of most cancers whether a particular affected person will reply to a drug. A one-centimetre biopsy pattern is break up into 30 elements to check six to 10 pills. Each part is immersed in a “cocktail” that mimics the stroma surrounding a tumour. Blood comes with the pattern to “feed” the tumour within the lab just as it might in the body. Traditional most cancers mobile cultures, in contrast, use a bovine serum.
The stay sample is cultured and tested for 3 days. Data from multiple biomarkers is run thru a gadget mastering machine. What emerges is a document for an oncologist stating which drug works and which doesn’t for his affected person.
Mitra is collating records to show the efficacy of CANscript before releasing it inside the market. Majumder says the plan is to sell it to hospitals and oncologists. With the maturing of its research work in Bengaluru, the organisation moved its headquarters returned to Boston under the call Mitra RxDx. The first rollout might be in the US.
“The US is the gold fashionable,” he says. “That’s now not real. However, that’s the attitude in healthcare. In India, they ask: ‘Woh bahar use hota hai kya (is it used abroad)?’”
The next step is to embed mini-labs in fundamental hospitals throughout the United States. Mitra these days entered a partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to apply script for checking out the usage of viruses to treat mind tumours. Pharmaceutical companies are also using script to test pills that have now not but been launched.
Majumder has had many personal encounters with patients who attempted the product. For one physician with breast most cancers, the lab found that a drug not endorsed for breast cancer laboured. “She determined to attempt it,” he says. “I got Diwali and New Year greetings from her for four years. The closing message came two years in the past.” Majumder is reluctant to call, in case he finds out she is no greater. Most sufferers who strive a product but to be released have late level cancer. He appears forward to the day while the diagnostic useful resource can be to be had in hospitals for sufferers to pick the right drug at an early stage.

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