Empathy-Driven Innovation

Interview with MOLLI Surgical CEO Ananth Ravi

Under the guidance of Ananth Ravi, MOLLI Surgical has made strides in the field of soft tissue localization technology for breast cancer treatment. This pioneering device, also known as MOLLI, precisely marks lesions for surgical removal. It’s poised to replace outdated procedures, offering greater precision, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and enhanced patient comfort and care.

Ananth has always been captivated by the intersection of technology and physics in practice, yet his true motivation stems from his deep empathy for patients. During his years in Zambia, he tragically lost his best friend to treatable brain cancer. Years later, he found his true calling in addressing the pain points of patients undergoing cancer treatments.

His point of no return was witnessing a poignant moment at a Patient Family Advisory Committee meeting at Sunnybrook Hospital. There, he listened to a breast cancer patient’s treatment story. She had undergone procedures where fishing hook-like wires were used to localize the cancer. This ignited his resolve to find a better, less painful solution for patients.

Working closely with his current CTO (Chief Technology Officer), John Dillon, who was his first student at the time, Ananth embarked on developing a solution to mark surgical spots with minimal pain and discomfort. Through their collaborative efforts, MOLLI emerged—a novel technology featuring a tiny, permanent implant magnet, the size of a sesame seed. It was a leap forward in patient care, eliminating the discomfort of traditional methods and allowing for procedures to be scheduled at the patient's convenience.

At the time, Ananth and John thought about MOLLI purely academically. They were targeting the patients in Sunnybrook while slowly making improvements to the project. It was when MOLLI started to attract the attention of outside institutes that Ananth realized there was potential for growth, both for the company and its impact on society.

Beyond commercial success, Ananth yearns to revolutionize cancer treatment on a larger scale. He stated, “The real reason why we created MOLLI in the first place and why I left clinical practice for it, is to be able to take innovation, scale it up, and have an impact that's not just confined to a single institution. We structured our company to focus heavily on commercialization, yet we dedicate half of our efforts to research and development. We're continuously innovating. We’re aiming to launch significant new products every year or year and a half. Introducing original and impactful solutions is fundamental to our mission.”

In 2023, MOLLI Surgical introduced the MOLLI re.markable that improves precision and enhances patient comfort by enabling the adjustment of markers through the skin, without requiring invasive surgery.

Ananth shares, “I influenced the care of about 10,000 patients in just one year, and it’s continually growing, which has become quite addictive for me. Helping on such a large scale is deeply rewarding, and the journey has been incredibly fulfilling in ways I hadn't anticipated."

Looking forward, MOLLI is set to unveil new devices in 2024, possibly venturing beyond breast cancer care, and continuing to address challenging clinical needs with patient care and innovation at its core.

Key Learnings From Ananth’s Experience

  • Immerse yourself in the environment where your product will be used. Ensure that your innovation is driven by a real, identifiable problem. Then build products that minimize risk, maximize patient benefit, have a low learning curve, and are user-friendly and clinically effective. Continue to stay engaged with your stakeholders even after building your MVP. 
  • Be purposeful from the start. Actively work on expanding your network, raising awareness of your vision, and understanding the market. As you build and leverage consultants, be sure your core team isn’t overly reliant on any particular individuals or firms. 
  • Having a variety of funding sources is imperative for sustainable growth, especially as your company evolves through various stages. That said, it’s important that you consistently communicate the impact, value, and significance of your company's work to your investors. This is key for appealing to both existing and potential capital partners.
Guest
Ananth Ravi
CEO of MOLLI Surgical

Growing up in Zambia, Ananth Ravi lost his best friend to treatable brain cancer, which ignited his passion for creating equitable and innovative cancer care solutions. Before founding MOLLI Surgical, he served as a medical physicist at Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Center and as clinical operations lead in brachytherapy. He is a co-inventor on numerous patents and holds several grants for medical devices. Today, Ananth is leading MOLLI, a medtech startup that has made significant strides simplifying procedures in breast cancer surgery while dramatically improving patient comfort. 

Engage First-Hand and Solve a Real Problem

Innovation must be purpose-driven. You need to solve a real problem and do it exceptionally well. Ananth emphasizes the importance of building something so intuitive and effective that it becomes an immediate asset to its users. Expounding further, he says, “It's just like your phone, you don't have to have an IFU to teach you how to use it. I think that's what we want with all of our medical devices. It should be so intuitive and risk-reduced that anybody can just plug it in and be able to do high-quality care with them.”

Creating medical devices requires solving problems with minimal risk and maximum patient benefit. As a former practitioner, Ananth understands the challenges associated with treatment errors. 

“We were deeply involved in patient care, which really helped us focus on what's important. I've been involved in delivering care and using technologies that sometimes led to treatment errors. Having to discuss these with patients and their families was tough. Now, when creating our own devices, it's crucial to prioritize design and always consider risk mitigation, because these devices are our responsibility,” Ananth shares.

Ananth's role at Sunnybrook placed him at the heart of the clinical ecosystem. This proximity to the patients and medical teams was a strong factor in MOLLI’s success. One lesson Ananth learned from his experience working in a high-pressure clinical environment is that the robustness and ease-of-use of a medical device are absolutely vital.  In a world where medical staff are often stretched thin, technology must be straightforward and reliable to be appealing and effectively adopted.

Even as MOLLI began to take shape, Ananth remained at Sunnybrook to ensure that the device was perfectly aligned with patient needs and the realities of clinical applications. He shares, “There's something about seeing things for yourself, with your own eyes. You have a different lens than others, and bringing that lens to what you see rather than just hearing about it, is much more insightful.”

However, all this doesn’t mean that being a physician is a prerequisite for innovating in medtech. It’s just crucial that you maintain a close connection with physicians. They can support clinical trials, offer real-world feedback, and help with early soft launches. It’s a key strategy to prove your technology's effectiveness before broadening its reach.

Though Ananth is no longer a practicing medical professional, he still stays in touch with the medical ecosystem. "I'm working to replicate that experience,” he reports. “Now, out of that clinical environment, the challenge is maintaining that level of engagement to ensure our devices meet clinical needs precisely."

The Business of Saving Lives

Initially, Ananth and John pursued their project in an academic fashion, focused primarily on aiding patients at Sunnybrook. However, when external interest began to surface, they realized their work had the potential to reach beyond the academic sphere.

The realization that bigger opportunities await came organically to Ananth, but there are certain advantages to being purposeful right from the start, like expanding your network and raising awareness about your vision, as well as understanding the market and shaping an effective commercial launch strategy. 

But before you can even think about a commercial launch, there stands a significant milestone: regulatory approval. For Ananth, the journey to FDA clearance for MOLLI was a learning curve. The initial approval was quite time-consuming. However, the subsequent products, MOLLI 2 and re.markable, were approved much faster – within just a month and a half. Ananth credits this efficiency to the insights they gained from earlier challenges, which he refers to as "well-earned scars."

Ananth’s approach to navigating the regulatory landscape is twofold: balancing an ambitious, aggressive pathway with a more conservative, realistic plan. He understands the unpredictability of regulatory processes and values flexibility in their approach.

He suggests starting with the minimal viable testing early on, immediately after building a prototype. He emphasizes, "Test early, as it's bound to fail initially, then iterate until it succeeds." This method is capital-efficient and instrumental in gaining insights into potential improvements, paving the way for more thorough testing later.

Regarding the role of consultants, Ananth stresses the importance of hands-on involvement during the early stages. Although consultants offer valuable guidance, you’ll experience delays if you over-rely on them, particularly when onboarding new consultants. Ananth experienced this first-hand with MOLLI. They initially depended heavily on consultants for regulatory, and, by implication, clinical affairs as well. However, once their contract was through, the gap in in-house expertise they left behind became glaringly obvious. However, this doesn’t mean you should abstain from using consultants. You just need to ensure that the core team builds and maintains the necessary expertise. Ananth’s advice is to view them more as auditors to identify gaps, rather than having consultants own an entire function.

Storytelling for Sustainable Growth

Ananth believes diversity in funding sources is imperative for sustainable growth. In the early days, when capital was a major constraint, non-dilutive funding proved to be MOLLI’s lifeline—partially thanks to their academic background. 

As the company progressed and gained more momentum, the opportunities to explore different funding avenues also expanded. This sort of growth places a company in a position where it has to make tough choices, something no one likes to do.

Ananth acknowledges the strengths and challenges of both non-dilutive and equity fundraising. He points out that while non-dilutive funding can be demanding, especially in terms of time spent on grant writing, it's crucial to weigh this against the trade-off of potential business growth. When a company starts to commercialize rapidly, shifting focus towards activities that directly enhance the business often makes dilutive funding more suitable.

A pivotal moment for a startup is when it starts generating revenue. At this stage, the nature of capital shifts towards potential revenue. However, Ananth advocates that, despite this shift, the core narrative of the company should remain constant. You have to address the significant questions, highlight the impact your company makes, and the value it adds, both at present and in the future. Whether communicating with grant agencies or investors, successfully conveying this message makes your business appealing to both types of funders.

A significant part of MOLLI's messaging revolves around its mission to democratize high-quality care. This includes educating patients about the treatment options available to them. Driving public awareness and advocating for high-quality care is an important part of MOLLI’s message. One such initiative is their H.O.P.E. (Help-Optimism-Positivity-Empowerment) Program, a collection of resources, interviews, support, and services recommended by patients, clinicians, and advocates. This holistic approach to market development has organically benefited the company, amplifying its initiatives well beyond what it initially expected.

Download a copy of the interview transcript right here.
Share:
Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn
Email

Under the guidance of Ananth Ravi, MOLLI Surgical has made strides in the field of soft tissue localization technology for breast cancer treatment. This pioneering device, also known as MOLLI, precisely marks lesions for surgical removal. It’s poised to replace outdated procedures, offering greater precision, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and enhanced patient comfort and care.

Ananth has always been captivated by the intersection of technology and physics in practice, yet his true motivation stems from his deep empathy for patients. During his years in Zambia, he tragically lost his best friend to treatable brain cancer. Years later, he found his true calling in addressing the pain points of patients undergoing cancer treatments.

His point of no return was witnessing a poignant moment at a Patient Family Advisory Committee meeting at Sunnybrook Hospital. There, he listened to a breast cancer patient’s treatment story. She had undergone procedures where fishing hook-like wires were used to localize the cancer. This ignited his resolve to find a better, less painful solution for patients.

Working closely with his current CTO (Chief Technology Officer), John Dillon, who was his first student at the time, Ananth embarked on developing a solution to mark surgical spots with minimal pain and discomfort. Through their collaborative efforts, MOLLI emerged—a novel technology featuring a tiny, permanent implant magnet, the size of a sesame seed. It was a leap forward in patient care, eliminating the discomfort of traditional methods and allowing for procedures to be scheduled at the patient's convenience.

At the time, Ananth and John thought about MOLLI purely academically. They were targeting the patients in Sunnybrook while slowly making improvements to the project. It was when MOLLI started to attract the attention of outside institutes that Ananth realized there was potential for growth, both for the company and its impact on society.

Beyond commercial success, Ananth yearns to revolutionize cancer treatment on a larger scale. He stated, “The real reason why we created MOLLI in the first place and why I left clinical practice for it, is to be able to take innovation, scale it up, and have an impact that's not just confined to a single institution. We structured our company to focus heavily on commercialization, yet we dedicate half of our efforts to research and development. We're continuously innovating. We’re aiming to launch significant new products every year or year and a half. Introducing original and impactful solutions is fundamental to our mission.”

In 2023, MOLLI Surgical introduced the MOLLI re.markable that improves precision and enhances patient comfort by enabling the adjustment of markers through the skin, without requiring invasive surgery.

Ananth shares, “I influenced the care of about 10,000 patients in just one year, and it’s continually growing, which has become quite addictive for me. Helping on such a large scale is deeply rewarding, and the journey has been incredibly fulfilling in ways I hadn't anticipated."

Looking forward, MOLLI is set to unveil new devices in 2024, possibly venturing beyond breast cancer care, and continuing to address challenging clinical needs with patient care and innovation at its core.

Key Learnings From Ananth’s Experience

  • Immerse yourself in the environment where your product will be used. Ensure that your innovation is driven by a real, identifiable problem. Then build products that minimize risk, maximize patient benefit, have a low learning curve, and are user-friendly and clinically effective. Continue to stay engaged with your stakeholders even after building your MVP. 
  • Be purposeful from the start. Actively work on expanding your network, raising awareness of your vision, and understanding the market. As you build and leverage consultants, be sure your core team isn’t overly reliant on any particular individuals or firms. 
  • Having a variety of funding sources is imperative for sustainable growth, especially as your company evolves through various stages. That said, it’s important that you consistently communicate the impact, value, and significance of your company's work to your investors. This is key for appealing to both existing and potential capital partners.
Guest
Ananth Ravi
CEO of MOLLI Surgical

Growing up in Zambia, Ananth Ravi lost his best friend to treatable brain cancer, which ignited his passion for creating equitable and innovative cancer care solutions. Before founding MOLLI Surgical, he served as a medical physicist at Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Center and as clinical operations lead in brachytherapy. He is a co-inventor on numerous patents and holds several grants for medical devices. Today, Ananth is leading MOLLI, a medtech startup that has made significant strides simplifying procedures in breast cancer surgery while dramatically improving patient comfort. 

Engage First-Hand and Solve a Real Problem

Innovation must be purpose-driven. You need to solve a real problem and do it exceptionally well. Ananth emphasizes the importance of building something so intuitive and effective that it becomes an immediate asset to its users. Expounding further, he says, “It's just like your phone, you don't have to have an IFU to teach you how to use it. I think that's what we want with all of our medical devices. It should be so intuitive and risk-reduced that anybody can just plug it in and be able to do high-quality care with them.”

Creating medical devices requires solving problems with minimal risk and maximum patient benefit. As a former practitioner, Ananth understands the challenges associated with treatment errors. 

“We were deeply involved in patient care, which really helped us focus on what's important. I've been involved in delivering care and using technologies that sometimes led to treatment errors. Having to discuss these with patients and their families was tough. Now, when creating our own devices, it's crucial to prioritize design and always consider risk mitigation, because these devices are our responsibility,” Ananth shares.

Ananth's role at Sunnybrook placed him at the heart of the clinical ecosystem. This proximity to the patients and medical teams was a strong factor in MOLLI’s success. One lesson Ananth learned from his experience working in a high-pressure clinical environment is that the robustness and ease-of-use of a medical device are absolutely vital.  In a world where medical staff are often stretched thin, technology must be straightforward and reliable to be appealing and effectively adopted.

Even as MOLLI began to take shape, Ananth remained at Sunnybrook to ensure that the device was perfectly aligned with patient needs and the realities of clinical applications. He shares, “There's something about seeing things for yourself, with your own eyes. You have a different lens than others, and bringing that lens to what you see rather than just hearing about it, is much more insightful.”

However, all this doesn’t mean that being a physician is a prerequisite for innovating in medtech. It’s just crucial that you maintain a close connection with physicians. They can support clinical trials, offer real-world feedback, and help with early soft launches. It’s a key strategy to prove your technology's effectiveness before broadening its reach.

Though Ananth is no longer a practicing medical professional, he still stays in touch with the medical ecosystem. "I'm working to replicate that experience,” he reports. “Now, out of that clinical environment, the challenge is maintaining that level of engagement to ensure our devices meet clinical needs precisely."

The Business of Saving Lives

Initially, Ananth and John pursued their project in an academic fashion, focused primarily on aiding patients at Sunnybrook. However, when external interest began to surface, they realized their work had the potential to reach beyond the academic sphere.

The realization that bigger opportunities await came organically to Ananth, but there are certain advantages to being purposeful right from the start, like expanding your network and raising awareness about your vision, as well as understanding the market and shaping an effective commercial launch strategy. 

But before you can even think about a commercial launch, there stands a significant milestone: regulatory approval. For Ananth, the journey to FDA clearance for MOLLI was a learning curve. The initial approval was quite time-consuming. However, the subsequent products, MOLLI 2 and re.markable, were approved much faster – within just a month and a half. Ananth credits this efficiency to the insights they gained from earlier challenges, which he refers to as "well-earned scars."

Ananth’s approach to navigating the regulatory landscape is twofold: balancing an ambitious, aggressive pathway with a more conservative, realistic plan. He understands the unpredictability of regulatory processes and values flexibility in their approach.

He suggests starting with the minimal viable testing early on, immediately after building a prototype. He emphasizes, "Test early, as it's bound to fail initially, then iterate until it succeeds." This method is capital-efficient and instrumental in gaining insights into potential improvements, paving the way for more thorough testing later.

Regarding the role of consultants, Ananth stresses the importance of hands-on involvement during the early stages. Although consultants offer valuable guidance, you’ll experience delays if you over-rely on them, particularly when onboarding new consultants. Ananth experienced this first-hand with MOLLI. They initially depended heavily on consultants for regulatory, and, by implication, clinical affairs as well. However, once their contract was through, the gap in in-house expertise they left behind became glaringly obvious. However, this doesn’t mean you should abstain from using consultants. You just need to ensure that the core team builds and maintains the necessary expertise. Ananth’s advice is to view them more as auditors to identify gaps, rather than having consultants own an entire function.

Storytelling for Sustainable Growth

Ananth believes diversity in funding sources is imperative for sustainable growth. In the early days, when capital was a major constraint, non-dilutive funding proved to be MOLLI’s lifeline—partially thanks to their academic background. 

As the company progressed and gained more momentum, the opportunities to explore different funding avenues also expanded. This sort of growth places a company in a position where it has to make tough choices, something no one likes to do.

Ananth acknowledges the strengths and challenges of both non-dilutive and equity fundraising. He points out that while non-dilutive funding can be demanding, especially in terms of time spent on grant writing, it's crucial to weigh this against the trade-off of potential business growth. When a company starts to commercialize rapidly, shifting focus towards activities that directly enhance the business often makes dilutive funding more suitable.

A pivotal moment for a startup is when it starts generating revenue. At this stage, the nature of capital shifts towards potential revenue. However, Ananth advocates that, despite this shift, the core narrative of the company should remain constant. You have to address the significant questions, highlight the impact your company makes, and the value it adds, both at present and in the future. Whether communicating with grant agencies or investors, successfully conveying this message makes your business appealing to both types of funders.

A significant part of MOLLI's messaging revolves around its mission to democratize high-quality care. This includes educating patients about the treatment options available to them. Driving public awareness and advocating for high-quality care is an important part of MOLLI’s message. One such initiative is their H.O.P.E. (Help-Optimism-Positivity-Empowerment) Program, a collection of resources, interviews, support, and services recommended by patients, clinicians, and advocates. This holistic approach to market development has organically benefited the company, amplifying its initiatives well beyond what it initially expected.

Download a copy of the interview transcript right here.
Share:
Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn
Email

You May Like These Articles

Premium

Grit and the Power of Showing Up

Interview with Venture Capitalist Anish Kaushal

Anish Kaushal, a former physician turned healthcare investor and author, shares his unconventional career journey from medicine to VC at Amplitude Ventures. He reveals vital fundraising strategies from an investor's perspective, offers practical tips for crafting pitch decks that capture attention, discusses why always being in the mode of seeking funds is so important, expands on the value of building extensive networks, and talks about the cumulative effect of small improvements. He also provides guidance on staying open and ready for career shifts in today’s fast-paced professional environment as outlined in his latest book.

Premium

Shaping the Future of Alzheimer’s Care

Interview with Sinaptica CEO Ken Mariash

Ken Mariash is a leading figure in the neuromodulation space and the CEO of Sinaptica Therapeutics, where his team is developing groundbreaking treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Their device delivers non-invasive neuromodulation therapy to key networks of the brain, and has shown unprecedented improvement in treating this debilitating disease. In our interview, Ken shares his time-tested wisdom, covering a range of topics from kick-starting a venture and how to approach M&A transactions, to mastering commercialization and best practices for engaging with investors.

Premium

Medsider Mentors

Volume VI

In Medsider Mentors Volume VI, we’ve distilled key insights from founders and CEOs of some of the hottest medical device and health technology startups including LimFlow, Field Medical, Sinaptica, Spark Biomedical, InterShunt and many more.

View More Interviews
See the Playbooks

Join Medsider as a Free Subscriber

Subscribe to Medsider and get access to exclusive benefits for free. No spam, 100% privacy, and your email won’t be shared.