What motivated you to create a business addressing a disease you know so well?
My parents got diagnosed with lung cancer and I knew if we followed standard of care they were facing an evidenced based death. Understanding genomics and cancer made my brother and I believe that there were better options looking into clinical trials for eg immune therapies. The question became which trial and due to the 1000 of trials available it was overwhelming. We also understood that cancer is a very heterogeneous diseases thus we needed a tool that could identify the unique features in the tumor that could be interrogated by drugs either approved or in development. We developed that tool, and named it OneRNA™ unfortunately not in time for our parents to benefit from it, however we have 2 newly diagnosed cancer patients in the family so the next generation is benefitting.
What are some of the hurdles you perceive exist for people with your disease?
It is overwhelming and difficult to navigate various treatment options without an effective tool which can reduce the number of options to something more manageable e.g. OneRNA™ typically identifies 5 already approved drugs and shortlist 30 clinical trials. By combining various liquid biopsy strategies after treatment selection it is now possible to quickly find out of you benefit from a treatment and with more than 1 option and the potential of combining drugs e.g. a tumor antigen with a checkpoint inhibitor, the treatment can be completely personalized to the patient.
Who are some of your role models in your space?
I believe that Foundation Medicine is a 1.0 version of this idea. I also believe that Genomic Health is a 0.5 version demonstrating the utility of RNA in treatment selection in breast cancer more specifically avoiding chemo when its not necessary. OneRNA™ is a 2.0 version c combining those strategies into one product.
What is your goal beyond creating a successful business?
The “standard of care” paradigm must change in oncology to a completely “personalized treatment” paradigm, and my personal goal is to provide THE platfrom that enables this shift. We will not cure cancer by continuing developing drugs that only work in 20% of the patients and subjecting the other 80% to harsh and sometimes deadly side effects with no benefits, to me that is barbaric and unnecessary. My ultimate bottom line is make cancer a chronic manageable disease that you survive by choosing the right treatment.
What does being a patient entrepreneur mean to you?
It means that you are personally invested in the success of your technology in solving a significant medical problem. It also means that you are not going to give up even facing significant hurdles such as a payer system that in general overpay for drugs and under pay for diagnostics. We are innovating outside the lab in how we address those hurdles developing novel business models.
How do you stay healthy and motivated to deliver?
I read an amazing amount of literature every week and I am very knowledgeable about how to eat healthy and live healthy. I done that for my whole life. My parents did not have that knowledge and they made some very poor decisions early in their lives (smoking). Their life was shortened and more importantly the quality of life in their last decade was reduced because of those choices. I saw their decline and I made a conscious decision to live a healthy and long life: I exercise every day. I am a true believer in data and love my Apple health app. I also love Chronometer to monitor the quality of my food intake. You can’t cheat when the data is there.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was fortunate to have a great mentor while working for Novo Nordisk. He encouraged me to read “A road less travelled”, in short enjoy the trip rather than focus on the arrival. I believe my parents instilled in me a great sense of purpose and the belief that I could accomplish what I wanted. They both played a very significant role. I have great investors that I get feedback from on a regular basis, same situation with by board in addition to a mentor who works with the North Shore InnoVenture – our incubator. The latter is a great independant voice.
How can we draw more attention to user-driven innovation?
Create personal success stories and get media coverage. That is already part of our media plan. The problem does get more real than when its your problem.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
I had days where I worked for 24 hrs (not healthy) but I did it because it was important for me to wake up with my kids in the morning. I sign out after 6 pm most days. If I need to go back its after my family goes to bed. I also work early in the day in the weekends and I stop when the family wakes up. I love my family, my time with them is very precious.
What is your favorite song that gets you motivated?
Nina Simone, Feeling Good
What are some of your favorite social activities?
I love cooking and eating dinner with friends and my family. I also love traveling, skiing and surfing with friends and family.
What three things would you take if stranded on an island?
My iPhone with solar charger, a bikini and sun screen
Personal/Company Twitter handle: @dnabarcode