By Niki Borghei
Cell therapies show great promise in curing diseases, but when the bill is $400,000 at minimum, most people don’t have that option. Until now.
Anil Narasimha, co-founder and CEO of Mekonos, is passionate about personalized medicine. His goal is to make cell therapies more accessible to the general population by developing an efficient way to get genetic material inside those cells before they go into patients.
“Essentially, what we’re doing is using nanoneedles to insert molecular cargo directly inside a cell,” Anil says. By simplifying the delivery process, Mekonos is aiming to drive costs down and open the door to life-saving therapies for more people.
“When I was a postdoc at Stanford, I met my co-founder who was a mechanical engineer specializing in controllable nanoneedles,” he says. “As an experimental biologist, I was trying to figure out a solution to the problems facing personalized medicine, particularly with getting a molecule into a fragile cell type ex-vivo. We put two and two together and thought, why don’t we use these nanoneedles to somehow accomplish that? So we took our different areas of expertise and blended them into one company.”
Because inclusivity is at the heart of Anil’s mission, he strives to emulate that mission in his company culture.
“The team’s awesome,” he says. “We have about 32 people right now, with most people working at Bakar Labs, and we’ve had luck finding people who are passionate about solving a fundamental problem in biology using an out of the box approach. The best part is that because our platform involves so many different skill sets, everyone comes from different backgrounds. It’s because we’re all from different backgrounds that we’re able to work on a solution together.”
This collaborative effort has resulted in Mekonos being one of the most unique companies in the cell engineering industry.
“Using controllable nanoneedles with surface chemistry is pretty unique in the space. No one else is doing it this way, and it’s a nice position to be in.”
So how does one get to be in such a position? Is there more to it than a diverse group of incredibly talented people?
“I’ve been in academia my whole life until now,” Anil explains. “If you’re coming from academia, you need to learn how to think like an entrepreneur, and if you have the opportunity to join some accelerator programs or incubators, do it. You’re thrust into the fire immediately once you start a company, so take advantage of the opportunities that will help you grow into an entrepreneur.”
That’s where Bakar Labs comes in. Whether it’s expert mentorship or speaker events, Bakar Labs provides an abundance of opportunities to hone entrepreneurial skills.
“Bakar Labs was at the top of our list because of the ecosystem and proximity to UC Berkeley,” Anil says. “I’m biased. I went to Berkeley for undergrad, and I know a lot of people at the company went to Berkeley as well. Being in the vicinity of such talented people and valuable R&D resources really helps.”
With growth comes change. This year, Mekonos will be “graduating” from Bakar Labs and moving to their new headquarters in Alameda.
“We’ve been super fortunate to be part of Bakar Labs,” Anil says. “One of our values at Mekonos is learning every day, both on the technical and non-technical side. We’re thankful to have been part of an ecosystem where we can do both.”