Sanjit Kumar and Santhosh Subramaniam have enough to worry about with their new Atlanta biotech firm DiaScan, which could improve the process of diagnosing cancer found in CT (computerized tomography) scans. There’s continuing software development, patent applications, FDA compliance, the constant search for investment.
Their work has been rewarded with $6 million in early funding, and a third-place result and Audience Award in last week’s TechCrunch Atlanta Pitch-Off competition. But for Kumar and Subramaniam, 2016 comes with an additional burden on their time.
They have to graduate high school in late May.
“We kind of took it easy this year high school-wise,” said Kumar, DiaScan’s CEO. “For the last three years we’ve been working our butts off, taking a lot of higher courses, so we were able to lighten our load for this year.”
Think of the two Northview High School seniors as the next generation of code wranglers and startup founders. The parents of both work in software engineering and programming. They taught their sons the basics of code development at an early age. But the two filled out the rest of their coding knowledge – and their business aspirations – on their own, and have sought wisdom from the Georgia Tech and Atlanta entrepreneurial community.
“Both our parents are programmers but they didn’t give us the push to start a company,” Kumar said. “That was our own initiative.”
That effort started last summer when Subramaniam interned at the National Institutes of Health, where he was on a research fellowship for bioinformatics. “I met (Sanjit) the semester before at my high school, and we always wanted to start a company. We’ve always talked about it since we met, and when I worked at NIH I saw a (research) paper. I told Sanjit that this is really interesting and we should do something about it.”
The paper addressed current methods of reading CT scans of lung cancer patients. High false positive rates and a lack of diagnostic information such as size/type of tumor, stage of tumor development, and whether the cells are benign or malignant can lead to biopsies that can cost up to $15,000 per procedure. Subramaniam says his software, which applies machine learning and data analysis to the problem, has so far upped the diagnostic accuracy rate from four to 76 percent.
“It is a huge problem,” Subramaniam said. “Lung cancer kills the most amount of people per year because it is diagnosed so late. Anyone who builds this software will be able to solve this problem, they’ll be able to diagnose the patient earlier.” DiaScan could get there first largely because of Submaniam’s coding excellence. Dr. Mohammad Ali, DiaScan’s chief financial officer and the CEO of Long Island Equity, said in an email to Hypeopotamus that the Johns Creek student’s code was “flawless..his ability to develop deep machine learning algorithms was also outstanding. At 18, without a college education, he was able to develop software that uses artificial intelligence to detect cancer. With college, who knows what he can do.”
For Sanjit, DiaScan’s mission is personal. His father was diagnosed with a tumor. “It was benign, thank God, but if I can save another person from going through that pain by diagnosing earlier and more accurately, I think that in itself will give me more satisfaction than anything.” Kumar’s uncle is also a top official at the National Cancer Institute’s Radiation Research Program, so he is now DiaScan’s head advisor.
More business/startup mentorship was found closer to home within the Georgia Tech startup community, including J.P. James at Libreum International and Partha Unnava, CEO of biomedical device company Better Walk. (Unnava made Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list last year in the manufacturing and industry category.)
The best advice they’ve received so far from their local entrepreneurial brain trust? “One of the things they’ve been saying is that you should always have friends who are older than you,” Subramaniam said. “If you’re in high school, have friends in college, learn from them and build off of that. They’ve been in your footsteps.”
Unnava has been a valuable resource, Kumar added. “He’s told us lot of things, but the main thing is to verify everything. If you’re ever going to pursue anything, make sure it’s done right no matter what you do. Make sure you do it yourself or know someone and trust them to do it properly.”
The company’s showing at the local TechCrunch Pitch-Off won Kumar and Subramaniam a ticket to attend the website’s main Disrupt event in New York in early May. But the two students must also leave a date open in their busy calendars later that month for their high school graduation. They hope to attend Georgia Tech but say they are also awaiting application results from Harvard, MIT and Stanford.
Kumar says he and his partner have been able to enjoy a relatively normal high school life, even with the pressure of launching an Atlanta startup. “We’ve done a good job balancing having a social life, maintaining relationships with friends and family, and so getting to do this (startup), I think we’re ready.”
Want to follow Kumar and Subramaniam’s rise to startup superstardom? Connect with DiaScan on Facebook.