Reaching out to the masses

DR. MALLIK SUNDARAM, CO-FOUNDER, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF-EXECUTIVE OFFICER, MITRA BIOTECH

Dr. Mallik Sundaram, co-founder, president and chief-executive officer of Bengaluru-based Mitra Biotech Pvt. Ltd. (Mitra), aims to make his company one of the top three biotechnology companies in India by 2015 and top five in the world by 2020. And to make this happen, it has adopted diagnostic and co-developmental models and plans to expand its reach across the globe. Since the last time we wrote about Mitra in December 2011, it has received significant market traction, which can be largely attributed to its focus on technology-enabled personalised cancer care. It has grown in various parameters such as technology, market reach, new facilities and workforce.  The company has also changed the name of its flagship product from Oncoprint to CANScriptTM taking into account the increased relevance of the product in selecting the most optimal drugs for the cancer patient under investigation. 

Founded in 2008, Mitra is a translational biology company focused on personalised cancer therapy. The company matches drugs to cancer patients and vice-versa using its proprietary experiment-driven CANScriptTM model. Mitra has developed this model for various solid cancers (that form discrete tumor mass) including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, head and neck cancer, gastric cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, esophagus cancer, brain cancer and hematological cancers.  Mitra believes in constantly validating the CANScriptTM platform and broadening it to cover different categories of solid cancers and hematological cancers. It has validated CANScriptTM in 4-5 more solid cancers and two hematological cancers in addition to the previous 6 solid cancers. It has also validated CANScriptTM for drugs that fall under the category of biosimilars and polysaccharides. It is in the process of validating CANScriptTM for some of the more invasive tumors. 

We plan to expand to few other hospitals in the U.S. over the next 1 or 2 years. Expansion to other countries in Asia and Europe is also on the cards and it will happen in tandem with the U.S. expansion.

Expanding its reach

What has helped Mitra gather visibility over the last two years for its CANScriptTM technology is its participation in many high profile conferences like Indian Cancer Congress, AACR and ASCO. “Apart from HCG, several other hospitals in India and the U.S. have expressed interest in working with Mitra to ensure that a greater number of people are benefited by CANScriptTM,” says Sundaram. The company is in the process of organising its marketing and logistics network, which it plans to finalise and implement by the second quarter of 2014. This will involve setting up three additional laboratories, preferably in key geographical nodal centers such as Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi. This will ensure that the company is able to access most cancer centers in India.

Mitra has also chosen India as an example for emerging markets and the U.S. as an example for developed countries. It already has a presence in the U.S. market through a well-known hospital chain, Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “We plan to expand to few other hospitals in the U.S. over next 1 or 2 years time. Expansion to other countries in Asia and Europe is also on the cards and it will happen in tandem with the U.S. expansion,” says Sundaram.  The company has opened a CLIA certified research and development facility in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. to support its U.S. activities.

Working on its technology

Mitra’s proprietary technology platform enables it to predict how the patient would respond to a given drug. This technology helps it operate in both these verticals – Theranostics and Translational Biology. Theranostics is the diagnostic model where it reaches out to physicians to enable them to select the most optimal drug combination for a patient. Here, Mitra’s CANScriptTM technology is similar to antibiotic selection. When one has a bacterial infection, the physician does not immediately prescribe an antibiotic but finds the causative bacteria and then prescribes an appropriate antibiotic. In this area, the response to CANScriptTM has been good so far. “It is heartening to see a lot of people being benefited by this technology. However, at this point in time, we are not selling the service directly to the patients,” states Sundaram. The CANScriptTM result enables physicians make an informed treatment decision keeping in mind the patient history, health condition and other such factors.  Its charges also vary as per volume flow. “For people where affordability is an issue, we have made provisions for discount,” adds he.  CANScriptTM has been offered to more than 100 patients in 2013 and the company plans to increase this 10 fold (~1,000) in 2014 and to 5,000 in 2015. And this will be possible because of its increased market reach.

In the translational biology model, Mitra co-develops drugs and enables global pharma companies to accelerate their drug discovery research from late preclinical stages to clinical stage. What this means is, the company does not design a molecule from scratch and take it all the way to the market. It works with others – both academia and global biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies – in developing their molecules. “We have co-developed a novel HDAC inhibitor that has shown promising results in all conventional preclinical assays as well as advanced CANscriptTM assays. We are looking for a commercial partner to take this into human clinical trials,” states Sundaram.

The company has also doubled its R&D space (to 5000 square feet of wetlab) at Bengaluru for centralised operations. “Since we have a good logistics network, we are able to receive samples from across India. We have plans of expanding to other metros shortly,” says Sundaram.

Clinical trials are the most expensive part of novel drug development. It takes multiple years and more than 80 per cent of total development cost to take a successful drug through Phase I, II and III clinical trials. However, the way it is currently being done has created a mismatch between the drug and the patients. Mitra solves this problem by selecting the optimal cancer, optimal drug combination and optimal patient profile for the given drug under development. This translates to lower trial cost, higher probability of success and ultimately, a lower drug costs.

Going forward

The company received series B funding (to the tune of Rs. 40 crore) in September 2013 from its existing investors, Accel Partners and India Innovation fund, and a new investor, Tata Capital. It aims to use the resources to help expanding its team, product portfolio and strengthen its business development initiatives. Mitra is already in discussion with some of the leading players in the sector to forge a strategic partnership for expanding its market presence and strengthen its logistics network in India.  And, to support its expansion plan, it aims to increase its current employee strength of 35 to 100 over two years.

This technology has a huge potential in a country like India, which sees almost 7 lakh new cancer patients per year and, unlike in the past, treatment for all diseases is moving towards personalisation. The company’s technology is not only the first of its kind in India but is also an affordable one as compared to similar technologies in the U.S (US $4000-5000 in the U.S. vs. US $500 in India). Hence, Sundaram expects Mitra’s products to gain rapid market traction in the coming financial year. In the next 5 years, the company wants to reach out to as many patients as possible if not the entire pool of people affected by cancer. And to get there, its major plans include international expansion and adding some of the rare solid and hematological cancers to its product portfolio. With its strategies in place, Mitra is on track to reach US $10 million revenue in the fiscal year ended 2015.

2014

2011

Employees : 35 Employee: 15
The company raised series B funding  to the tune of Rs. 40 crore in September 2013 where its existing investors Accel partners and India Innovation fund participated in the round, in addition to Tata Capital, the new investor. Mitra was funded by global VC fund Accel Partners, and Indian VC funds KITVEN (Karnataka Information Technology Venture Capital Fund) and India Innovation Fund in early 2010.
CANScriptTM has been offered to more than 100 patients in 2013 and the company plans to increase this 10 fold (~1000) in 2014, and to 5000 in 2015. CANScript was in validation stage
R&D centres in Bengaluru and Chicago. Plans to open 3 additional centers in 2014. R&D centre in Bengaluru
Presence in the U.S. market through a well-known hospital chain and plans to expand to few other hospitals in the U.S and other countries. Offered CANScript through the HealthCare Global (HCG) group of hospitals in Bengaluru