“Without hurting anyone’s sentiments, I must say, ideas come a dime a dozen, and people will only laugh at you if your idea is trying to solve something big, especially in India. From founding acceptance amongst our community of scientists to raising funds, we heard arguments on the lines of being too ambitious,” the Founder and Director of Mestastop, Arnab Roy Chowdhury shared about the hurdles when he embraced the risk.
Mestastop is an incredible venture incepted to understand metastasis, the spreading of tumours from primary sites to secondary sites. It then travels, one step further to figure out ways to both identify this phenomenon early (diagnostics) and also to intervene with this process (discovery).
Still on the journey as a small start-up, they cannot do it alone as of today but the goal is to create technology tools that will empower Biotech and Pharma’s journey against metastasis. All metastasis animal models, which are orthotopic and spontaneous, takes a minimum of 4 -6 months to study, which is very expensive and time-consuming. Mestastop has created a proprietary animal model for the same, that can evaluate metastasis in just 6 weeks.
Even though Mestastop came into existence as a brand on September 06, 2018, it took him a year to convince some like-minded people, friends and family, and scientists and clinicians who were bold enough to trust him and his vision, to start the wet lab in November 2019.
What followed next, was the game-changing meeting with Mr Vinod Khosla, of Khosla ventures. He shared, “Even though, he did not fund us, he encouraged our passion and suggested we start with minimum money as sometimes that helps to keep one’s focus. Those words were golden, and today, in hindsight, I realize the value of that bootstrapping, which has given us a razor-sharp focus as to what to do and more importantly, what not to do.”
Innovation can only be achieved with basic research, which involves a cost centre. It is a high-risk area but is the only way to go, and one must have courage and self-belief. Mestastop, founded in 2018, spent two years harnessing a cost centre but creating deep dive biology platforms that have today enabled them to have better insights into metastasis biology.
Thereby, propelling them towards the next level where they will target these insights for drug discovery and diagnostics. “Start-up of the Year 2021 is an acknowledgement of our faith and focus on basic research and being unapologetic about it,” emphasised Arnab.
With a background of training and learning in infectious diseases and with an interest to pursue better therapeutics, serendipity brought Arnab to cancer biology in 2009. Eventually, he pursued multiple programs in cancer drug discovery, in previous roles in the industry.
Around 2014, he realized, an evolutionary disease like cancer cannot be aptly tackled by chemotherapy or targeted therapies. His search to find its weakest spot brought him to metastasis. By 2016, he was convinced about this idea and the science behind it, however, it still took another two years to muster the courage and take the plunge.
Today, he strategizes the science, listens to the data, and charts the path forward while his fantastic team is mostly on autopilot, motivated, and with a sharp focus. He feels immensely fortunate to have a solid partner in Praveen Agarwal, a school friend, who takes care of all the finance and compliance parts, allowing him to focus on science.
“A leader should never play the catching up game, which is reacting to situations and wasting time in firefighting. Instead, I should always be thinking of where we want to be 6 months from now, and work towards that, and take calculated risks.
For example, there was a time when funds were tight, but I decided to spend 25L to set up a primary tissue culture. That move in October 2020, ensured that today we have primary patient data, which gives us and our investors a lot of confidence.”- Arnab
Pandemic has created hostile situations for many brands, including Mestastop. In April 2020, amidst the fear of running out of funds while the platform was nowhere near ready at that time, the Mestastop team inclusive of Manoj Pandre, Samrat Roy, and Debabani rose to the occasion and made herculean efforts.
“In a nutshell, I did not overcome the challenges, the team did and Mestastop would be nothing without these people. Then came Sundarajan Kannan and Rajesh Kumar, who also kept the momentum going with the team, after the lockdown in 2021.” -
Arnab does not ponder on success too much after facing a fair share of failures, both in science and in life. As a scientist, he believes, the bottom line is to feel good and happy about your work, and eventually, add value to people.
While as long as I am happy, I am successful. I am 47 and if I am lucky, I might live another 30-40 years, so by the time my run ends, I should have been able to make some difference through my skill sets. That is my drive.
Just one word, integrity. Often, Arnab has witnessed people in Science manipulating data, as that would bring a publication, a grant, a raise, or a promotion. “As scientists, I believe, their allegiance should only be to Science, let us listen to the data and try to understand it,” he shared.
He continued, “RNAi would not have happened if Fire and Mello would not have listened to that anomaly of data. My guru, Arjun Surya told me, let your science do the talking, so I try to listen to it, let it do the talking.”
While the Mestastop team has successfully navigated through the journey till now by generating data with courage and resilience, they are yet to travel miles. Mestastop is here to address difficult therapeutic areas, metastasis is the starting point but they are planning to move on to something equally challenging, like sepsis in the future.
“In 2009, when I came back to India, I had bouts of depression sensing the lack of opportunities. Together we want to take Mestastop in a position where a young post-doc who joins this company in 10 years will never have the dearth of opportunities to address the toughest questions in science,” Arnab shared.
Speaking of plans, his answer to reaching five-year milestones is, “We will have our molecules in discovery. I believe we will be very much in clinics by that time, with a first-in-class metastasis inhibitor. Building brand and reputation of one-of-a-kind R&D in India might take a bit longer.”