2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Lime Therapeutics, Harvard Business School

Lime Therapeutics

Harvard Business School

Industry: Biotech / Pharma

Founding Student Name(s): Shardule Shah, PhD, MBA

Brief Description of Solution: More than 200,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) this year. Despite a projected $26B annual drug spend on NSCLC by 2026, the fact remains that most people with lung cancer still die of lung cancer. Many forms of this cancer depend on lipids (fats) as a nutrient source, but up until now, there have been no treatments to stop cancer from being able to ‘eat’ lipids. Lime Therapeutics has a breakthrough technology to discover drugs that can specifically block cancer cells from metabolizing lipids. Simply, Lime Therapeutics is starving cancer.

Funding Dollars: $2.7M

What led you to launch this venture? While I was doing my PhD in immunology, working in the biotech industry, and getting my MBA, I was singularly focused on moving toward a path that would allow me to start (or be part of) a company that would dramatically speed up the process by which we discover safe and effective cancer treatments. During my first year of the Harvard MBA program, I met my co-founders during an online life sciences networking event. They were scientists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center looking to spin out their cancer drug discovery technology and needed a scientifically-trained but business-minded co-founder. After many Zoom calls and a face-to-face meeting, we came to an agreement. While I completed the second and final year of my MBA, they would concurrently build out the technology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and then we would set out on the next phase of our lives together as co-founders of Lime Therapeutics.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? In terms of the business, we have been fortunate to accomplish so much within the last year.

  1. We graduated from the highly competitive NYU Endless Frontier Labs Accelerator. EFL is a cash and equity-free program that provides promising tech startups with mentorship from the highest levels in pharma, VC, state and local government, banking, and academia.
  2. We won a $100,000 non-dilutive cash prize, the XSeed, sponsored by Deerfield Capital Management.
  3. We won a $50,000 in-kind prize from Startup Legal Garage that provided us legal resources to do crucial patent work.
  4. We won “Best Breakthrough” in a competition sponsored by Pillar VC and made it to the finals of the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition.

In terms of the science, we are incredibly excited that our lead drug led to a 50% increase in the lifespan of mice with non-small cell lung cancer and we are moving this drug toward human clinical trials in the next 18 months. This drug has already been shown to be safe in 28,000 people in two clinical trials run by another pharma company, but in those trials the drug was not effective against the disease it was originally designed to treat (atherosclerosis). We predicted that this same drug would actually be effective for lung cancer and so far, we have been right and patented the use of this drug in cancer. Ultimately, we are speeding up the discovery process by taking an already proven safe drug and giving it new life as a cancer treatment.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The HBS MBA program provided me with so much: a world-class business education; the ability to bounce ideas off professors and other life sciences practitioners in the Harvard community; a world-class student and alumni network full of depth and breadth; and continual inspiration by the people around me. In addition, being in the MBA program qualified me to earn the Harvard Blavatnik Fellowship. This fellowship, now in its ninth cohort, is an incredible one-year program for Harvard MBAs and post-doctoral students seeking to build bold solutions to healthcare and life sciences challenges. It provides a founder’s salary and some company funding, but most importantly, access to a large and diverse network of biotech executives. Intangibly, the fellowship provides the confidence boost required to take chances at an early-stage life sciences startup.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? I have been inspired by my father (engineering entrepreneur), father-in-law (medical entrepreneur), and my wife’s uncle (retail entrepreneur). Despite how hard they worked, they managed to take control of the most valuable asset there is: their time. They have made a tremendous impact professionally while serving those around them in their communities and being closely involved in their children’s activities – the latter being particularly important as I navigate the entrepreneurial journey with my wife and two young kids.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? TEM (The Entrepreneurial Manager), taught by Reza Satchu. He continually emphasized that given the fortunate position we are in to be attending Harvard Business School, we should not be overly-focused on the potential downside of entrepreneurship (i.e., failure), so if there’s a difference to be made, then go for it. This lesson has been one of my guiding principles as I have navigated the complex decisions required to build out a life sciences startup. Entrepreneurial Finance (EFIN), taught by Jim Matheson, Globalization and Emerging Markets (GEM), taught by Kristin Fabbe, and Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism (EGC), taught by Geoffrey Jones, are other classes which have highly influenced by entrepreneurial journey.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Satish Tadikonda has been a wonderful mentor to me since the day I stepped foot on the HBS campus. He has always been a phone call or text away, and the importance of that level of personalized guidance cannot be overstated. I also want to acknowledge Jim Matheson and Reza Satchu for their mentorship. All three of these individuals have been successful entrepreneurs in different areas, providing guidance on both big picture items and startup minutiae. Lastly, Tatiana Sandino challenged me to learn about a topic I was completely unfamiliar with prior to business school (Financial Reporting and Accounting) and ran her FRC class in such an authentic manner that it reminded me that no matter the context, personal or professional, leaders have a responsibility to make everyone feel included.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? Being in Boston during the MBA program and the Blavatnik Fellowship has given me endless access to investors, mentors, and thought leaders. Lime Therapeutics is based in New York City; therefore, I have also been able to meet VCs, industry partners, and academic key opinion leaders in the New York ecosystem. Part of this has been through our participation in the Endless Frontier Labs Accelerator Program. Furthermore, we have taken advantage of New York City and New York state business incentives, such as tax credits and economic development programs. These incentives have eased the burden of building a life sciences startup in New York City. The Harvard network is incredibly strong throughout both cities, so I feel fortunate that I am currently able to take advantage of resources from two of the greatest startup ecosystems in the world.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Cure cancer.


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