Ashish Tripathi | Tzar Labs
Ashish Tripathi, the CEO of Tzar Labs and Director of Epigeneres heads a very exciting Pharma / Healthcare Venture in the molecular diagnostics and molecular medicine space. The company has had a series of major breakthroughs and he is spearheading the global launch. Prior to this, Mr. Tripathi has had over 20 years of varied experiences in investment banking, corporate finance, M&A and corporate strategy. He has worked for a variety of MNCs, including Edelweiss, Ernst & Young, Avendus, Fairfax, Mincom, NTT Communications, Deutsche Bank and Deloitte Touché Tohmatsu.
Ashish’s mission today is cancer and detection. We start the session by requesting Ashish to set the context with a ‘backstory’, so to speak. He happily shares…
“What makes cancer a deadly or life taking disease is its late detection. Most cases of cancer are detected at Stage 2 or Stage 3 or even later. Numerous studies show that if the disease is detected early especially prior to tumour formation, it can be easily cured with molecular medicines and surgical options available today. Chances of survival beyond 5 years become extremely high and the cost of treatments becomes quite affordable. However, if detected late - especially in 4th stage - chances of survival come down to as low as 1% for many cancer types and the cost of treatment is prohibitively high.”
“Our goal is to make cancer an early stage disease through the adoption of an annual blood test that will cover all cancer types. At an early stage it is a relatively weak disease which is significantly more curable. Stage 1 cancer detection is rare in India and we believe our technology will make a difference”, says the visionary leader, capturing the essence and scope of his current initiative.
We request Ashish to take us deeper, and explain the way his venture is addressing need gaps in the space. What is the status-quo he is disrupting? Ashish readily reveals the big picture for us:
“Cancer is a weak disease if caught early. This is a huge gap in cancer management globally. The disease overpowers the patient because by the time it is detected it has already clenched the patient.
Tzar Labs has made an early detection breakthrough for cancer wherein we can detect cancer prior to stage 1 – that is, at stage 0.
Our HrC Test can detect cancer prior to tumor formation with a blood test. It is also the first prognostic test for cancer. Our blood test can not only tell you that you don’t have cancer, it can in fact rule out risk of cancer for the next one year if your HrC readings are within the safe band. HrC is a proprietary algorithm developed by our scientists from certain transcriptomic markers that we are able to get from cells isolated in peripheral blood. It is a first-of-its-kind patented non-invasive 'HrC' test (NIHT), the effectiveness of which we have shown through meticulously conducted clinical trials. It is a common scale for both cancer patients as well as non-cancer subjects, as it indicates the status on a continuum of cancer being absent, imminent, or present; and if present, the stage of cancer as well.”
“The name HrC stands for “Himanshu Roy Cancer Test”, and is dedicated to our brother-in-law, the late Himanshu Roy (IPS) who succumbed to causes linked to this disease. This technology will save countless lives and be helpful for cancer survivors, cancer patients, oncologists and in fact everyone directly or indirectly dealing with this disease.”
Current available diagnostic methods – such as PET, CT scan and biopsy - are invasive and can be harmful. For instance, latest research conducted in the USA shows that a biopsy speeds up tumour activity, or that a single PET scan is equivalent to 70,000 X-Rays and hence can be harmful if done frequently. The breakthrough by Ashish’ team also protects individuals from this barrage of harm.
All leaders are driven. How would Ashish describe his own life’s driving passion? What wakes him up in the morning, as it were? The man confesses…
“I envision a world in which everyone does an HrC test once a year, and we are able to either catch the disease at stage one or even earlier when it is infinitely more curable. If we make Cancer an early stage disease from a late stage disease, we can save a lot of lives and reduce the pain and financial burden this disease causes to patients and their families. I know how it feels to lose a family member to this deadly disease so doing something in this field is my priority right now.”
We are curious about the origins of this journey. Of Ashish’ younger days and formative influences. He shares spontaneously…
1) FAMILY AND ROOTS
“ I have 2 brothers and a sister. You may know my brother Amish Tripathi who is a best-selling author. My brother in law, Himanshu Roy was the top cop from Maharashtra and a highly respected and distinguished individual. We lost him 3 years back after he bravely fought 4th stage cancer for more than 2 years. My elder brother has been a senior executive with a professional services and management consulting background who now heads India operations of Epigeneres. My father is a scientist and nano-technology expert and is the Chief Scientist of Epigneres. My mother is an ex-politician who spent many years in public service. My sister passed the IAS exams and then went into the teaching profession. She is an author today. My twin brother and I are very close. We went to boarding school in Tamil Nadu and then studied together for many years in Mumbai. Eventually, he left for Kolkata to study at IIM and I went to Australia for my MBA. My wife is a lawyer and I met her in Australia. We have 3 beautiful children”.
2) PROFESSIONAL ODYSSEYS
“Coming from an investment banking background, I started my career in corporate finance & M&A advisory with Deloittes and Deutsche Bank before moving into corporates in Australia, USA and UK. I returned to India in 2008 and worked with 3 of the largest banks here: Avendus, E&Y and Edelweiss. My last professional role was as National TMT IB Head at Edelweiss Bank. I raised money for my father’s company Epigeneres Biotech and the investors insisted I join as the CEO. The company required significant capital and I had the experience. I joined the company in 2016 and raised another capital round in 2018. I also raised money in its sister company in Singapore, TZAR Labs and we have jointly developed a major diagnostic breakthrough that will change cancer treatment.”
3) BIG TURNING POINT
Was there any big turning point – a ‘Eureka Moment, as it were – that left a marked influence on his quest? Any special occasion or event that changed the course of his work and destiny? Ashish reveals that there was.
“Our core expertise was in Molecular medicine. One of our molecules acted on some key genes of the HrC test. Our family and I personally got interested in diagnostics only because we thought this may help with my brother-in-law’s cancer treatment. Typically in research you stick to your core research areas and stated objectives. We discovered a specific stem cell in the blood for the very first time and given our background in Oncology understood the implications of some transcriptomic markers with cancer. We made a rudimentary version of the HrC scale which we then perfected with further clinical studies and trials. The Eureka moment would be when we realised the link between some specific genetic markers and cancer!”
Journeys that change the world are rarely a walk in the park. Hurdles tease us at every step of the way, adversaries test us at every turn. What were the challenges Ashish has had to face, and ace? What are the learnings he has taken away from them? Ashish reflects before responding…
“One of the main challenges was the strong debate in the global stem cells scientific community about the very existence of VSELs, with both sides having taken hard positions. For us it was very clear that the proof of the pudding was in the eating. We were not only able to see these cells (we have photographic evidence), but were also able to isolate them from blood, and provide a strong practical application in the area of early detection of cancer. The other challenge was keeping the whole process under wraps until all patents had been filed and the clinical trial had been successfully completed. We did not want to jump the gun and claim the discovery without failproof evidence, and having a peer-reviewed published paper in place.
I would also like to add that this is a common mistake made by Indian institutions. We are aware of one particular case where a gene marker was discovered by one of our leading institutions, but the credit went to China who found a practical application of the marker for diagnosis in Head & Neck Cancer. It is important to have a clear plan on your discovery, i.e., conducting trials, identifying the innovative steps, and then patenting it; while not just being in a hurry to publish. It’s important to have strong team with expertise in their core areas who can work together and achieve an outcome. We believe we have done this.”
Individuals who lead by the raw conviction of ideas they believe in, always leave behind their mark on the sands of time. So how would Ashish himself like to be remembered as? What, in his own version, would be the legacy he will doubtless pass on? Ashish smiles disarmingly before responding with steely belief :
“10 years from now I hope that our Indian scientists are fondly remembered for the real difference they made to the treatment of a dreaded disease like cancer which is already the largest killer in the western world and 2nd largest killer in the world after cardio-vascular diseases.
We hope that our discovery saves lives and reduces the financial burden of this disease on individuals and their families who are suffering from this disease today. And we hope when someone goes home cancer free, they thank the HrC test and also remember Himanshu Roy. He was the most inspirational individual I have known and was taken away from our family too early. His message was always that you live an impactful life and leave a legacy. I believe that this test is a legacy worthy of his name.”
We prepare to sign off the session by asking Ashish to spare some words specifically for the healthcare community and, indeed, readers and followers of Voice of Healthcare with connects industry stakeholders and reaches their voice to a wider world. Ashish generously obliges:
“There are a lot of innovative discoveries coming from liquid biopsies which will change the way the diagnostic industry functions. We believe that molecular diagnostics and molecular medicine are the future for the healthcare industry. There is a lot of talent in this space in India and we hope that breakthroughs like ours will help Indian companies getting recognition and respect in healthcare, just as we are in IT services. It needs support from the government and regulatory bodies and we believe that India and Indians will make a very positive contribution in this field over the next decade.”
*This story is published by VOH team*
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