Mir Imran: serial entrepreneur inventor of the robotic pill
Mir Imran, Inventor, CEO of Rani Therapeutics shares his story and discusses how his latest business is driven by the desire to innovate, create and solve.
As a serial entrepreneur, what would you say are the key qualities of a successful startup?
A successful startup is willing to take risks and fail frequently. Taking big risks, learning from every failure, and making an effort to fully understand every facet of a problem before pursuing a solution are important tenants to help create a culture that embraces innovation.
Choosing the right problems to address, too, is essential. If you are merely iterating on other people’s ideas, you aren’t inventing. Look at the big unsolved problems. Break them down. Understand them. Find solutions that no one had ever thought possible. I focus on big, unsolved problems and that has led to the creation of a number of disruptive innovations.
There can be big rewards that come from innovations like Rani Therapeutics, but there are also countless risks along the way. I have been fortunate to have had many successes in my career, but I also have had my fair share of failed concepts or lacklustre results. Before I had success with the first Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), I had two failed companies. I never let those failures bring me down; rather I saw them as opportunities to learn and evolve. Each experience gave me further clarity, led to deeper insights, and helped inform future decisions. If I had given up after my early failures, life would have turned out very differently for me.
As someone with over 500 patents to their name, which technological development have you been most proud of so far?
I’m driven by identifying unsolved or poorly addressed problems in medicine. Over the past four decades, I’ve built a number of companies that have addressed multiple problems, from lockboxes used by real estate agents and full-body airport scanners used across the country and the world, and radically improved treatments for chronic pain.
While I’m proud of all my inventions, today I’m on a mission to solve one of the biggest challenges in medicine: replacing painful injections with a pill to treat hundreds of millions of patients with chronic disease. When I learned that pharma companies have tried and failed for more than 50 years to convert biologic injections into pills, I saw that as a juicy problem to solve. The main challenge is that the gut hosts enzymes designed to break down proteins. If ingested, biologic drugs are degraded before they can be absorbed. That’s why you haven’t seen oral insulin see or oral Humira yet. At Rani Therapeutics, we think we have solved the riddle with the RaniPill™ capsule.
Could you tell me a little about Rani Therapeutics and your new robotic pill? What advantages does the pill have over traditional subcutaneous injections?
There are millions of people around the world living with chronic conditions that can only be treated with painful daily self-injections. Yet even when such medicines are readily available, patient compliance is very low. Patients don’t want to inject themselves and avoid the treatment even if it affects their health.
Achieving oral delivery of biologics is considered the holy grail of drug delivery, and we think we have come up with the solution with the RaniPill™ capsule. The RaniPill™ capsule appears to the patient to be an ordinary pill, but inside is a “mini auto-injector” that delivers the drug directly into the intestinal wall. Our robotic indigestible capsule has a special coating which gets it through the acidic environment of the stomach. When it reaches the intestinal wall, the RaniPill™ then transforms, revealing the mechanism inside. The RaniPill™ aligns itself to inject a drug into the intestinal wall, where it is picked up quickly and circulated in the bloodstream. The patient doesn’t feel anything because the intestines have no sharp pain receptors.
While other organisations have followed our lead and are now pursuing similar concepts, Rani’s early start in the pursuit of a pill to replace painful injections has secured our position as a pioneer of robotic pills. We have conducted more than 100 preclinical studies proving that our technology works – and delivers the same amount of drug as a subcutaneous injection. We have also begun testing in humans - specifically testing the safety and tolerability of the RaniPill™ capsule without the drug. Those studies were successful, demonstrating that the RaniPill™ capsule deployed with no feeling or perception by the subjects and the remnants passed out of the body. We are moving towards human testing with the RaniPill™ capsule loaded with a drug (Octreotide, a drug used for the treatment of acromegaly) this year.
Given your experience as a leader of business units and enterprises, how do you ensure that you attract, utilise and retain top talent?
It is our intent to attract and retain innovative thinkers to help us build the future of biologic drug delivery, and we believe our culture has helped us tremendously in that regard. I’m proud that today Rani’s workforce is more than 50% women and 20% are over 50 years old. Our employees are ethnically diverse as well, drawn from more than 10 countries. For me, building a well-rounded, holistically representative workforce means finding the best talent regardless of a person's age, gender, or ethnicity.
A criticism that’s often levelled at pharmaceutical and tech companies is that they’re increasingly driven by the business case as opposed to the desire to innovate and improve people’s lives. How do you ensure that Rani Therapeutics doesn’t lose sight of the goal of helping humanity?
We believe the best business case – a sustainable business case – can only be achieved when your products truly improve people’s lives. Our single-minded focus is always trying to understand problems, faced by patients and to try to alleviate some of those problems through innovation.
When it comes to building innovative products, it is critical to start with understanding the problem and do this from all facets. Once you truly understand the problem, the solution will reveal itself. Earlier in my career, I was quick to try to “solve” the problems. I would spend time dreaming up the solution to a problem that I did not fully understand. I soon learned that you must take the time to understand and appreciate the problem, look at it from all angles, listen to other opinions, and see what has been done before. If you pursue solutions too quickly without that complete understanding of the problem, you might miss the opportunity for a breakthrough.
In the case of Rani, where we are working to improve the lives of millions of people, I had to look at all of the ways that previous approaches have failed in order to come up with a radically different way to solve the problem. Rather than try to change the drug to make it viable orally, which had been tried many times before by other companies, I decided we needed to take a very different approach and instead change how the drug is delivered. Out of that concept, the RaniPill™ capsule was born.
What’s on the horizon for you, and for Rani Therapeutics? Where do you see your roadmap taking you in 2020 and beyond?
It’s an exciting time for Rani Therapeutics. We’ve done hundreds of preclinical studies by delivering more than 1,000 capsules. We’ve tested nine drugs, including insulin, GLP-1 [for diabetes] and Humira [for arthritis] and we’ve demonstrated that the RaniPill™ capsule delivery is equivalent to subcutaneous injection. Later this year, we’ll be testing a drug called Octreotide which treats patients suffering from acromegaly, a condition resulting from the body’s pituitary gland producing an excessive amount of growth hormone. Next year, we’ll be testing several other drugs in Phase 1 studies. We are getting closer to bringing the RaniPill™ capsule to patients and improving the lives of millions. It’s an enormous challenge that keeps us focused and motivated every day.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.