Cancer treatment needs a quantum leap, and we are close to it: AutoGenomics co-founder Dr Ramanathan Vairavan

Ritu Jha–

“Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy need not wait months to know if the treatment is working. A groundbreaking test developed by San Francisco-based firm DiaCarta will ascertain the efficacy of cancer treatment within 48 hours,” Indian American serial entrepreneur and educationalist Dr. Ramanathan Vairavan, co-founder of AutoGenomics Inc, and presently serves as senior Vice President at DiaCarta, told indica on the sidelines of the American Tamil Entrepreneurs’ Association (ATEA) annual conference CATEALYZE 2023. where he was honored with a lifetime achievement award, on September 23 held at the Computer History Museum, California.

Vairavan says the Cell-Free DNA test, designed to predict chemotherapy response, is poised to change cancer treatment worldwide. He is an entrepreneur, educationist, and the grandson of the late philanthropist Dr. R.M. Alagappa Chettiar.

Like his renowned grandfather, Vairavan’s passion is to give back to society by upgrading healthcare and education.

“Cancer research is going to help the society at large, and the Cell-Free Test will change the dynamics of how we treat this disease. When a doctor gives chemotherapy, they base it on the clinical trial registry and then consider a number of factors to ascertain whether the treatment worked. The problem is they don’t know the patient’s genetics. Six to eight weeks after the start of the treatment, they conduct a PET scan, a type of imaging, to see whether the tumor has shrunk or has grown. We’ve developed a test called Cell-Free DNA. The Cell-Free DNA test can tell you within 48 hours, whether the therapy is working or not,” Vairavan told indica.

Dr. Vairavan completed his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at the Alagappa College of Technology in Chennai and his graduate degree at Washington University, St. Louis, MO in biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in business administration, specializing in pharmaceutical marketing.

After working with several multinationals, in 1998, he founded Caldon Biotech in California, a company engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of clinical diagnostic reagents and instrumentation.

He is also co-founder of AutoGenomics Inc., a company engaged in the development of a new emerging technology of biochips. Using this state-of-the-art technology, doctors will soon be able to diagnose patients based on their genetic makeup and provide personalized medicine to treat their illnesses. Vairavan has been actively involved in enhancing the quality of education and the infrastructure of the schools, in Chennai and Karaikudi.

Vairavan is optimistic about the healthcare industry and research being upgraded by new technology Artificial Intelligence.

“Artificial Intelligence plays a big role. We work with bioinformatics and trying to explore ways to upgrade research and treatment because a physician needs to know the diagnosis of patients and they are struggling to do so. I remember when my grandfather died of bone cancer, I could hear him scream in pain owing to the huge injections that were administered in those days, in 1957. Today there are a lot of advances and AI is definitely impacting it. We are learning more and more,” he told indica.

But there are certain hurdles that Vairavan is facing with some state governments of India.

“I keep going back and forth to India to pursue my passion. I think India has such potential and there’s a tremendous opportunity for growth. Though India come a long way since the days of my grandfather, unfortunately, when you look at state governments there’s a lot of corruption there. If I were to start a medical college in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, or Gujarat the governments there would help. In Tamil Nadu, I see all these people coming in between wanting to get commissions and kickbacks. I think India has a lot of great programs, but the state governments also play a big role.”

Vairavan says his passion for giving back to society was inspired by his grandfather. “I wrote a book on my grandfather, and that’s when I really got inspired and thought about what have I done in my life so far. In a lifespan of 48 years, my grandfather had accomplished much – being knighted by the Queen, and running textile mills when he was 29 years old. He built living quarters for the employees, a Krishna temple, a school, polytechnic institute, and then he went into the stock market in Mumbai and that’s where he was very successful. He had his own airways called Jupiter Airways and bought the Ritz Hotel in Bombay.”

“The Ritz Hotel is a story that Indians must know. When my grandfather went to Mumbai to work at the stock exchange, he and his team went to the Ritz Hotel in Churchgate. The British manager at the hotel refused to give them rooms. When my grandfather pointed out that most of the rooms were vacant, and offered to book a whole floor for him and his colleagues. The manager instead said that he would not give them any rooms unless he bought the hotel. My grandfather proceeded to track down the owner and that very evening he bought the Ritz Hotel,” he added.

“My mother was always all for women’s empowerment. She opened a women’s college that now has about 2,500 students. We also have a girls’ school and a co-ed school. The way to provide better healthcare is to start a medical college. But, along with allopathic medicine which doesn’t always work, I am focused on ayurvedic medicine because it is naturopathic and more affordable. So, I first started the nursing college. Now I’m working on the College of Ayurvedic Medicine and then the medical college. And my focus is to benefit the community.”

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