Axial's Growth 100 : John Bhakdi

John Bhakdi

CEO, Quantgene

Making Cancer Curable

John Bhakdi’s Quantgene is a biotech startup, specializing in cancer diagnostics. The company was founded in 2015 and is making cancer a curable disease through a new blood-based universal screening test.

John worked in M&A, venture capital, and quantitative finance before and has always been passionate about finding a solution to cancer. The disease runs in his family, and most of his relatives are doctors or scientists. He has been discussing early cancer detection with family members for the last 20 years.  

“I always found it crazy that all we can do right now is to wait until we get diagnosed with late stage cancer,” John says. “We live in the 21st century and still have no way of detecting cancers early.” Then, in 2014, John saw a series of critical technical advances happening and quickly assembled the best minds in the field to create Quantgene with the objective to detect cancer in stages 1 and 2 rather than 3 or 4.

Universal Screening

The company is on track to deliver a universal screening test to clinical partners within the next 18 months. The test only requires a simple standard blood draw, and John envisions it becoming part of the yearly blood work done by a primary care physician for everyone over 40.

Quantgene detects the 10 deadliest cancers in their earliest stages using the latest in genomic diagnostics technology. Such cancers include breast, lung, liver, pancreatic, prostate, ovarian, colorectal, melanoma, and leukemia as well as non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma.

“Thirty-three percent of all Americans get diagnosed with cancer, and 10 percent succumb to it,” says John. “If it is detected early, mortality rates could be reduced by 80 percent or more across the board.”

When detected at an early stage, most cases can be cured with local radiation and surgery. Besides hard clinical results, John believes Quantgene’s test will also change the perception of cancer. Instead of the shock of a lifetime, cancer could join the list of surgically removable inconveniences.

Besides high accuracy and convenience, a low price is one of the key advantages of Quantgene’s technology. At about $500, it costs only a fraction of potential alternatives, which often run north of $10,000 per screening. “The key to delivering a real blow to cancer is early detection that is very accurate, convenient and affordable. We are on track to deliver all three dimensions”, says John.

Quantgene has completed its R&D at its Silicon Valley labs and will enter 10 clinical proof of principle studies once the current fundraising round is closed.

Maintaining Investment Discipline

After increasing activity in the field and the President’s 2016 State of the Union address, finding a cure to cancer is again on the worldwide agenda. One of the hottest areas is early detection, with a focus on the latest genomic data and diagnostics platforms — the home court of Quantgene.

This has led to a lot of attention from investors, and some companies in the field have raised large sums of capital. But going for big and rapid raises can be a trap. “The amount of money people raise with very limited data is breathtaking,” says John. “It comes back to bite you if you get disconnected from reality.”

Quantgene is using an unconventional method of taking on investors, and only raises the amount of money it can productively deploy on its way to the next milestone.

“We don’t want to become another biotech fantasy stock,” says John. “We have seen other companies drive up their book value without any real technological or clinical progress, just to go down in flames a few years later. That’s not what Quantgene is about. Our objective is not to join the biotech buzz. Our objective is to make cancer a curable disease. And we want investors who are in it for the real thing.”