Bengaluru-based healthtech startup Cancer Clinics recently closed pre-Series A funding of $1.5 million led by Axilor Ventures. With this, M-Venture Partners (MVP), a Singapore based early-stage fund, also marked its debut in India.
NATCO Pharma Limited, Hyderabad-based pharma and infrastructure entrepreneurs, leaders of Bharti group, senior partners from McKinsey, and ISB alumni also participated in the round.
Launched in April 2019 by Sonali Srungaram and Sasi Sunkara, Cancer Clinics is a unit of CIPHER Oncology Private Limited. It operates a distributed network of day-care cancer treatment centres.
Cancer care in India
Cancer care in emerging economies is ripe for disruption. There is an increasing demand for patient-centric solutions customised for individual needs. According to a recent study, India, with a population of 1.35 billion, witnessed as many as 1.16 million new cancer cases and 784,800 cancer deaths in 2018. This means not only is there a need for skilled medical practitioners, but also a demand for platforms that can help make this battle a little convenient for the patients and their families.
“India is estimated to have 0.2 comprehensive centres per million versus 4.4 per million as per global standards. We are confident of Cancer Clinics’ model of offering comprehensive cancer care to the patient while eliminating the need to be restricted to any physical location, making it accessible at scale,” said Prachi Sinha, Healthcare Lead from Axilor.
Prior to starting their entrepreneurial careers, Sonali was an associate partner at Accenture and Sasi was a partner at McKinsey & Company.
Currently, even the meagre infrastructure for cancer treatment is largely urban and grossly inadequate. The duo has started Cancer Clinics on the back of experimentation Sonali did to uncover and address gaps in the healthcare systems addressing the non-communicable disease burden.
The mission of the company is to substantially improve the access to and affordability of holistic cancer care to make a big dent in India’s growing share of cancer cases. It combines digital access, distributed delivery, and partnerships with asset owners to create a comprehensive cancer care provider.
As explained by Sonali, the platform provides all the services a patient needs — from diagnosing cancer to the completion of treatment. It collects fees for the services provided like every other healthcare provider.
“Our model is different because we don’t build our own infrastructure and rather use existing hospitals and their surplus capacity to provide our services. We are, therefore, asset-light,” added Sasi.
The other difference is that Cancer Clinics are digital-first, compared to incumbent cancer care providers many of whom are yet to digitise. Also, it operates as a distributed network of centres to enable easy access for patients.
Key challenges, growth numbers, and more
One of the biggest challenges faced by the founders initially was to get oncologists to join the platform. “It was difficult to make them believe that cancer care can be delivered through a digital platform and will be acceptable to patients,” said Sasi.
However, the founders won the confidence of the oncologists and are now set for scaling quickly. The team launched its first two centres in Hyderabad on World Cancer Day (February 4) 2020. Their gross patient billings in Q3 FY21 were 72 percent higher than Q2 FY21; the gross patient billings for February 2021 were 4.8x of July 20, while over 600 patients have registered with them since July 2020 (when the unlock started).
With the latest funding round, the team is now planning to add four more centres in the next few months and expand outside Hyderabad. The focus is also on substantially expanding cancer care provision capacity by enabling small (50-200 bed) hospitals to deliver oncology services by establishing a daycare treatment centre within them.
“Through this, we expect to serve smaller, under-served cities/micro-markets that traditional cancer institutes will find unviable to address. The challenge now will be to maintain high quality and ensure safe medical practice as we ramp up,” said Sonali.