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Biomedical engineering student's vision becoming reality

Kinshuk Mitra had his sights set on attending The Ohio State University long before he arrived in the United States from Chennai, India. The third-year biomedical engineering student’s sights are now aimed at winning the Rice University Business Plan Competition, the world’s richest and largest graduate-level business plan competition, held in Houston April 11-13.

Mitra’s OncoFilter team just won top honors at the 2013 Ohio State University Business Plan Competition on March 27. They hope it’s a prelude to a bigger victory next week at Rice.

The team’s business plan is constructed around Mitra’s biotechnology brainchild, a microbead mesh that can be used to separate rare cells from a complex mixture for use in cancer diagnostics. Cells being shed from primary tumors into the blood stream are one of the earliest physiological signs of cancer.

With the Fisher victory, the team will receive $25,000 in cash and more than $60,000 worth of business and legal consulting. Those dividends will fund prototype development and launching the business. OncoFilter will officially be registered as a company before the team competes at Rice.

Joining Mitra on the OncoFilter team are two fellow biomedical engineers, Brett Geiger and Anja Brkljacic, six Fisher College of Business MBA students, and one Fisher undergraduate. Geiger and Brkljacic contributed primarily to technology development, namely testing in the lab, while the Fisher students applied their business skills to prepare for the competitions and whatever comes next.

“Our technology can capture different types of tumor cells simultaneously in one device,” said Mitra. “The current standard is to use separate tests for each cell type, so OncoFilter is truly a disruptive technology.”

The OncoFilter technology has reached unprecedented levels of reliability, sensitivity, and accuracy in isolating cells present in extremely low concentrations. The ability to detect these cells could result in earlier diagnosis than is currently possible. Earlier diagnosis of cancer is associated with higher rates of survival, as well as more targeted treatment. And since multiple tests can be combined by OncoFilter, cost and time savings also become a major market benefit.

OncoFilter is initially focused on ovarian and breast cancer, due to their increased tendency of shedding multiple types of tumor cells in the blood.

Professor and Stefanie Spielman Chair in Cancer Imaging Dr. Michael Tweedle is OncoFilter’s chief scientific advisor. Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Dr. Ronald Xu, and Dr. Michael Knopp, Novartis Chair of Imaging Research and Director of the Wright Center of Innovation in Biomedical Imaging, also serve on the fledgling company’s scientific advisory board. Ohio State’s Technology Commercialization Office is helping Mitra protect the intellectual property with patents.

In Houston next week, Mitra and his mates will compete against 41 other teams for more than $1.3 million in cash and prizes. The winning team could collect up to $350,000, not including in-kind service awards. Team expectations are high.

“We’re going there to win,” said Mitra.

He added that any cash prizes earned in Houston will fund prototyping, additional testing, and publication in Lab on a Chip, the leading journal for chemistry, physics, biology, and bioengineering.

Beyond business plan competition winnings, OncoFilter will target non-equity capital from public sources, like Ohio’s Third Frontier Project and the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Conversations with angel investors and venture capital firms could begin as early as this spring, according to Mitra. Conveniently, many venture capital principals, early stage investors, and successful entrepreneurs will be attending, and scouting, in Houston next week.

Winners of the Rice Business Plan Competition will be announced on the evening of Saturday, April 13. So Buckeye fans have a team to root for in April after all. Go Bucks! And Go OncoFilter!

Tags: Students