What an earth-shattering difference a year, an investor, a new CEO, and a new virus can make.

Around this time in 2018, Mitra Biotech Inc., in the Boston region, hummed with new plans and fresh funding. Its parent company, the Bengaluru-based Mitra Biotech Pvt Ltd, had raised $43 million in a Series D round after flipping to the US. And after nearly 10 years of product development, a personalised cancer diagnostics platform was being prepped for the US market.

It was inevitable. In the limited diagnostics venture capital world, $80-100 million is what a company can raise before having to figure out its exit options. Mitra had raised a total of $84.5 million and was looking at an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2021. As part of the planned move, the hunt for a new chief executive officer (CEO) was afoot. Soon after the fundraise, led by the US-based Northpond Ventures, the board and the founders were in agreement that Mallikarjun Sundaram, co-founder and CEO of eight years, would make way for a new CEO. Someone experienced who could take the company public in the US.

That someone would be Maneesh Arora. He was everyone’s idea of a safe pair of hands. Especially because in his 10-year tenure as the chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO) of molecular diagnostics company Exact Sciences, he led the listed company to a handsome $9 billion handsome $9 billion Krause Fund Research, Fall 2018 Exact Sciences, Corp Read more market. Mitra had been courting the successful executive since October 2018; Arora came onboard in April 2019 when his cool-off period ended. “We all had high expectations, the founders spoke highly of him,” says a former Mitra executive.

But as the incoming CEO, Arora ensured the former CEO, Sundaram, packed up the same day. He believed it was bad for people’s morale to have two leaders in the company. Sundaram was designated a ‘mentor’ and shown the door. Arora probably had other transformation plans but he stopped in his tracks when the much-awaited clinical study result arrived in May.

Two years ago when The Ken first wrote about first wrote about The Ken Up close with cancer: Why Mitra Biotech is looking to Nasdaq Read more the company flipping its corporate structure and aiming for a Nasdaq listing, a large India-US clinical study was underway. Mitra’s CANscript platform was built to solve for one big clinical dilemma in cancer treatment globally: in the plethora of drugs, how do you choose the best combination therapy for the patient? Cancer is a heterogenous disease but the tumour is specific to a patient—to each their own.

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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