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Dr Manjiri Bakre: the lady healthpreneur, advancing the boundaries in cancer treatment with OncoStem


Dr Manjiri Bakre: the lady healthpreneur, advancing the boundaries in cancer treatment with OncoStem

The rising numbers of diseases require efficient and modernized solutions in healthcare to make prevention, analysis and cure easier and convenient to all. With technological advancement and innovations, the healthcare industry in India is going through huge transformations to enhance productivity and efficiency. As founders of path-breaking healthcare startups and other enterprises, they are touching unserved corners through discovery in the diagnostic and enterprise areas and rendering cost-effective solutions.

Dr Manjiri Bakre is one of the notable names; she took steps to raise the bar and break the untouched barriers for the treatment of cancer. She had lost one of her close friends, due to breast cancer. This incident made Manjiri think that we do not prognosis the disease enough, and we need to dissect the tumor biology more to understand the ‘aggressiveness’ of the disease and progression of the same. In order to make it happen, she founded OncoStem in 2011. Presently, she is leading the company as a CEO.

Dr Bakre possesses great expertise in the medical field; she served in 2 companies in India and worked in prestigious universities and institutes in the US and Singapore before founding OncoStem. In academic, Manjiri completed Bachelor and Master of Science in Microbiology from R Ruia College, Mumbai, and MS University of Baroda respectively. Post that 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 company that produces innovative tests which assess the ‘aggressiveness’ of patient’s tumor thereby, empowering them to personalize their treatment e.g., patients with ‘less aggressive’ tumor can take mild therapy as compared to ‘highly aggressive’ tumor.  Thus, the tests which are performed on the patient’s individual tumor help clinicians to design personalized therapy for every patient based on tumor biology.

OncoStem is focused on developing innovative prognostic and predictive solutions for numerous types of cancer. Here, the approach is to integrate the molecular signature of the disease with clinicopathological parameters that are time-tested in prognostic evaluation of cancer. The team of 26 experienced and expert professionals applies its expertise in tumor biology to formulate actionable solutions that assist physicians in developing optimal therapeutic programs for their patients. Some of the major partners who find value from the OncoStem offering are Government & Private Hospital, Direct Patients, Insurance Companies & Policy providers, and central and state insurance policy providers that offer subsidized healthcare.

Passionately committed to modernizing health care through efficient technology, Dr Bakre established OncoStem to bring advancement in Cancer Management. We sat down with the leading lady to gain more insights.

Here are edited excerpts.

Where does your interest 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. I always think that it is important to do fundamental/basic science research, but it is equally critical to ‘apply’ the ‘knowledge’ gained from doing basic science research to benefit the community. My passion and curiosity in medical science and to-do-zeal led to the foundation of OncoStem with the goal to develop, validate, and market innovative products which help in cancer treatment planning to patients.

Give us insights into the major offerings of the company. And, how does the company support people with its offerings?

OncoStem is a med-tech company that focuses on assessing the aggressiveness of tumors which in-turn will empower clinicians and patients towards personalized treatment planning. At present, our offering is only available for breast cancer and it is called:

  • CanAssist Breast

Our tests are based on in-depth tumor biology to help clinicians plan a personalized treatment for each patient. Our first focus is breast cancer. Today, almost ninety-five percent of early-stagebreast cancer patients get chemotherapy to prevent cancer recurrence. It is well known that chemotherapy benefits only about 10% – 15% of patients with early-stage breast cancer. At OncoStem, we are trying to solve the problem of finding which early-stage cancer patients have a high chance/risk of recurrence and support them in optimum treatment planning.

What are the key factors that make your product stand out in the market?

CanAssist Breast helps to identify the likelihood of 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 cancer recurrence over the years. Up to 3 out of 4 early-stages breast cancer patients are likely to have a low risk of breast cancer recurrence.

CanAssist Breast has been developed and validated on Indian patients (>1000 patients) which is a key feature of the test. Most other competing tests are developed on Western patients who are diagnosed with the milder disease at later years as against patients in India and Asia in general and hence it is important that such tests are well validated if not developed on the population in which they will be used. Plus CanAssist Breast is much more 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 from chemotherapy. Once your risk of breast cancer recurrence is known, you can consult your doctor to personalize your treatment plan.

What do you think is the toughest problem for businesswomen?

The biggest challenge that women suffer is of not being heard and taken seriously. Nobody is willing to accept that women are proficient enough to run a company on their own. And, it is the global level dilemma.

What’s a day in your life like as an entrepreneur?

I typically leave for work at 7.45 am.  At work, I wear varied hats depending on the day. It includes sales meeting, scientific review, issues faced in finance, legal to troubleshooting a statistical analysis work or visit a hospital to pitch the product for commercial purposes, support design marketing collateral, interview candidates.  I typically leave for home by 5.30 pm but most nights put in hours of work before going to bed.

Though the statistics of women entrepreneurs in India are rising, yet a woman’s ambitions are often doubted in our society. Is it difficult for women to start a business in India?

In India, gender discrimination is high, and women entrepreneurs definitely are affected by the patriarchy system. Unfortunately, the world doubts women’s ambition more than their capabilities and that leads to self-doubt eventually. Additionally, the roadblock of starting a business starts at home wherein family support is very minimal that makes it difficult for women to start their own venture.

 How do you achieve a balance between your personal and professional life?

Work-life balance is no piece of cake, but I strive to accomplish it as much as I can by giving 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 the Cap

  • Recognized as ‘Top 100 Start-ups to Watch in 2018’
  • Received ‘Healthcare Excellence Awards’ in 2018

What are your future plans to keep growing in the market? 

We are entering into Asian markets this year, and this 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 and towards that goal, development of tests for oral, and ovarian cancers are underway.

As a source of inspiration for many, what would your advice be for female entrepreneurs, who are planning to enter the business world?

My advice to women entrepreneurs is to have an absolute hold in whatever they want to venture into, analyze their ideas thoroughly from diverse aspects, talk to relevant folks, and be confident about selling it.  Be extremely focussed, efficient, honest, and aware of things, read like there is no tomorrow and work like things should have been done yesterday!