Dr. ManjiriBakre, CEO & Founder, OncoStem Bringing a tide of change in cancer treatment with CanAssist Breast
The older principle of 'one therapy suits everyone' has become obsolete in the field of cancer treatment. With better survival rates and outcomes, better diagnostics and more treatment options, we are finally observing a changing cancer-care landscape. We are walking into an era of advancements in 'personalized medicine' with a better patient-centric approach. On the same line, advancements in breast cancer diagnostics and treatment has sprouted as a story of progress, with monumental leaps forward they have resulted in millions of women surviving breast cancer. The most commonly diagnosed and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women worldwide is Breast Cancer. Fortunately, cancer research is running at full speed, fuelled by all the technological advancements, but it's not enough. While more work remains, there is an influencer quietly devoting her time and expertise for the care of the most common malignancy in women, Breast Cancer.
Dr. ManjiriBakre, cell biology and cell signaling veteran's journey towards the noble cause was inveigled by a rough patch–a sudden demise of her close friend, who passed away at a young age of thirty due to breast cancer within two years from the diagnosis of the disease. "Neither she nor any of us were aware of how aggressive her cancer was, and I wish we knew more to organize ourselves." Dr. Bakre recalls the incident. She observed the need to dissect the tumor biology more to understand the disease progression/aggressiveness and capacitate the clinician and the patient to understand their disease better and opt for personalized treatment. The unavailability of such tests in India and the whole South-East Asia generated the seeds of leading towards sub-optimal treatment, and that's how the idea of OncoStem was conceived with a vision of developing and delivering innovative, cost-effective, and reliable prognostic/predictive tests for personalized cancer treatment planning.
Over a career spanning more than two decades, Dr. Manjiri Bakre has done it all. From path-breaking research in the field of cancer and stem cells to founding a start-up, Dr. ManjiriBakre is the proverbial 'do-it-all' professional. A hands-on entrepreneur, a researcher, a leader to her team, Dr. Manjiri wears many hats at OncoStem. As the CEO and Founder of OncoStem Diagnostics, Dr. Manjiri brings in passion, scientific expertise, vision, and strategic thinking to her team. Dr. Manjiri Bakre finds her inspiration in every patient whom she sees. We caught up with the superwoman to gain more insights on what compels her to do her best to help the cause.
Tell us something that we don't know about you.
I was born in Pune and grew up in Mumbai. After completing my Bachelor and Master of Science in Microbiology/Biochemistry at R Ruia College, Mumbai and MS University of Baroda respectively, I enrolled for a Ph.D. in Cell Biology at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. This was followed by 2 post-doctoral fellowships in the US at Mt Sinai School of Medicine and the University of California at San Diego. Post this I worked at the Genome Institute of Singapore in the field of stem cells.
The work experience over a decade plus excellent mentors have been a huge part of bringing this company from setting up a research laboratory to raising the US $9 million in funding from Sequoia Capital and Artiman Ventures to transform my idea into a successful medical test.
What kind of impact do you intend to make in the Indian healthcare space?
We would really like to make an impact on a patient's quality of life and disease outcomes. CanAssist Breast is our first step towards that. Over 400 Asian patients have accessed personalized breast cancer treatment planning via CanAssist Breast. Our test is cost-eﬀective when compared to other similar breast cancer recurrence prediction tests. We have additional tests in the making for other cancers. If Aayushman Bharat Yojana (PM-JAY) and other private insurances can cover such prognostic tests in a win-win manner for both, it will expedite our products reach the masses and massively improve health outcomes.
What has been the development path of your establishment? Brief us about the milestones of the organization.
OncoStem was incorporated in 2011 with the goal of developing, validating, and marketing innovative products. Towards that goal, we launched our flagship product CanAssist Breast in 2016. The major milestones for OncoStem have been towards each of the main activities such as:
How can we enhance the quality of healthcare services in India while not adding to costs?
More and more health care service providers must look to reduce costs while also improving clinical outcomes for patients, and technology interventions will serve this dual objective in healthcare. Start-ups work on low budgets and on developing innovative products in a time sensitive manner. India needs more start-ups to bring out cost-effective products. In return, India also needs to support the start-ups with seed funds, expansion plans, clear regulations, tax breaks, etc.which will make them work in an efficient manner. Many such initiatives have begun recently and hope that will help the start-ups. This will improve the health care access for the vast majority of Indians, including those who are not in tier 1 urban cities. Healthcare professionals must be trained at various levels and must be updated with industry trends, tools, and technologies.
By 2025, how will our healthcare delivery system change? What roadmap have you laid for the same?
OncoStem's goal is to be the go-to oncology diagnostic company with a panel of innovative tests required for personalized treatment planning for multiple cancers. Our first focus is breast cancer and CanAssist Breast is launched in India and near India markets. We are working on automating CanAssist Breast end-to-end so that we can package it as a kit to be performed at respective hospitals. This will help us to increase the footprint in reducing turn-around time as the business grows. We are entering into Asian markets this year, and this will be followed by launching CanAssist Breast in the Middle East, Europe, and the US.
What advice would you give for the future 'Doctorpreneurs'?
With rapid innovations in the healthcare industry 'Doctorpreneurs' must address existing challenges and introduce new efficient medical tests, and therapies to treat patients. They must embrace the latest industry trends and new-age technologies to solve a real world problems. Today, we need 'pain killers' and not 'vitamins'. I would really like to advise that Doctorpreneurs understand this concept and work towards solving real-world problems which- 'need to be solved, add value' and improve quality of life than solve a 'nice to have' mere incremental problem.
Nestling more than 20 years of experience in research and technology while practicing in India, the US, and Singapore, Dr. Bakre has worked in academia at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, NYC and Moores Cancer Center, UCSD and in the industry as well. The last job at a MNC involved the development of Point of Care diagnostics. She has won many awards including Young Scientistand Best entrepreneur- women in STEM, has published in Nature Medicine. She also has multiple patents to her credit.