Abhita Batra, CEO Otomagnetics, Inc., is leading the growth of an innovative biotech startup, and bringing a drug delivery technology to market that could change the lives of childhood cancer survivors. As with many successful startups, there seems to be a winning equation when they are led by someone who brings both the industry expertise, as well as the passion for the mission.
Otomagnetics has solved that equation with CEO, Batra, who is in a role that she’s been preparing for from an early age. Growing up in India, the family business was biomanufacturing. By the time she was sixteen, she was working in production and learning the ins and outs of running a successful biotech business. After earning her Bachelors degree she took on management of the business, expanding the market from India and the United States to include SE Asia and Latin America as well. Today, the company offers about 150 products in those markets.
The family business proved to be a rewarding training ground for Batra, but she was driven to pursue her passion to work with innovative products and new technologies. That’s what brought her to the US, and to get her Masters in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology from UPENN in 2007. Following graduation, she found success at her own startup venture, followed by several executive roles at other growing biotech companies.
In 2016, Batra was introduced to an innovative new magnetic drug delivery technology, originally developed at the University of Maryland out of the Fischell Department of BIoengineering (BioE) and Institute for Systems Research (ISR) in 2013. Professor Benjamin Shapiro, now President of Otomagnetics, led the research and eventually spun out the company with co-founders Didier Depireux (ISR), David Beylin, and Irving Weinberg, M.D.
This technology, which non-invasively directs biocompatible nanoparticles and their therapeutic payloads through soft tissue, immediately captured her interest and passion. Batra was eager for the chance to work with the technology named SmartMag, which could revolutionize the future of drug delivery. The SmartMag delivery system uses a proprietary magnetic injector with degradable magnetic particles that carry drugs, proteins, or genes to the target – targets that until now have been outside the range of existing delivery systems. The initial market would be for the inner and middle ear, but there were possible applications for macular degeneration and dermatological conditions such as psoriasis.
After doing her own due diligence with leading medical experts, Batra confidently joined Otomagnetics as CBO and began working to raise funding and build a winning team. After successfully raising more than $1M in seed capital, Batra became CEO and took the lead on moving the company forward. As a platform technology, the work of forming strategic alliances and clinical trial partners became some of her top priorities alongside funding. They have been partnering with Children’s National in DC since 2013. In the future, Otomagnetics also plans to partner with clinicians with practices of their own.
The company has raised funding from a number of sources, including early seed funding from TEDCO’s MII program in 2016. In addition to the financial backing, TEDCO also provided an investment of their time and advisory support to the young company. Arti Santhanam, Director of MII, especially was someone who became a great source of advice and mentorship for Batra during these pivotal times of growth.
In 2017, Otomagnetics was awarded a $2.3 million Fast Track NIH/NCI SBIR Contract to develop a pediatric cancer drug delivery system to prevent hearing loss from chemotherapy regimens. “We are honored and excited to be working closely with the National Institutes of Health to address a pressing clinical need,” said Otomagnetics President and Co-Founder Benjamin Shapiro. “There should not have to be a choice between effective chemo and lifelong hearing loss. Our technology has the potential to allow treatment by chemotherapy without the attendant risk of hearing loss.” Earlier this year Otomagnetics also received additional investment through AngelMD’s Catalyst Fund. They received a Montgomery County Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I Matching Grant in September.
What excites investors and clinicians alike is the potential to eliminate hearing loss for children undergoing chemotherapy and solve for an unmet clinical need.
With advancements in cancer treatment, more children survive their battle with childhood cancers. Loss of hair, nausea, and vomiting are well known secondary effects. Hearing loss is a less known secondary effect with the potential to alter the quality of life for 80% of children after treatment. If a delivery platform such as SmartMag could be used to deliver medication that would protect the inner and middle ear from damage, across the blood barrier in a non-invasive way, it could prevent hearing loss in thousands of children.
“’When a kid goes through this, even if it’s not your own, your heart breaks right away,” says Batra. “With our technology, we are able to deliver otoprotective therapy to cochlea topically. We have shown in animal studies that we can protect hearing with this non-invasive magnetic treatment. It’s a 10-minute procedure so kids can go through it with ease. It’s also offered before damage is done.”
Though Otomagnetics has a long way to go, Batra attributes their to date to having the right team. With advisory board members that include Jerome Lewis as nanoparticle advisor and both Dushyant and Neela Chipalkatty, there is a ready source of experience to tap. “That’s one of the biggest principles of success,” Batra says. “If you can bring the right people onto your team and your board, they will be the backbone of the company.”
As the next step, Batra plans to pursue Orphan Drug status, a move that is possible because the childhood cancer population they are addressing numbers less than 200,000 patients. This status will make it possible for the technology to move from Phase 1 Clinical Trials directly to Phase 3. As a result, Batra is aiming to have their platform on the market and improving patients lives by late 2021 at the latest.
Published on BioBuzz