Healthtech Leader of the Month: Ravi Pamnani

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For the October installment of the Healthtech Leader of the Month series, we spoke to Ravi Pamnani, the CEO and co-founder of Intact Therapeutics

Ravi and fellow co-founder Sidhartha Sinha first met in 2010 through Stanford’s Biodesign Fellowship, and with Sidhartha’s clinical expertise and Ravi’s engineering background, developed the smart thermal hydrogel platform that would later result in Intact Therapeutics. 

Intact just completed a Phase 1 clinical study of their lead candidate, a thermal gel for the treatment of ulcerative colitis (UC). Intact has also received several grants for its pipeline research, including from the National Science Foundation for a modified gel to treat gastrointestinal bleeding, and another grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine for a mouthwash formulation to deliver a biologic for patients with oral mucositis.

Smart Goo

“We are tackling critical unmet needs in gastroenterology,” says Ravi. “In UC, the recommended first-line therapy is delivered by a liquid enema formulation. This is extremely hard to tolerate for patients, especially when they are having an acute flare, leading to most patients just stopping therapy. Our technology uses a thermally sensitive formulation to be administered first as a liquid and then phase changing into a viscous hydrogel, retaining the target drug longer in the colon and with greater comfort.” 

In essence: “We’ve developed an extended release version of the drug in the colon.”

Their kind of delivery allows for both earlier and safer drug therapy, which can help patients avoid severe disease. “There really is a huge need for better ways of treating patients earlier in the disease process before it gets so severe they’re hospitalized,” Ravi says. “In the worst-case scenario, patients that are untreated or with refractory disease have their colons surgically removed because the condition is so painful. More effective early-stage treatment might save their colons while alleviating the challenging symptoms and could be a huge benefit for patients suffering with UC.” 

And above all, Ravi and Intact Therapeutics are focused on the patients, which is part of why he emphasizes solutions-agnostic operations. “We focus first and foremost on what the unmet clinical need is,” he says. “Only once we deeply understand the need do we focus on developing a solution that can address it. Even if the solution ends up being something you have never considered, if it meets the need best, then pursue it!”

From Leader to Leader: 3 Lessons Learned   

#1: Entrepreneurship is a team sport.

“As a first-time entrepreneur, it’s easy to get inside my own head,” Ravi says. “Having a cofounder and team to share the challenges and stresses and ups and downs, especially during fundraising, can make a huge difference. Recruiting the early team, advisors, investors, and board of directors that shared our vision was also crucial to our success to date.”

In choosing your community, Ravi recommends finding those who will challenge you just enough. “Ideally, these are other entrepreneurs or folks that have an entrepreneurial background because then they’ll have that same mindset,” he says. “They will challenge your thinking, but they won’t reflexively say ‘no’ or just think you’re crazy. They’ll have a little bit of crazy too.” 

#2: Persist — to a point.

“When people early in their careers tell me they want to be entrepreneurs, I usually tell them not to,” Ravi says. “When I was starting out, getting industry experience at both a big company and an established early-stage company really helped me in my journey. In some ways it doesn’t matter what I say to them, because if they have that internal entrepreneurial drive – they’ll likely have a certain inability to be deterred, by me or anyone else. And that is a key trait of an entrepreneur!”

#3: Successful entrepreneurs need a bit of insanity.

“Having worked with a number of successful healthcare entrepreneurs, and now on my own journey, I have concluded that it requires a bit of insanity combined with a high pain tolerance,” says Ravi. “You have to be obsessed about solving your problem – thinking about it day and night. And you can’t imagine not working on it.” 

The key phrase here is “a bit” of insanity. “Working in healthcare is a long slog and can be an emotional rollercoaster ride,” Ravi says. “But you know it’s worth taking the plunge if the thought of not taking the idea forward is even more painful.”

Bonus Lesson: Self-compassion and care

“My other advice for people is not to be too hard on themselves. Self-compassion is underrated and under-utilized,” says Ravi. “Also, learn to pace yourself. Don’t think you have to solve problems overnight. Sometimes it’s after mulling over it and talking it over with the team and advisors, solutions become more apparent.”

Ravi adds: “For those who are interested in entrepreneurship but maybe haven’t found an idea to be passionate about yet or are uncertain about their own risk tolerance, it’s ok to revisit the idea of being an entrepreneur later on in life.”

Ravi and Intact are aiming to get their thermal gel for UC to Phase 2 in 2023 and move their early-stage pipeline into first-in-human studies.

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