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December 2017

Impression 2017 – Club SciWri in retrospect

in ClubSciWri by

Club SciWri, the online blogging platform founded by scientists for scientists, has constantly endeavored to provide a platform to STEM professionals who’ve tirelessly instigated their passion for literary and/or artistic skills with the bonus of visibility. The team that runs this journal, even in the wake of organizational reshuffling in 2017, stuck to its vision of publishing articles relevant to innumerable STEM careers and providing added skillsets to professionals for efficient maneuvering of their own careers.

Articles of various flavors are run by Club SciWri – career transition stories, science policy, biodiversity and environment, entrepreneurship, developments in the world of science, arts and pharma (Med-ness). As the year comes to an end, we decided to look back and retrospect on how we grew as a team. Amongst the best additions to our group, the bunch of freelance editors stood out. They’ve relentlessly helped polish the articles that go online with us. Shayu Deshpande, Paurvi Shinde, Manoja Eswara, Arunima Singh, Roopsha Sengupta, Sushama Sivakumar and Akshaya Hodigere have been the driving force for our editorial team. Vinita Bharat’s Fuzzy Synapse added a different essence to numerous articles and was also a star attraction of our team.

We chose to list the ten most-viewed articles that were published by Club SciWri in 2017. The sheer breadth of the articles speaks volumes about the diversity we strive for, the information we aim to share and what strikes a chord in the reader’s mind. The articles (in descending order of viewership) are:

  1. Transitioning from Bench to Business Development: Face to Face with Subhalaxmi Nambi by Abirami Santhanam – March 22, 2017
  2. From Oklahoma to Manhattan- The Genesis of Sevengenes by Imit Kaur – June 26, 2017
  3. STEM Peers 2017 by Abhinav Dey – July 27, 2017
  4. Transitioning from Bench to Academic management: Tête-à-tête with Dr. Viswanadham Duppatla by Abirami Santhanam – May 25, 2017
  5. Ernesto Llamas: the sketching science guy by Ipsa Jain – April 29, 2017
  6. Transitioning into Science Policy: In conversation with Zane Martin, Ph.D. by Sayantan Chakraborty – February 7, 2017
  7. Face to Face with Dr. Senthil Arumugam by Ananda Ghosh – January 8, 2017
  8. Madhushree: the Maverink girl by Ipsa Jain – April 5, 2017
  9. Informational Interviews and How to go about them? by Riya Binil – May 24, 2017
  10. Medical Science Liaison 101 with Dr. Martijn Bijker by Radhika Raheja – August 30, 2017

As Club SciWri grew since its inception, the team running the show had an immense hurdle to take care of – outreach and viewership. We not only persevere for quality, finding audience for published works brings visibility to the contributors. In this year, we had a total viewership of 71,436 with 40,022 unique visitors (compared to 45,255 and 23,376 for 2016, respectively).

We were accessed in 140 countries (relative to 98 in 2016)! USA, followed by India, Germany, UK and Canada were the lead geographical hotspots for Club SciWri viewers and we covered every continent on earth (except Antarctica – we’ll make it there soon!).

Since we keep working hard on spreading the word about every article that’s published on Club SciWri, efficient use of sharing platforms also matters. In descending order of referrals, Facebook, search engines, LinkedIn, android-apps, and Twitter have helped us direct audience to our articles, hence increasing the brand value of contributors and Club SciWri alike.

The journey so far would not have been possible without the support of the contributors, editors and illustrators, PhDCSG, and the audience. Thank you for being there with us. As we look forward to more adventures in the coming year, the entire Club SciWri team wishes you all a Happy New Year!

 


The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

PhDCSG Consulting Club – How it all began and future plans

in ClubSciWri/Entrepreneurship by

Editor’s note- Ever thought of Consulting as a career option? Look no further, PhDCSG has its very own Consulting Club, where members can connect and solve case studies as well as learn about business. In this article, Czuee Morey writes about how the Club was formed, what it has achieved so far and what its outlook is, for the future. It is a wonderful example for the potential PhDCSG holds in aiding career choices through the creation of hubs, by providing resources and connecting those with common interests. – Roopsha Sengupta

If you are a PhD who is tired of working alone on your experiments and would rather work in teams, travel extensively and be paid well for your hard work, consulting might be just the right career for you! Consulting is one of the most sought after options to transition out of academia by graduates from various disciplines. One of the major reasons for this trend could be that unlike other industry jobs, getting hired as an entry-level consultant does not require much experience. Also the exit options after consulting can be fabulous considering the solid experience, growth and exposure to varied fields gained in consulting. However, getting a consulting job does require demonstrating that you are good at analytical and quantitative skills as well as have a basic understanding of business, all of which is usually assessed through ~30-min case interviews.

Consulting clubs have become a regular feature at many universities. They provide PhDs and postdocs with easy access to consulting resources and fellow graduates to practice cases. Many times these consulting clubs also provide consulting services to clients at reduced prices, which help the members gain valuable experience. However, many universities around the world still do not have such consulting clubs. Moreover, PhDs who have already graduated from University might not have access to clubs at their University any longer.

PhDCSG came up with the idea to launch an online consulting club so that its members could have an easily accessible solution to prepare for consulting or simply to learn more about business. The PhDCSG group itself has been a major success in connecting PhDs worldwide through its online platform, with over 8000 members. The consulting club arose as an extension of this platform where the members connect with each other via social media and solve cases using audio/video conferencing. Mayur Vadhvani and I started the club in March 2017 and Ananda Ghosh has provided us constant support throughout. We saw a lot of response from participants in the beginning. However, as the case studies progressed many members dropped out due to time constraints or simply because they realized they were not interested in consulting. We eventually had 20 committed members who are still with us. We had another intake in the middle of the year, and are currently operating with 40 members. Parthiban Rajasekharan and Shruti Srinivasan have recently joined us to help run the club.

So, what is exactly a case interview and how is it used to evaluate candidates? In a case interview ‘the applicant is presented with a challenging business scenario that he/she must investigate and propose a solution to. After the applicant is given information about the case, the applicant is expected to ask the interviewer logical questions that will help the applicant understand the situation, probe deeper into relevant areas, gather pertinent information and arrive at a solution or recommendation for the question or situation at hand’ according to Wikipedia. Although this might sound relatively easy, many intelligent candidates with top grades fail case interviews due to lack of frameworks and problem structuring. Eventually, it is not only important that you get the right answer, but also what steps you take to solve it and if you give enough confidence to the interviewer that you can follow such a structured approach every single time. So, practice is crucial!

We have structured the PhDCSG consulting club so as to simulate the actual case interview process. The participants work in pairs, where one person acts as an interviewer and another one as interviewee for the first case study and the task exchanges for the next case study and so on. For every case, we send the interviewer all the information for a case to guide the interviewee. The interviewee would ideally get the problem case from the interviewer on the day they decide to solve the case. While solving the case, the interviewee is expected to ask several questions, and the interviewer is supposed to guide them. The participants were provided the following pointers by the PhDCSG club, in order to work on the cases. After a case study is solved, the interviewer gives feedback (we have this automated thanks to Google forms!) on a number of factors such as calculation skills, hypothesis-driven approach, case structuring, communication, case conclusion as well as appearance and attitude of the interviewee. The interviewee also gives us feedback about the case – if it was easy peasy, moderate or ninja-level difficult!

The group also provides support besides case studies. We have created an FB group where all the members can interact and share articles, tips and have discussions about business terminologies and case studies. We had also organized a Facebook live interview on the main PhDCSG group by a consultant, Anandaroop Dasgupta, who shared his experience as a consultant and tips on preparing for interviews.

We have had a good response from the participants so far. Many of them were struggling to prepare for consulting all by themselves and were happy to find this resource. It has also benefited members who were not looking for a consulting job but wanted to learn more about business. Syam Anand, who is an IP consultant quoted, “The case studies I did with other members in the club, sharpened my business data analytical skills and more importantly, helped me to understand key pieces of the puzzle and find and seek them when they are missing to complete a case. Budding entrepreneurs can learn a lot from the case studies in the club. Since these activities benefit critical thinking abilities needed/used for problem solving, one will also get insights into how companies/organizations operate and how the balance sheets guide all of the decisions made. This will also benefit those who are not actively looking for consulting jobs as you will understand your own jobs better, irrespective of your technological area and nature of your organization as the case studies themselves are very diverse”. Since, I also participate in the case studies besides helping to organize it, I have experienced a lot of benefits myself. The regular weekly case studies ensure that I keep on track with my practice in spite of a busy schedule! It helps to overcome the complacency of reaching out to partners for practice and keeps me on my toes even if I don’t have an interview to prepare for. The platform also gives an opportunity to virtually meet fellow PhDs who are also struggling to find a job in business/consulting. Somdatta Karak, who was a postdoc in Germany and later moved to India, while keeping up with all the consulting assignments throughout her transition, explains it as follows – “The club helped me to invest time discussing the prospects of consulting with peers with similar interests or sharing the geographical location of interest. It helped me network with some wonderful people in addition to practicing case studies together.”

Such interactions with fellow PhD students proved to be very useful for Saikat Nandi, when he was looking for team members to participate in a business case competition in Boston. Through an email sent to the consulting club he found Parthiban Rajasekaran. Their team was selected as one of the top five, after solving a business case within a mere 10 days. Parthiban gave a recap of the event later to the group, “Essentially, you have 10 days to solve the case and present your analysis and recommendation in a Powerpoint slide deck. So, our team got selected for the top 5, which by itself is a great result as none of us had any previous experience. Most of the judges look for three things: (1) Did you do a thorough analysis of the case? (2) What is the kind of analysis (primary or secondary research) you did and what is the logic behind your framework of analysis? (3) What are your recommendations and how are they going to help your clients? It goes without saying that I am thankful for the PhDCSG consulting group. It was that email from Saikat to the PhDCSG club that made me sign up for this experience. Now we know what is expected in case competitions and we can help you if any of you are planning to go for one.”

The organizers of the consulting club (Mayur Vadhvani, Parthiban Rajasekharan, Shruti Srinivasan and I) are doing our best to make sure the club runs smoothly and that the members benefit from it. We are working on a voluntary basis, which sometimes leads to organizational delays. However, we always encourage the members to continue their case practice and reach out to other members in the group. In the future, we are planning to have more interactions with consultants to gain a better understanding of consulting in general and to help the members to have case practices with real consultants before an actual interview. Since the members have asked for greater interactions within the group, an online business case competition is also in the pipeline.

If you are a PhD and would like to learn more about consulting, check out this link for what a consulting interview looks like and also visit the Preplounge website. We also recommend going through the case interview introductory videos by Victor Cheng. This has 12 parts and is roughly 4.5 hours in total. If you find that interesting and would like to participate in the club, drop us an email at csg.consultingclub@gmail.com. We would also love to hear from consultants who can help us with guidance based on their consulting experience, case studies, and with the upcoming business case competition in the club.

About Czuee Morey:

Czuee is currently exploring applications of digital technologies in healthcare as a market intelligence analyst at Debiopharm in  Lausanne, Switzerland. She has a PhD in protein biophysics and a broad experience in various other fields such as genomics analysis. Equipped with business skills and an entrepreneurial mindset, she is looking for opportunities to bring innovative healthcare solutions to patients. Besides her work, she is involved in organizing the PhDCSG consulting club and Life science networking group in Switzerland, and is an amateur webcomic artist and DJ.

Editors: Roopsha Sengupta, PhD edited and Paurvi Shinde, PhD proofread the article.

Roopsha is a freelance manuscript editor and is trying to break into a suitable scientific editing and writing role. She did her PhD in the Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna and postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge UK, specializing in the field of Epigenetics. Besides science and words, she enjoys spending time with children and singing.

 

Paurvi is a Post Doc Fellow at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle, where she’s studying the mechanism of how alloantibodies are formed against the non-ABO blood group antigens. Apart from doing bench research, she loves editing scientific articles, to help convey the message behind it in a clear and concise form.

 

Cover image: Unsplash

Infographic: PhDCSG Consulting Club


The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Modeling Autism Using Stem Cells

in Reporting from the Lab by

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neuropsychiatric disorder associated with impaired communication and social interaction. Since several genetic and environmental factors contribute to the pathology of ASD, developing a model system to study ASD is extremely difficult. In a recent report published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and the University of California, San Diego used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for modeling ASD. iPSCs are generated by reprogramming of mature differentiated cells of the body into embryonic-like cells. iPSCs, therefore, can generate all the cell types found in the body.

For this study, researchers generated iPSCs from dental pulp cells of the teeth donated by three children diagnosed with ASD as well as their age-matched controls. The generated iPSCs were then used to derive neurons and astrocytes, the two major cell types found in the brain. The neurons derived from ASD patients formed a lesser number of connections and showed reduced firing rates as compared to the healthy neurons. In this study, researchers showed for the first time the involvement of astrocytes in the pathology of ASD, using iPSCs as a model. When the neurons derived from ASD patients were cultured with healthy astrocytes, they showed an improvement in their morphology. On the other hand, the culture of healthy neurons with ASD-derived astrocytes hindered neuronal development.

The researchers made an interesting observation that ASD-derived astrocytes produced higher levels of IL-6, a proinflammatory protein, as compared to the healthy astrocytes. Additionally, blocking IL-6 improved the connectivity of ASD-derived neurons, whereas addition of IL-6 to healthy neurons impaired their connectivity. This finding suggests that controlling IL-6 levels might prove to be beneficial for the treatment of ASD. However, further experiments are required to confirm this finding. Taken together, this study provides interesting insights on the biological basis of ASD, by identifying a critical role of astrocytes in this disorder, which may help to develop novel therapies for its treatment.

Journal reference:

Russo FB, Freitas BC, Pignatari GC, Fernandes IR, Sebat J, Muotri AR, Beltrão-Braga PCB. Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes in autism using human induced pluripotent stem cells. Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 3. pii: S0006-3223(17)32009-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.09.021.

Other references:

https://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/induced-pluripotent-stem-cells-reveal-astrocyteneuron-interplay-contributes-to-brain-pathology-in-autism

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171018190857.htm

https://www.biotechniques.com/news/Neurobiologys-Model-Revolution/biotechniques-366492.html

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/sci/2016/7909176Pixabay/

http://dmm.biologists.org/content/5/1/26

Featured image source: Pixabay

About the author:

Isha Verma has finished her Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Her research work focussed on the generation and characterization of neural cells from stem cells. She is currently looking for postdoctoral research position.  She also works as a freelance scientific editor and scientific consultant. She loves reading, traveling, and stargazing. She can be reached here.

Edited by: Radhika Raheja

Mitra Biotech – A Pioneer in Personalized Cancer Treatment

in SciBiz by

Editor’s Note

Finding a cure for cancer has been a daunting prospect for both physicians and scientists. Strides in various genomics technologies have revealed the mutational landscape of cancer and heterogeneity within tumors. Despite availability of therapies that target specific mutations, the biggest road-block has been the prediction of accurate biological response to these treatments. Riya Binil writes about a pioneering precision medicine technology called CANscript developed by Mitra Biotech that intends to overcome this huge obstacle. This company has developed a unique system of culturing tumor cells together with its microenvironment thus mimicking the cancer ecosystem within the body. Different combinations of treatment are tested with this system to identify those that work with greatest efficacy. With CANscript Mitra Biotech has taken a giant leap in the fight against cancer and we wish them great success.​- Shayu Deshpande

 

Mitra Biotech has expanded the horizons of cancer treatment by delivering a truly personalized patient-specific cancer care through their proprietary CANscript technology. CANscript is a fast, cost-effective, and powerful technology that predicts a patient’s response to cancer treatment with high correlation to the clinical outcome, thus aiding in the elimination of ineffective treatments. In an exclusive interview with Kirk Mundy, Senior Director, Worldwide Clinical Marketing at Mitra Biotech, he talks to us about Mitra’s CANScript technology and about their commitment to improving cancer care.

 

Mitra Biotech, spear headed by Mallik Sundaram and Pradip K Majumdar, was established in 2010 with a mission to develop and deliver ‘more efficient and effective’ strategies for cancer treatment. The company is headquartered in Woburn, MA, USA and runs an active laboratory arm in Bengaluru, India.

Need for personalized cancer care

Cancer is a devastating disease caused due to abnormal division of cells in the body. Aberrant cell growth in cancer can be a result of random mutations in DNA that are instigated by environmental and/or genetic factors. Cancer treatments are provided based on the type, stage (early or late) and grade (low or fast growth rate) of the cancer cells. Currently, available cancer treatments include non-targeted interventions like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplant as well as targeted therapies such as immunotherapy, hormone therapy and use of specific drugs to block the growth of cancer. These therapies are however, not free of drawbacks. While non-targeted therapies kill both cancerous and healthy cells leading to side effects, targeted treatments become ineffective over time as cancer cells become resistant to the drugs or re-grow utilizing alternate pathways. Therefore, it is important to deliver the right combination of therapies that kill cancer cells with high efficacy. This is very challenging as there is no defined approach for the use of combination treatments. Hence, there is a need to develop tools that will help physicians select appropriate patient-specific cancer therapy.

 

Precision medicine is a form of personalized cancer therapy, based on understanding of the patient’s genetic background. In this therapy, clinicians recommend treatments to a patient depending on population studies, where patients are grouped by factors such as similarity in the treatment history, genomic profile and tumor type or tumor progression. However, each cancer can be idiosyncratic due to differences in DNA mutation profile, tumor microenvironment, vasculature, and immune system. Therefore similar precision therapies may have low success rate in patients sharing common features. This calls for a stricter personalized cancer treatment approach that is specific for each patient and takes into consideration the characteristics of not only the tumor but also its microenvironment. This is where Mitra’s approach ‘CANscript’ falls into place. CANscript is currently the only available ‘truly personalized’ cancer therapy of its kind.

 

CANscript technology

The isolated cancer cells are grown under controlled conditions on culture dishes ex-vivo using a suitable matrix and patient serum for optimal cell growth. This recreated tumor microenvironment is then subjected to various combination of drug treatments following which the tumor response is scored.  The tumor response is measured through various parameters such as changes in morphology, metabolism, viability and necrosis.

 

via GIPHY

CANscript involves efficiently recreating a tumor’s microenvironment in culture (ex-vivo). The technology utilizes a tiny amount of tumor or cancer cells obtained via biopsy and blood of the patient. The isolated cancer cells are grown under controlled conditions on culture dishes ex-vivo using a suitable matrix and patient serum for optimal cell growth. This recreated tumor microenvironment is then subjected to various combination of drug treatments following which the tumor response is scored.  The tumor response is measured through various parameters such as changes in morphology, metabolism, viability and necrosis.  The data output obtained from these measurements is then subjected to analysis by a proprietary algorithm to predict clinical response to the respective treatments in the form of M-score. An M-score greater than 26 is indicative of high probability for that patient to respond well to the same treatment. The tumor microenvironment along with the algorithm forms the CANscript technology. The full procedure of CANscript testing is completed within seven days.

CANscript has been tested and validated in nearly 2000 patients with close to two dozen tumor types being included during the development. Moreover, CANscript has been tested for hundreds of drugs and drug combination across multiple drug classes. Data from clinical studies show that CANscript predicted treatments have greater than 90% correlation with clinical response. An important consideration here is that the therapies to be tested on the tumor are suggested directly by the patient’s oncologists, in which case, factors like therapeutic availability, cost, time, toxicity and other side effects have already been evaluated. Once results are generated, the physician considers the M-score for each of the tests and selects a therapy based on the experience and patient’s treatment history. Thus, CANscript aids in eliminating ineffective therapies thereby sparing patients from unnecessary toxicity from the failed treatments. CANscript saves time and is cost-effective for patients both of which are important factors, suggesting that it truly resembles a personalized form of cancer therapy.

 

Currently, Mitra Biotech works with clinicians from across 40 different institutions in India for CANscript testing. Kirk mentions that the patient has to go through their doctor to utilize the testing. One of the major challenges is that physicians are reluctant to shift from conventional treatment procedures to more innovative methods. Providing convincing data from controlled clinical study reports and clinical trials can soon change that. To facilitate this, Mitra Biotech is launching formalized studies in India, US and Europe aiming to capture on the clinical utility (do doctors prefer to choose the treatment with highest M-score or their first choice of treatment with high M-score) and patient’s response to these treatments.

 

Since CANscript technology is validated for thousands of different cancers and supported by clinical correlation studies, it forms a valuable platform for developing anti-cancer drugs in comparison to conventional cell lines or animal studies. Therefore, in collaboration with biopharmaceutical companies, Mitra is actively engaged in anti-cancer drug development. Above all, Mitra continues to explore basic cancer research in the area of tumor microenvironment through their R&D programs.

 

Kirk shares that Mitra is growing in size and will have job openings in the areas of Clinical testing, R&D, Business development, Sales and Marketing teams. He mentions that they have people with academic as well as industrial experience in the Clinical and R&D teams whereas their commercial team mostly consists of members with prior industrial experience. For open positions at MitraBiotech, you can either visit the company website or their LinkedIn page.

 

When asked about the company’s culture, Kirk describes it as caring, co-operative and committed to helping patients at a personal level to obtain effective cancer treatments. Mitra Biotech’s contributions towards helping physicians select the best cancer care is a true reflection of the name ‘Mitra’ (derived from Hindi word ‘Mitr’ meaning friend). We thank Kirk Mundy for his time and wish Mitra Biotech resounding success in their endeavor.

 

References:

  1. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types
  2. https://patient.info/health/staging-and-grading-cancer
  3. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/targeted-therapies/targeted-therapies-fact-sheet
  4. http://www.mitrabiotech.com/
  5. https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms7169

 

 

About the author:

Riya Binil is a science enthusiast and a creative scientist. She holds an MSc in Applied Chemistry (Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kochi, India), a PhD (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India) and Postdoctoral Research experience (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada) in Cell Biology. She currently works as a Biotech Analyst with SGS Canada. In addition to science, Riya enjoys music, traveling and experimenting different cuisines. She can be reached at here.

 

Editors:

Shayu Deshpande, PhD

Paurvi Shinde, PhD

 

Illustration:

Vinita Bharat, PhD

 

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

 

 

Starting up your idea – Face à Face with Kunal Kishore Dhawan, Founder of Navia Life Care

in Entrepreneurship/Face à Face/SciBiz by

‘Rome was not built in a day’ – as cliché as it sounds, it has stood the test of time even in this era of startups. Beyond the romance of building enterprises, one should take a reality check on challenges faced in building an idea from scratch and turning it into a reality. Somdatta Karak (SK) from CSG talks to Kunal Kishore Dhawan (KD), about his entrepreneurial experience while building ‘Navia Life Care’, a health tech company based in New Delhi, India. Navia Life Care builds customized mobile and software solutions for clinicians, medical providers and other players in healthcare ecosystem. Their goal is to provide easier and cheaper means of communicating, engaging and monitoring of patients.

Talking to us about his roller coaster journey from Navia’s inception to developing happy customers in market, Kunal opens up about the valuable lessons he learned while building his team, product, and skills that helped him sustain in the market.

SK: We would love to know about your journey so far – from having the first idea, to arranging funds, to developing your product and company into its current form.

KD: Healthcare is a traditionally fragmented space in India, with various stakeholders – medical practitioners, providers, pharmacists, pharma companies, insurance players and ultimately patients operating in silos. Getting them to work in tandem with each other, by exchanging information and interlinks, is any healthcare entrepreneur’s dream. I realized several critical issues plaguing the industry, ranging from the lack of essential quality health services, inaccessibility of healthcare institutions for differently abled, overall scarcity of medical professionals, to the quality of sub-standard medicines. My experience as an executive in the pharma industry made one issue particularly stand out – the patient’s adherence to drug regimens.

While we knew that technology can solve problems in this field, it was essential for us to first understand which problems we want to address, and for whom. Repeated interactions with different stakeholders prompted us, to develop a pill reminder system at Navia Life Care, that would function on a mobile device. Our first iteration of the app was based on a business-to-consumer model, i.e. by working directly with patients. The release of our app was well received, but could not open any avenues of monetization. That prompted us to further evaluate our company’s strategy.

We realized that it was imperative to consider drug adherence as a part of a holistic patient management process, so that our solution also adds value to the clinicians practice, and improves the relationship between patient and provider. Upon finalization of our product’s framework, we assembled an in-house team of developers, to improve work efficiency, reduce errors and turnaround time. Our second direct-to-consumer campaign consisted of roll-out and interaction with patients and providers, where they used our product for a certain period of time. It gave us useful information on the problems faced by both the sides, and compelled us to make the following changes:

  • Opt for a business-to-business (B2B) strategy, i.e., building the platform for healthcare institutions, ranging from individual practitioners, clinics, hospitals to health-focused social enterprises instead of working with patients directly.
  • Be flexible with the product we offer to the clients, instead of forcing one down their throat.
  • Understand first, needs of a client, and then put together a solution that best fits.
  • Be open to brand the product in name of the client, instead of pushing our brand to patients, which might give them incentive to pay for the product.

B2B strategy worked well in regards to generating a revenue and helped us get a small seed investment from Benori Ventures LLP – a private seed fund run by an industry veteran, Ashish Gupta – founder of Evalueserve, Gurgaon, India and co-founder of Ashoka University, Sonepat, India. We are now hoping to break even before the end of 2017.

The core Navia team (from left to right – Gaurav Gupta (Operations Strategy Lead), KD (CEO), Shourjo Banerjee (CTO)

SK: Tell us about the prominent challenges faced in an entrepreneurial journey. How did you work around yours?

KD: The biggest challenge was to identify the needs of customer and build our product around it, so that it gets adopted and paid for by consumers and customers. The only way, in my opinion, to achieve that was to keep the needs of customers in forefront of whatever we do. We have constantly gone back to the users to get their inputs on whatever we created. There is no point in making something, if there is no need for it. Another of our evident challenges was to identify and develop an in-house team who understands, appreciates this problem, and has the skillset to solve it.

Navia was bootstrapped from day 1 and we hired only freshers and trained them to fit the appropriate roles. Until Feb of 2017, we were not able to generate any revenue from our products. We re-designed our product and business strategy multiple times, so that users could see the real value of our product and we could monetize on it. This revenue generation has been very critical for our fundraising ability. Most investors look for a business model that works, i.e. has the ability to generate money, and not burn a hole in pocket of the company.

Meanwhile, there have been times when I felt like doing something else, although not necessarily giving up. I had decided to give myself a year to assess the business correctly, but based on advice given by several veterans, we decided to stretch it to year and a half. There were times during Jan and Feb of this year, where it seemed that we would not be able to pull our resources to last the entire time, but having a clear focus and time frame helped us tide over that period.

SK: How do you support your startup – in terms of funding, mentoring, etc.? Among the young entrepreneurs venturing into health technology in India, which ones do you recommend and why?

KD: I believe we are at a point in the Indian startup ecosystem, where a good support system exists for new entrepreneurs. Of course, it is not anywhere close to the “boom” of 2014-16, but in a way, that’s better. All business ideas are analyzed critically before they get funded. There is a continuous assessment going on from the entrepreneurs and stakeholders of products, which helps us improve the offering, and in better vetting of the business as a whole.

There are plenty of accelerators and incubators (some are associated with universities, which is good) that help the first-time innovators. But it is important to assess them for their merits, as there are always some bad apples. Some are just in business to make a quick buck from their struggling startups, and it is necessary to be wary of them. One has to also analyze the investor’s management team and success story as critically as they assess you as an entrepreneur – and remember – they need you more than you need them! The traditional VC’s are always good, but they come at a later stage. During initial stages, having a mentor from a similar field helps (and if they can fund you in a small way, all the better).

As for the list, I would suggest that every entrepreneur should do their research and identify a team that suits them. It helps not only to increase focus, but also improve one’s network, which is critical at all stages.

SK: According to you, what are some of the most important qualities an entrepreneur should have? Who would you recommend taking this path?

KD: I think an entrepreneur needs to embrace the “humanity” in them – the same qualities that make us human are amplified in entrepreneurship. Patience, diligence, grit, ability to repeatedly take a “no”, adaptability, ability to handle failures, and not being resistant to change, are just some of them. There are times when you might feel that this is the end, but you just need to dig in and get out of the rut. Customers, investors, stakeholders, even team members are often critical of the company and its products, so it is essential to listen, and imbibe what you think is beneficial for betterment of the business.

I think everyone should become an entrepreneur, and if not that at least an intrapreneur. Bring about a change in smallest of the ways, wherever you work or live – that itself is worthwhile. You don’t need to build a billion-dollar business, even the smallest gestures sometimes create a significant impact.

SK: What have been your most valuable learnings so far from entrepreneurship?

KD: This journey has been nothing, if not educational for me. From being a member of a 10,000+ employee organization, to taking the business idea to a 10-member group, it has been full of learning, both academic and intangible ones. Academics or educational apprenticeships have included developments in regulatory landscapes, company laws, human resource requirements, hospital systems, coding technologies/languages, and much more. Although, the intangibles have been more rewarding – such as handling teams and employees, ability to take rejections, adaptability, etc. Entrepreneurship is a long-term game, and one must be ready to slug it out for the long haul. Patience has been key, and not hesitating to seek feedback or help from people more experienced and connected to you, has helped. Lastly, don’t underestimate your network – collaborations, customers, even critics come from a network, and one should always be willing to expand that.

SK: How does the journey look for you in coming years? What are your next priorities? Where do you see yourself and your product in next five years?

KD: I sincerely hope that the coming years are rewarding. A saying goes “Entrepreneurship is the willingness to live for a few years like most people won’t, to enable yourself to live for rest of your life like most people can’t, and I hope it comes true for me. I will continue to build the company, add customers, improvise on products and services while focusing on innovation and differentiation. My aim is to create ten things during my lifetime – now whether it’s ten products or ten companies or a combination of the two remains to be seen. Navia Life Care is a first of these, and I hope in the next five years, I would be able to add to it.

 

Author: Somdatta Karak, PhD writes on science, business/ entrepreneurship and social challenges of education and global health.

Editorial team: Paurvi Shinde, PhD edited the article. Sushama Sivakumar, PhD and Akshaya Hodigere proofread the article.

Paurvi Shinde is a Post Doc Fellow at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle, where she’s studying the mechanism of how alloantibodies are formed against the non-ABO blood group antigens. Apart from doing the actual science, she loves editing scientific articles, to help convey message behind it in a clear and concise form.

Sushama Sivakumar is currently postdoctoral scholar at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Texas, USA. She works in the lab of Hongtao Yu where she studies mechanisms that regulate proper chromosome segregation during mitosis.

Illustration: The cover picture is made by Ipsa Jain (follow her work as IpsaWonders at Facebook and Instagram) with assistance from Noun Project under CC license. The inset images are made by Somdatta Karak.

 

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Organs in a dish: Are you ready for it?

in Medness by

Editor’s Note: What is common between the legendary movies Star Wars and Blade Runner? The most probable answer would be Mr. Harrison Ford. However, being years ahead of their time, both these movies introduced the transforming concept of being artificial in their unique ways. The R2D2 and C3PO versions of artificial intelligence from Star Wars are a reality now with our Mars Rovers and Amazon Echoes. But what about the concept of artificial organs, courtesy Blade Runner. More than 35 years later, we know that shopping for genetically identical, replacement body parts remains the stuff of science fiction. The last decade, however, has witnessed the first steps in the creation of miniaturised version of these body parts. In this Medness blog from #ClubSciWri, Heena Khatter assembles the stories of science, entrepreneurship and the market of artificial organogenesis stemming from 3D Cultures, that will redefine the precision of future medicine.Abhinav Dey

What is 3D culture?

via GIPHY

3D cell cultures create a physiologically relevant artificial environment for growth of cells. They have gained popularity in the past few years, as they mimic the in-vivo conditions better than 2D cultures in petri dishes- which have been used for decades for growing cells. The culture methods are broadly divided into scaffold and scaffold-free.

  • In-vivo cells are surrounded by an extra-cellular matrix and a milieu of nutrients. The scaffold serves as a support and provides the microenvironment for cellular growth. Commonly used scaffolds range from polymers, hydrogels derived from natural sources (collagen, laminin, and gelatin) to micropatterned microplates.
  • Scaffold free methods allow self-assembly of cells into 3D spheroids such as hanging drop plates, rotating bioreactors and magnetic levitation.

Shyamtanu and Orpita discuss the implications of 3D cultures in their SciWri Podcast.

 

Source

 

What’s the history?

 

 

 

Who are the key players in commercializing 3D cultures?

Apart from the big names such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, Merck, VWR International, Lonza group, Corning, 3D Biotek, Kuraray, ReproCELL, BD;  a huge number of start-ups are investing in developing 3D culture diagnostics including InSphero, Kiyatec, N3d Bioscience. Europe has had a head start in this market due to greater awareness amongst people about its benefits, extensive research and growing investments.

Here, I highlight a few start-ups and their strengths in this field.

InSphero: Spin-off from ETH, Zurich; they deal in microtissues and scaffold-free methods. They are aiming for applications in pharmascreening and diagnostics, and to this end, they have collaborated with PerkinElmer on assay development for drug toxicity.

N3d Bioscience: What sets them apart is the levitation method of the 3D culture. By attaching nanoparticles to the cell membrane, cells are magnetized and the spheroids are formed by applying magnets. The company based in Texas, was awarded SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation and their products are now available in the market. They will soon be moving into application of 3D cell culture to Regenerative Medicine.

 

300 Microns: A start-up venture of scientists from Karlsruhe institute of Technology, Germany. 300uM, happens to be the natural distance between two capillaries in an animal tissue and ‘300 Microns’ produce special polymers housing microcavities in the 300uM range. These polymers can be tailor-made to the consumer’s needs varying in geometries, diameter and shape of microcavities and permeability of the polymer.

AIM Biotech: Based in Singapore, they specialize in microfluidic chips for 3D cell culture. These chips can be utilized for co-culture of different cell types. In 2016, within 4 years of establishment, the MIT spin-off company partnered with distributors from USA, Japan, Europe and China expanding their customer-base.

 

Kiyatec: Focusing on cancer therapeutics, they create customised in-vivo like models for drug response profiling, with the aim to evaluate drug toxicity before proceeding with human clinical trials. Founded by Clemson university alumni, they were recently awarded two SBIR grants: one for progressing their work on 3D breast cancer model by the National Cancer Institute and another one for developing a microbioreactor mimicking live bone marrow.

Creative Bioarray: Initially specialising in array products, now they provide a wide range of products for research comprising of various cell types, ready-to-use 3D cell cultures and protocols for 3D model development. Based in New York, they are one of the leading producers of cell lines used in research.

Organogenix: Formerly Scivax, Japan, they develop dishes for spheroid formations. Owned by the JSR corporation, they specialize in scaffold-based 3D cell culture and provide consultation as well as contract services for establishing these methods.

 

Pandorum Technologies: Based out of Bangalore (India), Pandorum Technologies creates 3D-printed human tissues for medical research and therapeutics. Pandorum was the first in India to design and 3D-print human liver tissues for medical research. The startup is currently working on bio-engineering implantable human cornea. Its 3D-printed human tissues are applicable in medical research for drug metabolism and disease modelling. Pandorum’s bigger vision is to make personalized on-demand human organs such as lungs, liver, kidney and pancreas.

 

Applications and Major Consumers

Drug Discovery: Traditionally, tests for a new drug go from 2D cell culture to animal models, before starting with clinical trials on humans, which in itself is a long, laborious process, sometimes spanning a decade. However, 2D cultures have a major draw-back: being mono-layers, the results of drug toxicity in these conditions can be misleading. 3D cultures are much more representative of the in-vivo environment. These cells grown in 3D media and organoids will soon be able to replace the use of animal models, providing clinically relevant tests for drugs that pass to human trials.

Regenerative medicine: The shortage of organs for transplantations has led to adoption of strategies for growing tissues and organoids in petri dishes. There have been success stories for artificial implants, but it’s a long way to go before this becomes a norm. Unsurprisingly, biotechnology and pharmaceutical Industry is the leading end user for these diagnostics. The need for advanced drugs, with minimal animal testing and search for better diagnostics is pushing pharmaceutical companies to adopt 3D cultures.

Basic Research: 3D cultures are becoming popular amongst basic research scientists; since 3D cultures maintain cell morphology and give a more realistic response to candidate small molecules. Especially, the field of cancer biology is moving rapidly and the assays are now being designed to ensure cells grow in a close-to-natural environment.

Challenges and Outlook

These cultures require huge financial investments which is a major concern for wide application in basic research, restricting its usage to certain institutes. Other caveats such as scale and practicality need to be overcome in the near future. With a wide range of applications, 3D cultures are here to stay! The value for global 3D culture market, as of 2016 is US$ 456.8Mn and is projected to reach US$ 2,734.3 Mn by 2025.

 

Watch out for

Microfluidics (Organs on chip) and Organoids

In a Nutshell

Applications

Drug Discovery

Organ Transplant

Cancer Research

Stem Cell

Tissue Regeneration

 

Leading Markets

In North America- USA and in Europe- Germany.

Fastest Growing market- Asia Pacific.

As of 2016, value for global 3D cell culture market, is US$ 456.8Mn and is projected to reach US$ 2,734.3 Mn by 2025.

 

 

And finally, for a career inspiration hear this TED talk by the Cellular Therapeutics CEO, Robert Hariri, talks about his research in using placenta-derived stem cells as novel therapy for Crohn’s disease, and to create new “organoids” for research and transplants.

In his career as neurosurgeon and trauma specialist at Cornell University, biotechnology executive, military surgeon and aviator, Dr. Hariri is most recognized for his discovery of pluripotent stem cells from placenta and as a member of the team which discovered TNF (tumor necrosis factor). Dr. Hariri was awarded the Thomas Alva Edison Award in 2007 for his discovery of placental stem cells and again in 2011 for engineering tissues and organs from stem cells.- From TedMed

References and further reading:

  1. https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/300microns-3d-cell-culture-solutions-tailored-to-customer-needs/
  2. http://www.elveflow.com/organs-on-chip/3d-cell-culture-methods-and-applications-a-short-review/
  3. https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/eric-gottwald-innovative-3d-cell-culture-systems-for-pharmaceutical-testing/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517320/
  5. https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v496/n7444/full/496253a.html
  6. http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/technical-documents/articles/biology/3d-biomatrix-white-paper-3d-cell-culture-101.html
  7. http://www.wtva.com/story/35673624/global-3d-cell-culture-market-expanding-at-a-cagr-of-200-from-2017-to-2025-credence-research

About the Author:

Heena is interested in scientific writing, communication and outreach. She did her PhD in Strasbourg and is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at EMBL, Heidelberg; with experience in the field of molecular, cellular and structural biology. When she is not in the lab, she can be found promoting open access to other researchers or discussing scientific research with students, and travelling to offbeat destinations

About the Podcasters:

Orpita Dey has pursued her M.Sc in Microbiology from Bangalore University. She is currently working as a consultant copy editor for Newgen Knowledge Works. She edits STEM publications and also books on Humanities. She has worked in the past with organizations like Thomson Reuters, ANSR Source, and Education First. She is a science enthusiast and loves to learn new languages. Presently, she is learning German from Dallas Goethe Institute.

Shyamtanu Datta pursued his Ph.D. in Biomedicine (Molecular and Cellular Ophthalmology) from Universität Klinikum Regensburg (Regensburg, Germany). He is currently working as a postdoc at department of Ophthalmology in UT Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas, Texas). He is passionate in learning about business of science which translates from bench to bedside. With over 8 years of experience in research and education, he also wants to contribute to educational innovation for the next generation by making science education more personalized, interesting and fun for the next generation. He loves to travel and learn new technologies.

 

Cover Image: Vinita Bharat

Infographics and Blog design: Abhinav Dey

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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