Dr Manjiri Bakre:the lady healthpreneur, advancing the boundaries in cancer treatment withOncoStem
The rising numbers of diseases require efficientand modernized solutions in healthcare to make prevention, analysis and cureeasier and convenient to all. With technological advancement and innovations,the healthcare industry in India is going through huge transformations toenhance productivity and efficiency. As founders of path-breaking healthcarestartups and other enterprises, they are touching unserved corners throughdiscovery in the diagnostic and enterprise areas and rendering cost-effectivesolutions.
Dr Manjiri Bakre is one of the notable names; shetook steps to raise the bar and break the untouched barriers for the treatmentof cancer. She had lost one of her close friends, due to breast cancer. Thisincident made Manjiri think that we do not prognosis the disease enough, and weneed to dissect the tumor biology more to understand the 'aggressiveness' ofthe disease and progression of the same. In order to make it happen, shefounded OncoStem in 2011. Presently, she is leading the company as a CEO.
Dr Bakre possesses great expertise in the medicalfield; she served in 2 companies in India and worked in prestigiousuniversities and institutes in the US and Singapore before founding OncoStem.In academic, Manjiri completed Bachelor and Master of Science in Microbiologyfrom R Ruia College, Mumbai, and MS University of Baroda respectively. Postthat she did a Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Indian Institute of Science,Bangalore.
OncoStem:Pioneered in Personalized Treatment of Cancer
OncoStem is an Oncology focussed med-tech companythat produces innovative tests which assess the 'aggressiveness' of patient'stumor thereby, empowering them to personalize their treatment e.g., patientswith 'less aggressive' tumor can take mild therapy as compared to 'highlyaggressive' tumor. Thus, the tests whichare performed on the patient's individual tumor help clinicians to designpersonalized therapy for every patient based on tumor biology.
OncoStem is focused on developing innovativeprognostic and predictive solutions for numerous types of cancer. Here, theapproach is to integrate the molecular signature of the disease withclinicopathological parameters that are time-tested in prognostic evaluation ofcancer. The team of 26 experienced and expert professionals applies itsexpertise in tumor biology to formulate actionable solutions that assistphysicians in developing optimal therapeutic programs for their patients. Some of the major partners who find valuefrom the OncoStem offering are Government& Private Hospital, Direct Patients, Insurance Companies & Policyproviders, and central and state insurancepolicy providers that offer subsidized healthcare.
Passionately committed to modernizing health carethrough efficient technology, Dr Bakre establishedOncoStem to bring advancement in Cancer Management. We sat down with theleading lady to gain more insights.
Here are editedexcerpts.
Where does yourinterest in entrepreneurship come from – how did you start?
Being a genuine believer in diligent work,perseverance, and creative thinking, I have always believed in adding value. Ialways think that it is important to do fundamental/basic science research, butit is equally critical to 'apply' the 'knowledge' gained from doing basicscience research to benefit the community. My passion and curiosity in medicalscience and to-do-zeal led to the foundation of OncoStem with the goal todevelop, validate, and market innovative products which help in cancertreatment planning to patients.
Give us insightsinto the major offerings of the company. And, how does the company supportpeople with its offerings?
OncoStem is a med-tech company that focuses onassessing the aggressiveness of tumors which in-turn will empower cliniciansand patients towards personalized treatment planning. At present, our offeringis only available for breast cancer and it is called:
Our tests are based on in-depth tumor biology tohelp clinicians plan a personalized treatment for each patient. Our first focusis breast cancer. Today, almost ninety-five percent of early-stagebreast cancerpatients get chemotherapy to prevent cancer recurrence. It is well known thatchemotherapy benefits only about 10% – 15% of patients with early-stage breastcancer. At OncoStem, we are trying to solve the problem of finding whichearly-stage cancer patients have a high chance/risk of recurrence and supportthem in optimum treatment planning.
What are the keyfactors that make your product stand out in the market?
CanAssist Breast helps to identify the likelihoodof breast cancer returning post-surgery. Our test classifies patients as either'low-risk' or 'high-risk' based on the patient's risk of a breast cancerrecurrence over the years. Up to 3 out of 4 early-stages breast cancer patientsare likely to have a low risk of breast cancer recurrence.
CanAssist Breast has been developed and validatedon Indian patients (>1000 patients) which is a key feature of the test. Mostother competing tests are developed on Western patients who are diagnosed with themilder disease at later years as against patients in India and Asia in generaland hence it is important that such tests are well validated if not developedon the population in which they will be used. Plus CanAssist Breast is muchmore economical to use for the patient in India compared to Western tests. If you have been diagnosed with early-stage,invasive breast cancer, it is likely that you may not benefit fromchemotherapy. Once your risk of breast cancer recurrence is known, you canconsult your doctor to personalize your treatment plan.
What do you thinkis the toughest problem for businesswomen?
The biggest challenge that women suffer is of notbeing heard and taken seriously. Nobody is willing to accept that women are proficientenough to run a company on their own. And, it is the global level dilemma.
What's a day inyour life like as an entrepreneur?
I typically leave for work at 7.45 am. At work, I wear varied hats depending on theday. It includes sales meeting, scientific review, issues faced in finance,legal to troubleshooting a statistical analysis work or visit a hospital topitch the product for commercial purposes, support design marketing collateral,interview candidates. I typically leavefor home by 5.30 pm but most nights put in hours of work before going to bed.
Though thestatistics of women entrepreneurs in India are rising, yet a woman's ambitionsare often doubted in our society. Is it difficult for women to start a businessin India?
In India, gender discrimination is high, andwomen entrepreneurs definitely are affected by the patriarchy system.Unfortunately, the world doubts women's ambition more than their capabilitiesand that leads to self-doubt eventually. Additionally, the roadblock of startinga business starts at home wherein family support is very minimal that makes itdifficult for women to start their own venture.
How do you achieve a balance between yourpersonal and professional life?
Work-lifebalance is no piece of cake, but I strive to accomplish it as much as I can bygiving time to my family. Over the years, one thing I have learned is to be'highly focused and efficient' is a key to achieving work-life balance.
Feather in theCap
What are yourfuture plans to keep growing in the market?
We are entering into Asian markets this year, andthis will be followed by launching CAB in the Middle East, Europe, and the US.We are also working on adding more innovative tests for additional cancers andtowards that goal, development of tests for oral, and ovarian cancers areunderway.
As a source ofinspiration for many, what would your advice be for female entrepreneurs, whoare planning to enter the business world?
My advice to women entrepreneurs is to have anabsolute hold in whatever they want to venture into, analyze their ideasthoroughly from diverse aspects, talk to relevant folks, and be confident aboutselling it. Be extremely focussed,efficient, honest, and aware of things, read like there is no tomorrow and worklike things should have been done yesterday!