Portfolio News

Kavitha Iyer Rodrigues: Molecular formula to success

Fortune India

February 6, 2016

Image Credit: Yasir Iqbal

By early 2015, Rodrigues’s company Theramyt, as it was known then, had seen two rounds of funding totalling $12 million. More important, from building biosimilars, the biology equivalents of generics, it had become one of 10 companies in the world to build two technology platforms that enable new molecule development aimed at cancer.

To take this to the market and to fuel further growth, the founders had been looking for a fresh round of capital infusion, but quickly realised that funding for biotech projects in India was only going to be incremental. “In the U.S., development of new antibodies and drug therapies was a hot sector. In fact, there were a lot of funds looking at immuno oncology (a subset of oncology or cancer treatment), the exact specific space we wanted to be in,” says Rodrigues. So, in mid-2015, the founders took the decision to move to the U.S. Theramyt became Zumutor, headquartered in Boston, a biotech hub.

The idea was to create a presence in the U.S. so they could not just raise funds, but also gain access to customers in that market; R&D would continue out of the Bengaluru office. Rodrigues says she always knew that the U.S. was always the eventual destination, primarily because of the patent environment and the business opportunities there. “But we didn’t realise we would go there so soon,” she says.

Her workday changed dramatically after her co-founder, Sohang Chatterjee, left. Whether at Zumutor, Theramyt or at Inbiopro, the first company she built, her primary responsibility had always been managing operations. Now as CEO, overall strategy and building a team has become a priority. Which means she no longer cycles to work, but still manages to squeeze in time for a run.

Ranjith Menon, executive director at IDG Ventures, one of Zumutor’s first set of investors, says, “Kavitha taking over as CEO has actually brought all the pieces together in a very good way. The company stands on strong IPs.”

Rodrigues spent the better part of the past few months putting together a business development team in the U.S., since clients prefer a local presence.

Her big learnings for this year? “Don’t take people or tech for granted. Being accomplishment driven is vital, but to take the organisation forward, you have to be cognisant of individual aspirations.”

One of her more exciting projects for 2017 is to monetise the two platforms by collaborating with global oncology players for exclusive therapies.

“They bring in their strength, we bring in the technology,” she says. But the game changer is a large basket of immuno oncology drug molecules developed in-house which are expected to be ready for pre-clinical licensing by early next year, which is also when she plans to raise her third round.