Vivek Wadhwa interacting with Hon'ble PM Narendra Modi

Vivek Wadhwa: ‘I lost my wife to cancer in 2019–and decided to defeat it for good. Now all of India is joining my quest for world-saving innovation’

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Vivek Wadhwa: ‘I lost my wife to cancer in 2019–and decided to defeat it for good. Now all of India is joining my quest for world-saving innovation’

By Vivek Wadhwa, Scientific Advisor, Karkinos Healthcare

After losing my dear wife Tavinder to cancer in June 2019, I made it my life’s mission to do what she asked: prevent others from suffering the way she did. Tavinder knew that I would be devastated without her–and that the only thing that would keep me going was to help others.

So, with the assistance of the leading oncologists and medical researchers who tried to help save her, I prepared a grand plan to cure cancer, which incorporates the exponential technologies that I used to teach at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering in Silicon Valley, such as genetic sequencing, machine learning, advanced sensors, and synthetic biology. 

The plan was to launch the largest clinical trial in world history, one that would help hundreds of thousands of cancer patients by providing them with the most advanced treatments, with the guidance of global experts. It entailed collecting genetic data and bio-samples, creating 3D organoids so that the tumor would be the guinea pig rather than the patient, and open-sourcing select, anonymous data in order to enable researchers around the globe to do what the medical industry’s culture of secrecy prevents them from doing: developing cures.

The problem was that such a plan could not be implemented in the United States, because of the vested interests in maintaining the status quo and protecting the profits of the medical industry. So I turned to India.

India’s culture and values embody a fundamental belief in a human-centric approach to technology, knowledge-sharing, and uplifting humanity. Yes, there are many roadblocks in India, but its deep-rooted spiritual values triumph. 

At a meeting with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in 2019, he pledged his whole-hearted support to the grand plan–and then again in a follow-up meeting we had last month at his home in New Delhi.

India has another asset too: philanthropists and industrialists with the highest ethical values. The person I consider to be one the greatest humanitarian of our times, Ratan Tata, and the Tata Group, ended up partly funding a project that Tata’s former lieutenant and head of Tata Trusts, R. Venkataramanan, presented to them: to overhaul India’s cancer care system. Venkat and his co-founder and medical director, Moni Abraham Kuriakose, asked me to work with them to implement a distributed cancer care network to guide patients through the entire process of cancer treatment–and implement my grand plan.

Karkinos Healthcare, the company that they started, is demonstrating India’s unique ability to solve global problems. In two years, it has made tremendous progress. It is now in operation at 68 hospitals across the country, has screened 400,000 patients, assisted more than 25,000 people with early symptoms, and saved hundreds of lives. It has acquired the most advanced genomic sequencing and diagnostics equipment and built bio-sample repositories, as well as a comprehensive cloud-based I.T. infrastructure for medical data and reports.

At our recent meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the director of Clinical Research at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer and Harvard Medical School Keith Flaherty said that India is about to leapfrog the U.S. in cancer research.

“There is no other organization on the planet that can integrate cutting-edge, patient-facing digital tools and molecular diagnostic platforms to navigate patients for current therapies while also guiding the discovery and development of the next generation of therapies,” he added. He told the PM that U.S. academic medical centers are not even close to being able to do such things, because they will never have the free flow of information between clinical care and research environments.

India’s recently introduced Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission is a welcome departure from this reductionist compartmentalization of healthcare information because it facilitates and mandates interoperability between health systems.

This is why India’s leadership of the G20 comes at such an opportune time. The world is suffering from widespread inequality and industrially induced climate change, and India has the ability to solve such global problems without creating more of them. As Prime Minister Modi said to me in a tweet, India is brimming with enthusiasm for science and technology and its young people are leveraging the power of science to make our planet better.

Vivek Wadhwa is an academic, entrepreneur, and author. His book, From Incremental to Exponential, explains how large companies can see the future and rethink innovation.

Vivek WadhwaAbout Vivek Wadhwa
Vivek Wadhwais a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Work life Program. He has been a globally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post and other publications and author. Wadhwa has held appointments at Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, Stanford Law School, and Emory University. In 2012, the U.S. Government awarded Wadhwa distinguished recognition as an “Outstanding American by Choice”, for his “commitment to this country and to the common civic values that unite us as Americans”. He was also named one of the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine in that year; in June 2013, he was on TIME magazine’s list of “Tech 40”, one of forty of the most influential minds in tech; and in September 2015, he was second on a list of “ten men worth emulating” in The Financial Times. In 2018, he was a recipient of Silicon Valley Forum’s Visionary Award for his contributions to Silicon Valley’s technology ecosystem.

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