Dr Amit Kumar is currently Chairman, President, and CEO of Anixa Biosciences, a biotechnology company developing several programs addressing cancer and infectious disease.
In the past, Dr Kumar has been an investor, founder, director, and CEO of several technology enterprises, both public and private. Including CombiMatrix Corporation public, where he was in charge for a decade while the company listed on the NASDAQ Global Market.
Additionally, Dr Kumar worked in venture capital with the prestigious firm OAK Investment. He has been an advisor to investment funds, venture capital firms, and Fortune 500 companies.
Dr Kumar has served on the Board of the American Cancer Society since 2016. His formal education includes an AB in Chemistry from Occidental College. Dr Kumar did his after graduate studies at Stanford University and Caltech. Later he completed his PhD from Caltech and a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard.
Dr Amit Kumar (Full Interview)
1) What was life like for you in your early days? And what inspired you to take the path of an executive in healthcare?
My two siblings and I were raised by a single mother after my father passed away in an auto accident when I was seven. My mother, who was a physician, made sure education was a central focus for us all. I was fortunate enough to attend some of the best educational institutions in the world (Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, Harvard University) and had an opportunity to perform cutting edge scientific research.
After my education and training, I became a researcher in the biotechnology industry, but quickly realized I could have a greater impact as an executive in research-oriented organizations. This has been rewarding as I have been a leader of scientific teams that have developed healthcare products that have impacted the lives of many patients.
The current projects at my company Anixa (NASDAQ: ANIX), if they are successfully developed will have a greater impact than anything else I have done before. One of these projects is a breast cancer vaccine that might be able to eliminate breast cancer as a disease. There are other equally compelling projects we are working on, and if any one of them is successful, it will be dramatically impactful for cancer patients.
2) What is the deeper importance of prevention vs cure in healthcare and business alike?
It is always the case that preventing a disease is better than treating a disease once it arises. Unfortunately, human nature does not always support prevention, and thus our healthcare system is focused more on trying to cure or treat diseases.
In business, the analogy is that proper preparation and planning can avoid difficult times and acute situations.
3) In which ways can organisations use the process of healthcare insurance to advance their workforce and society more effectively?
In the hierarchy of concerns of most people, health is perhaps the most important after food and shelter.
Organizations and society can dramatically advance the workforce and improve efficiency and productiveness if healthcare concerns can be eliminated or at least allayed.
4) What is your definition of success?
Success can be defined in many ways. As a scientist working in biotechnology, I would define success by developing products that can save lives. There is no greater feeling in knowing that something you developed is now improving the lives of people.
At my company Anixa, we are working on vaccine technologies that will try to eliminate certain types of cancer, products that will hopefully cure certain types of incurable cancer, and on a new project that is trying to address the Covid-19 pandemic and the viral variants that are arising.
We have made dramatic progress on all these projects and we are hoping to begin human trials for two of these revolutionary programs this year.
In addition to being a scientist, I am also a CEO. As a business executive, success is defined by providing an economic return to the shareholders of the company. Luckily those two definitions of success are aligned.
5) If you had the chance to travel back in time and have two mentors from history, who would they be? And what would you want to learn from them?
I would like to meet Abraham Lincoln and Alexander the Great. Both men were unique leaders.
President Lincoln guided our nation through one of its most difficult times and had to lead in a highly polarized environment. In fact, polarized politics were even more challenging then than they are now, yet he risked and engaged in a war to do what was right. I think any of our leaders today would benefit from hearing his insights on leadership.
Alexander was essentially a kid who conquered much of the known world. Though he was born on the throne, it would be interesting to learn how a teenager had the charisma, the leadership ability and genius to inspire an army to make the conquests in ancient times.
6) If you could share only one of your favourite quotes, which would it be? And why did you pick that one?
Winston Churchill once said, “When going through hell, keep going.” This quote is short and simple and tells us all to just finish what is necessary without complaint.
Hell is a relative term, but we all go through difficult times in our personal and professional lives. One will get through it faster by just going rather than complaining and whining about the situation.
7) We know clinical trials are often beneficial for the overall collective, however, what are the harmful or risky things people should know about too?
Our system is designed to maintain as much safety as possible before beginning clinical trials. However, we have to realize that clinical trials are essentially experiments on human subjects. While we perform studies in test tubes and in animals before we begin on humans, there is never an absolute guarantee that a particular trial will be safe or even efficacious.
Participants in trials should understand what might happen as well as potentially unanticipated effects. Both healthy participants as well as people who are suffering from the relevant illness are truly noble for volunteering their bodies for the advancement of science and for the benefit of others.
8) Last, what is the one thing you want everyone to know about Dr Amit Kumar?
I am absolutely committed to our shareholders, our patients, and our researchers who are going to impact the world in a great way.