Lisa:

I am really excited to have Anju of OncoLens here with us on the show. She is the founder, and OncoLens was just recognized–I think last week?– as a Technology Association of Georgia Top 40 for Innovative New Tech. Anju, welcome to the show and tell us about what you’re building.

Anju:


Thank you, Lisa. I’m excited to be here to tell you a little bit about what we’re building. We’re very excited by what we’ve been doing for the now past two and a half years. This is on Oncolens.

Oncolens is a cancer care treatment planning platform. So what does that mean? We are providing providers within the cancer treatment space the ability to make the best decision possible for the patient. And we do this in multiple ways. We can get into, you know, some of the needs behind this, but primarily it is ensuring that they have all the relevant information about a patient. This data is in different silos, so we automate the process of aggregating that information and then we add in a layer of clinical decision support. That outlines to the providers with what potential options are there for treating this patient. That could include clinical trials, it could include some of the latest research, and also what is latest evidence based guidelines stating or recommending for that particular type of patient. Essentially bringing to physician and the care team for any cancer patients what are some of the most relevant, potential opportunities for that patient and helping them make the best decision for them.

Lisa:


Fantastic. Who pays for this? Is this something patients pay for, or is it doctors or health systems?

Anju:


Today our customers are the hospitals or the health system, as you mentioned, so the actual cancer service lines within the hospital.

Lisa:


Is this a reimbursable planning?

Anju:


At the moment, it is not. However, they are required to run what they call multi-disciplinary discussions for these patients. So it is something they do today, though it is done in a very disparate and non-standardized format, essentially not becoming so effective. It is something they are required to do — get the multi-discipline discussion for each patient case — and it’s a requirement by the Commission on Cancer as well as the other accrediting bodies, which is around breast cancer and rectal cancer accreditation. What do we essentially do is we are reducing the cost associated with running those multidisciplinary discussions as well as bringing more efficiency and effectiveness to those discussions.

Lisa:


What inspired you to start this company?

Anju:


Yeah, that’s a great question. First and foremost was my own personal experience taking my father through treatment when he was diagnosed with leukemia, which was now more than 10 years ago. Anybody in your family or anybody who’s experienced cancer can understand it can be quite overwhelming. You’ll meet different physicians, different providers who are all involved in your care, and very important entities, but they’re all acting within their own silos and with the best information that they have. What does happen is there’s a breakdown in communication and there’s also breakdown in coordination of care that ultimately the patient receives. You’ll also come across situations where one physician or one provider may recommend one course of action based on his or her best judgment, but then you meet another one and you’ll get another recommendation. What hit me was, coming from other industries outside of healthcare, you don’t really see that happening. When you’re making a big decision or a very significant recommendation, people come together as a team. But the team-based approach is still being formed; it’s still in very nascent stages within healthcare. You know, understandably so. I mean, if you’re a diabetes patient or you have the flu, you don’t want to wait for a multidiscipline group to come together. However, in aspects like cancer or cardiology, you do want that multidisciplinary group to come together. Why? That’s because, especially in cancer, when you think about it, a surgeon has many different options they can provide. A radiation oncologist has radiation options they can provide. A medical oncologist has chemotherapy options they can provide. There are others who are actually very involved. This team needs to come together and that experience with my father definitely triggered this question of “Why does this happen in healthcare when you are dealing with people’s lives?”

Lisa:


Wow. Do you have any early signals about how it’s working for patients that are using Oncolens now?

Anju:


Oh, absolutely. We’ve had numerous occasions where this has helped. As an example, we were running a tumor board at one of our customer’s sites and there was a gyn-onc (a gynecologist oncologist) and they were looking specifically for an evidence based guidelines for a specific ovarian cancer type patients. That was not in front of them. She knew it in the back of her mind that somewhere there was a new best practice around this particular type of patient, but our system brought it up automatically. Now, typically what would happen was “I’ll have this in the back of my mind, but we’re going to go through this discussion anyways and we’ll come together to figure out a treatment plan.” Our system automatically identified what was the new best practice and put it out in front of the group. They were able to review and analyze, that best practice or that guideline there in itself and feed that into the treatment plan again. So what does that mean? It reduced the treatment plan, time to treatment finding for that patient, and also provided a more accurate treatment plan for that patient. That’s one example. I’ll give you another example where the patient actually presented through a radiation oncologist. So they came into the system through a radiation oncologist who is the expert in radiation options. Now for that particular type of breast cancer, by evidence-based guidelines, they’re supposed to go through what is called a prognostic testing. However, this radiation oncologist was not aware of that. Now what does prognostic testing mean? Based on that test, you should or should not be getting chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be completely ineffective in certain cases.

Lisa:

The guy that does the chemo doesn’t realize that? Wow, that sounds like siloed environment.

Anju:


Yes, yes. That is unfortunately what is happening today. So again our system said, “Well, have you considered prognostic testing for this patient?” In that point of time, so during the tumor board, then the radiation oncologist said, “Well, I had no clue I was supposed to do this at this point in time.” Then the others in the group, so not us, but the others such as the medical oncologist then educated the radiation oncologist on the efficacy and the need for prognostic testing. You can see multiple ways in which this has helped bring that multi-collaborative group, multi-disciplinary collaborative group, and they’re all learning from each other with the help of this clinical decision support on our platform.

Lisa:


That sounds terrific. I guess these doctors are typically in different locations as well, so it helps to bring them together from different geographies.

Anju:


That’s correct. That’s correct.

Lisa:


How did you go about first building it? You referred to your background was not in healthcare, so are you a developer? How did you get the prototype built?

Anju:


Yes. Well, so my background 11 to 12 years ago was not in healthcare. However, 11 to 12 years ago, I did get involved in another startup here in the Atlanta area. I was a co founder of a company called Luma Med, which is in the cancer imaging space. That was my first foray into healthcare. With that experience, I knew that I loved healthcare and this is where I wanted to be. Prior to that, my background was in engineering and development and then in management consulting. I had the business side as well as the development side in my background. Then after that first startup, I joined McKesson because I knew I wanted to be in healthcare. I first started with their corporate strategy group and after a year and a half doing that, I was invited to McKesson Medical Surgical business unit to head up Technology Innovation and Partnerships. By the time I started this, I was well versed in the healthcare space and I had also launched quite a few products in the healthcare space through McKesson.

Lisa:


Fantastic.

Anju:


Yes. Yes. That definitely gave me a great background and an understanding of the marketplace and some of the challenges they would face in healthcare. I think you may know this very well. The sales cycle in healthcare is long, so it helped me understand, “Okay, how do we need to build the right prototype?” I think this is extremely important in healthcare that it is embedded within the the current workflow of what practitioners do today. How do we best test it and take it to market? With that experience, it was very helpful. We build the prototype in a very lean startup model and engaged two hospitals here in the Atlanta area. Just to give you some background there, in fact, they had come to us with this particular problem. Through my co founder — I also had a good relationship with this team — they had come us saying this is a huge administrative burden to bring all this information together and to bring and make it standardized. How can we help to solve this? By working very closely with these two beta customers, we were able to pull together that prototype and effectively just iterate with them to figure out, “Okay, what is the best solution? What are the features that we truly need here?” and do that in a very low cost effective way.

Lisa:


Got it. Have you had any investors supporting you along the process or is this something that really is customer led, customer driven?

Anju:


No, we have had investors. We came out to market mid 2017 and between my cofounder and I, we decided early on that we wanted to make sure that we had market validation and we were revenue positive before we went out for funding. We self funded it for awhile. Then in early 2019, we raised a seed round and we did this with Atlanta Technology Angels, BIP Capital, and another angel investment group, so a syndicator three different investment groups. Then in the late part of 2019, we raised a pre-series A again with the same investment team.

Lisa:


Awesome. As you look forward, how do you see your investment journey going?

Anju:


Well, I see that we will definitely need more funding. We are moving very rapidly. The team is growing rapidly and alongside that, obviously, our expenses are going up as well. In order to tap into all the market opportunity that there is, we will be seeking funding towards the end of 2019. That’s what we have coming up in the horizon.

Lisa:


Great. And I hope you mean the end of 2020 because the end of 2019 is over.

Anju:


Yup. That is true.

Lisa:


No, I feel like that too. It’s really time flies, doesn’t it? It’s really something. So if I were asking you to describe the perfect investor for you… I mean you’ve been around the block a few times and this isn’t your first startup you’ve closed with some of the most active, most prominent investors in the Atlanta area. Everyone knows ATA VIP has a terrific reputation. How do you see the perfect investor for you? If you would describe them, they might even be listening to this show. Maybe they’ll give you a call.

Anju:


Yeah, absolutely. The perfect investor for us, I think in the next round, I mean in different rounds there’s a different type of investor…for our next one, which would be a Series A, we are looking for an institutional investor and somebody who can introduce us and help us along our stage of growth, right? That would include having good connections into the health system, into potential customers, as well as understanding the true value of what we are doing. When it comes to clinical decision support, the space is changing very rapidly, which is around, and especially driven by, precision medicine and some of the personalized medicine options that are coming up for patients. Understanding the pace at which that that field is changing and some of the huge, tremendous value that we’re bringing back to our customers. From a profile perspective, it would be a group that truly understands the oncology space and can help drive some of that future growth as well.

Lisa:


That makes a ton of sense. When you look at the product, what excites you most about what you’re actually doing? Where do you derive your engagement and excitement from?

Anju:


Yeah, great question. I think very often, you know, during the tough days and during the very exciting days, my North star is truly the patient. While we’re not serving patients directly as of today, we are indirectly impacting the treatment options that are being provided to the patient. Our goal is to make that as best as possible. When we look at the patient, ultimately I think it’s very exciting how we are closing the gap in provider awareness around these different treatment options. The space is just exploding. Earlier, you know, data in this field was doubling just probably every few years. Now it’s in a matter of days. It’s fairly impossible for any individual provider to stay on top of all these options, and what we’re doing is assisting them by providing and bringing that information real time while they’re making that decision for the patient. To me, that’s what is very exciting. From an engineering perspective it’s being able to take all this information, this data that is exploding and making sense of it and put it in front of a provider and then ultimately being able to educate that provider and say, “Well, this is what this means and these are the different options.” But then finally, what does that do? Well for this patient, they might have met a provider who had knew no clue about this option, but now that’s an option for that patient and can potentially save their life or these give them a few more years.

Lisa:


Oh, it’s fantastic. I mean healthcare is changing so rapidly and AI is helping healthcare change and more understanding of nutrition is helping healthcare change. I do think about what the first thing you do when you get sick is you start going to the Internet and trying to read the latest research if you can find it, and to have the confidence that your doctors just have the latest research and they read it with a much more critical eye than you do would be extremely reassuring. I don’t think we as patients do have that confidence even if we feel like our doctor is well trained. Let’s face it: that textbook was written who knows how many years ago for them. It’s interesting. I would love to switch gears a bit and talk about your relationship with Atlanta. Are you an Atlanta native? How long have you been here? How has Atlanta been on your startup journey? Just curious about hearing some points on that story.

Anju:


Yes. I am not an Atlanta native, but I have been here now for 11 years. Atlanta has been very critical to my startup journey. Interestingly, we landed in Atlanta 11 years ago, pretty much end of 2008, that’s when the market had started to implode. That was also the reason one of the drivers why when I was out looking for things to do and seeing what I could get involved in was how I came across the first startup and my co-founders in the first startup that I had I worked on. What benefited was that Atlanta is still a fairly small community and it was just being able to access the different people and I met them at a tie event. That’s where we started talking about this idea and how can we make this into a potential business. That was my first foray into entrepreneurship and my first foray into healthcare, so a very critical part of where I am today. Then from there, working with them and learning a lot about healthcare gave me the opportunity to go into McKesson, which the main office is based out of here in Atlanta and Alpharetta, for what is now change healthcare but previously McKesson Technology Solutions. Again, that was all part of Atlanta. Through the process I was able to develop connections into many people who have helped impact the growth of OncoLens, including the investor community. I was an investor with Atlanta Technology Angels for a while, so I knew them. I had already built out that network with many members of BIP capital. I had developed that relationship as well during those years. Very importantly, ATDC. People that I met eventually that have helped with OncoLens tremendously, including Jane McCracken. These came to be, I would say, the Atlanta network as part of my being here in Atlanta and being in the healthcare space. While you know it’s a different connection, all these connections coming together is what helped spearhead OncoLens and may help it move faster in terms of funding as well as just finding the right resources to build out the team.

Lisa:


It’s great to hear that you mentioned Jane McCracken over at ATDC. So many entrepreneurs, especially around healthcare, have mentioned what a great support she is. Are there any other specific names that come to mind for the entrepreneurs listening to this? I imagine that a lot of healthcare entrepreneurs would be attracted to your story and if they’re trying to make their way in the Atlanta scene and just starting out, who would you suggest they talk to or pull into their fold?

Anju:


Great question. I think there are many that you should meet, definitely at ATDC. If you’re not an ATDC member, that’s still fine. They are very open and accessible. Jane is one, she’s wonderful and she is one of the best connectors I know. Frank Tighe. He’s also one of the best connectors and knows healthcare very well. In addition to that, there are many people; it’s hard to name everybody, but what I would recommend to any entrepreneur is just go out and be just be there. They would go to these different networking events. You never know who you may meet and you never know what connection somebody might have. Go out and talk about your idea. Explore, ask people about what they do. I think that’s just a very effective way of learning a lot about the market, but also getting some of those connections back in as well.

Lisa:


You know, Anju, that’s interesting you say that. I think that it’s a real struggle in the startup community. I hear that we have too many events and a lot of founders feel pulled: do I go to another networking event tonight because there’s two a night for the rest of time? Or do I say hello to my family this evening? Or perhaps should I just kind of push on the code or release that new build that our big customer is eager to get that next release? How do you balance those competing things? You obviously find value in the network in Atlanta, but I know you’re all really interested in pushing forward new customers. How do you give yourself that balance?

Anju:


Yeah, that is a very, very good question. It is hard because there are many pitch events, there are many networking events, and you do need to be targeted. That’s the way I’ve been approaching this, especially recently. By targeting through, if you’re in the healthcare space, try and work with some of your mentors. First off, I try and identify a few key mentors and key players to me. That would have been the Jane McCracken’s of the world, right? And asking her, “Okay, where can I meet these different folks who are in this space?” Identify those targeted network events and then going to those. Then from there, I think you’ll start to understand there is an early exploration phase where in you’re going to these different ones and you’ll find the value that you personally will get from it for your business or for you as a person and then start to narrow down to ask “Which ones do I think will be more effective?” Some of them you’ll find that you’re going to actually be meeting silvery providers, so people who can help you from an accounting perspective or, as you’re growing your team, from a recruiting perspective. That may not be what you need now, but keep it in the back of your mind. As you get to that point, you can go to those events. It is a nitrate of a process in my perspective where in you cast the net wider upfront and then start to narrow down. Then you also find that once you have a key few connections, those connections will help identify, “Okay, what’s the next action for you?” Again, on a tangential front, identify those mentors or those capitalists to help you identify those people and connections that can help you on your path.

Lisa:


For a healthcare entrepreneur, are there one or two meetups or groups that you’ve found particularly helpful?

Anju:


Specifically in healthcare? I think ATDC does have some healthcare events that I’ve really liked. You can meet other healthcare entrepreneurs and just learning from them brings a lot of insight. I would say there are a couple of Georgia bio events as well that I have been to that have been pretty helpful in just getting to know other people. Otherwise, no. It has been interesting. I would say the investor events more so than specifically healthcare events have been helpful. What does that mean? That helps you to identify who is a potential healthcare investor within the group. That healthcare investor may not be the one for you ultimately, but they may have connections into the right ones.

Lisa:


Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. Well listen, if someone is hearing this and perhaps they want to get involved with your team, how can they reach out to OncoLens or to you? How would you recommend someone reach out to you?

Anju:


Well, they can feel free to just email me anju@oncolens.com.

Lisa:


Fantastic. And do you have a newsletter or anything that someone who’s following the industry can receive from you? Anything that they can follow your journey?

Anju:


Well, we are very active on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, so if they wish they can just follow us on there. We don’t have a newsletter as of today, but they can actively follow us there. I also do send out an investor update in between, but they can just shoot me an email and I’d be happy to add them to that list.

Lisa:


That’s terrific. Thanks so much for taking a break and sharing your story with Atlanta Startup Podcast. Appreciate it, Anju.

Anju:


Thank you so much, Lisa.

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