A medical oncologist turned HealthTech entrepreneur, Dr Huren Sivaraj, Co-Founder and CEO, Oncoshot , is building a data-powered ecosystem to integrate the vast and scattered landscape of cancer clinical trials. It promises to benefit patients, oncologists and industry stakeholders like pharma, CROs and biotech. “Oncology is a data-driven speciality, and its available therapies and science are constantly evolving,” explains Sivaraj. Given that being updated on the latest breakthroughs in treatment is an important part of an oncologist’s practice, Dr Sivaraj saw the potential in bringing the power of medical informatics to oncology. “I found a use case for harnessing data to support the clinical trials ecosystem and boost its efficiency,” he says.
An Ecosystem-Wide Multifaceted Solution
The Singapore-based entrepreneur describes Oncoshot as a SaaS-enabled marketplace. The SaaS part of the platform helps trial sites better manage their patient data and clinical trials. “The data for cancer patients within hospitals span multiple IT systems, and Oncoshot provides Trial investigators with the ability to obtain insights from their data rapidly,” explains Sivaraj. Oncoshot also provides the same hospitals with an overview of the pipeline of clinical trials to better manage them,” he adds. Meanwhile, investigators and industry partners lack a clear view of cancer patient populations. The Oncoshot platform helps provide concise hospital-approved analytics derived from a repository of near real-time de-identified patient profiles. This inventory sets the foundation for a new marketplace, where hospitals can collaborate with industry partners to accelerate clinical trial enrolment and research.
At its core, Oncoshot’s AI-powered technology matches cancer patients to clinical trials with precise eligibility requirements, based on an algorithm that’s refined with the help of a senior oncologist. The system was developed by Oncoshot’s CTO, Ruslan Enikeev, a data scientist who created the popular web traffic visualisation tool, Map of the Internet. “In oncology, visibility of clinical trials and access to them is critical to patients because treatment options comprise not just what’s available but also what’s up and coming,” says Dr Sivaraj. It allows oncologists to keep track of trials in their hospital and region and enables trial units within hospitals to select the right trials for their patients. On the other hand, the de-identified data, translated into insights by Oncoshot, makes it easy for pharma, CROs and biotech partners to locate patient populations that fit their eligibility requirements. “They can now leverage near real-time insights that can improve the enrolment and efficiency of their trials,” says Sivaraj. This has the potential to increase success rates over time. “More than 80% of cancer clinical trials fail, and one of the major reasons is poor enrolment. Less than 5% of patients are entering clinical trials today,” informs Dr Sivaraj. “We envision that we can improve this access by several folds with our system.”
Oncoshot has successfully launched in Singapore and runs analytics across a significant proportion of the country’s cancer patient population. “We aim to be a national-level ecosystem by the end of the year,” says Sivaraj, who is motivated to help public and private collaborators here make Singapore the world’s first data-driven cancer clinical trials ecosystem. The startup boasts some of the biggest names in cancer pharma, like Roche, Novartis and Astra Zeneca, as its collaborators and early adopters. Oncoshot is also commencing work with some of the biggest cancer hospitals in India. Since not many mature-phase cancer trials are run within the country, Dr Sivaraj sees an opportunity in bringing them to India and opening up new trial opportunities for the Indian patient population. “The pharma, biotech and CRO partners based in Singapore are also looking forward to participating in India, and we hope to be the platform that brings them there,” he adds. Oncoshot is also seeing interest from the industry in Australia.
Making of a HealthTech Entrepreneur
Dr Sivaraj’s interest in data took root while serving for the Singapore National Service after completing medical school. While most medical graduates serve as doctors in a Medical Centre, Sivaraj had the opportunity to work in health IT for the Medical Corps in the Armed Forces. “I had always been fascinated by the dot com revolution, so I took it up as a chance to learn something I was never exposed to,” recollects Dr Sivaraj. He was tasked with responsibilities related to migrating the Medical Corp’s IT system from its second to third version. “I had to understand the requirements of different services that needed to be built into the new system to support the medical care of all the servicemen. Once that was mapped, I helped to engage leadership, stakeholders and technical consultants towards finding the right solution,” says Dr Sivaraj.
“The Medical Corps of the Armed Forces was one of the first organisations in Singapore to use Electronic Medical Records,” informs Dr Sivaraj. It gave him an early first-hand experience of working with health data which led to an observation. “Health data is typically siloed, and it was even more so here. But even restrictive organisations needed to find ways to share some data to deliver optimal healthcare services to their people,” he notes. The significance of health data integration stayed on his mind until he found a use case in cancer clinical trials.
Before founding Oncoshot, Dr Sivaraj worked in the public healthcare system as a medical oncologist with a sub-speciality in breast cancer. He had always been fascinated by how ideas and concepts that seemed outlandish at one point took shape and became a reality. “In my lifetime, I wanted to drive something that I felt strongly about and which could add value to the world,” he says. Dr Sivaraj turned entrepreneur when he felt he had the financial security to take the risk. “I thought even if it fails, I’ll be happy with having been on that journey- as opposed to not even trying.” The level of impact one can achieve as a HealthTech entrepreneur is what excites Dr Sivaraj about the industry. “Seeing my work impacting people positively is why I became a doctor. With HealthTech, if you have the right solution, the same impact can be scaled. Aside from prescribing a treatment one person at a time, you also have an opportunity to develop something that can impact millions of lives.”
Inevitable Challenges of Working in HealthTech
Navigating the healthcare industry’s infamous resistance to technology adoption has been the greatest entrepreneurial challenge for Dr Sivaraj. “We are working in an industry that has its own way of managing things. When you come in with something different, it takes a lot of effort to convince people at different levels of its feasibility,” he notes. It becomes particularly difficult when it’s a solution that needs the buy-in of multiple stakeholders in an ecosystem to work cohesively. “It requires a leap of faith from the stakeholders, and there’s a tremendous struggle to find the right partners who are willing to take that risk to their organisation,” says Sivaraj. “Finding partners who believe in you comes with time, relationship-building and demonstrating your expertise, but it’s an important hurdle to cross,” he adds.
While acquiring early adopters for a novel solution is a top challenge, the next is having the patience to tide through delays. “On an operational level, you need a certain runway for launching and monetising the product. You also need to have faith in what you’re building when what was supposed to happen in three months takes nine months,” says Dr Sivaraj. Support within the organisation makes it easier. “It’s encouraging when the founding team and investors believe in you and see progress despite not hitting timelines.”
Being prepared to encounter these challenges is Dr Sivaraj’s advice to aspiring HealthTech entrepreneurs. “Most things will take time, so there needs to be a lot of patience and firm faith in what you’re doing. Validate your concept and test your product with an early adopter or partner who is aligned with your interests,” he says. Factoring in delays into your financial planning is another important aspect. “Make sure you cover for yourself so that you’re not stumped,” recommends Dr Sivaraj. One cannot expect overnight success in HealthTech. “We’re not at that stage of maturity. It may be different in 5-10 years, but those of us in this field today are in the position of being trendsetters.”
Unwinding With Family and Learning From Books
A piece of advice that has stayed with him through the years is to prioritise family. “You could be building the next mega-business that affects the life of a billion people, but if you can’t take care of those closest to you, at the end of your life, you’ll question why you did what you did,” says Dr Sivaraj. “That always gives me perspective to ensure that my wife and children are not missing out on their time with me.” Spending time with his two young kids is how Dr Sivaraj likes to unwind from the demands of entrepreneurship. He also makes it a point to have some alone time by going for a jog. “It helps me think. I need that time to get creative.”
He also enjoys reading books and often re-reads those he believes will help to mould his thinking. Since he turned entrepreneur, Dr Sivaraj has been revisiting tomes such as Principles by Ray Dalio and Platform Revolution by Sangeet Paul Choudary. On Principles, he says, “The author is a successful hedge fund investor at Bridgewater Associates and talks about the principles that helped him guide management at an individual and organisational level. It shaped my thought process in terms of how I want to build my company and approach my staff.” Sivaraj recommends Platform Revolution to anyone building a platform or marketplace. “It helped me understand the science behind building a marketplace. Each time I read it, I get new ideas for shaping Oncoshot.”
Being a part of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort has brought the entrepreneur’s attention to aspects of the business that may have been overlooked because all the focus was concentrated on building the product. “Programmes such as the legal clinic have helped me take a step back and consider important matters such as intellectual property and rights,” says Sivaraj. He also appreciates the access to expertise that comes with the Cohort. “We’ve met some well-experienced people from the industry and benefited from their guidance that has helped us gain a better understanding of the ecosystem,” he adds.
About Galen Growth’s 2021 HealthTech Cohort
Oncoshot is part of the Galen Growth 2021 HealthTech Cohort, the only acceleration programme built to scale digital health startups to be the next generation powering healthcare innovation across the globe. For more information, visit Galen Growth’s HealthTech Cohort webpage or read this article on the launch of the Galen Growth’s 2021 HealthTech Cohort.