Jan 28, 2016
By Alex Kopelyan
Enabling Proactive Medicine with the Immune System: an Interview with Anitha Jayaprakash of Girihlet

The immune system is the cornerstone of our health and ability to fight disease, but there are no methods to truly monitor its status. As a result, medicine is forced into being reactive to illness, rather than fighting disease before it starts.

Girihlet is working towards a future where the immune system is monitored at every doctor’s visit and we can predict our resilience to disease before it happens. I talked with Anitha, one of the co-founders, about how her team is tackling this problem, the future of Girihlet, and how this technology can change public health. Check out her pitch live on February 4th on IndieBio’s Demo Day Livestream!

AK: Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

AJ: I’ve always been interested in the field of biology and all the processes going on inside the human body so it was natural for me to go to Mount Sinai School of Medicine and get a PhD in Genetics. That lifelong curiosity about the human body still exists. Given that, the goal is to be able to understand and monitor the immune system, which is an integral part of the human body.

AK: What problem are you working to solve with your company, Girihlet?

AJ: Medicine is currently reactive, and we want to make it proactive. There are so many components being measured today to monitor health, but they don’t give us a clear picture of what’s going on. We think measuring your immune system is a more complete window to your health because it’s highly dynamic, predictive, and retains memories of past events. We are currently building an immune database using proprietary technology that can give us infection profiles that show your ability to fight infections before you get them

AK: If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

AJ: We want this technology to reach and help the general public. We were concerned that if this technology were sold it wouldn’t get to the public and reach its full potential. As the inventors, we‘re best positioned to bring this technology to the masses and have a big impact on public health.

AK: How do you think success can change your industry?

AJ: We want monitoring the health of the immune system to become the norm. It’s also critical that everyone would have the right to access their own health profile and information.

AK: How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

AJ: Our expertise is in analyzing big data and finding patterns. We have a deep understanding of the genome, including its limitations. We’ve also built many novel sequencing technologies. There’s a lot of data being generated and analyzed in many industries. But the problem is most people aren’t generating accurate data. We have the biological expertise to be able to ask the right questions in order to get the right information. To complement that we have the ability to analyze this data to create useful applications.

AK: Any big lessons learned transitioning from academia to startup entrepreneurship?

AJ: As an entrepreneur it’s very important to always keep yourself connected to the science world so you don’t get lost in your work and fall behind relevant advancements. There’s no longer the scientific debate and rigor of the scientific world to keep you grounded and guided. So we’ve built a really strong scientific advisory board to make sure we don’t lose our scientific edge.

AK: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

AJ: Getting researchers to believe in a startup and that we’re well positioned to build technologies. We need to convey to the scientific community that together we can solve significant scientific problems and have a tangible impact on public health.

AK: What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

AJ: Short term we want to validate the clinical application of our technology. We’ve started collaborating with clinicians at UCSF and Mount Sinai to further this goal. In the long term, we want to develop this valuable immune database that will help us identify patterns of health and bring it to the general public.

Get in touch with Anitha at anitha@girihlet.com