Dr. Atul Varadhachary: Bringing Medical Innovations to Life


Dr. Atul Varadhachary in the foreground at Fannin Innovation Studio

By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: Fannin Innovation Studio’s Managing Director Dr. Atul Varadhachary explains why he has “the best job in the world.” He says he gets to work with brilliant people who are figuring out a way to use medical research to save patient lives.

This, he adds, was an important piece in his decision to join Fannin in 2012.
The Company, which takes scientific research from Texas Medical Center Institutions (TMC) and brings it to an early stage commercial venture, was named a winner in the US Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition for the second time in a row. It also won the prestigious Tibbetts Award by their Small Business Innovation and Research program (SBIR) – the only for-profit company to do so.

Named after the street – Fannin, which is at the heart of TMC, the company was started in 2006 by Leo Linbeck III. Fannin in-licenses technology from academic innovators which it commercializes using its experienced management team and internal funding. This model was developed for places like Houston that have immense research but little commercialization due to a shortage of experienced life sciences entrepreneurs and funding.

The company primarily deals in biotech pharma and medical device development. Two ground breaking products are currently at the human testing stage – Pulmotect, an inhaled therapeutic to prevent and treat respiratory infections in cancer patients and Procyrion, an ambulatory heart pump that can be introduced in patients through an outpatient procedure. The process of steering it from an idea to the market, he says, takes an average of 15 years.

A resident of Mumbai, Atul went to Medical School in Mumbai, India before heading to the John Hopkins University School of Medicine for a PhD in Physiology. This encouragement came easily from a father who was a renowned cardiologist in Mumbai and a mother who he says is “one of the smartest people” he knows. He credits them with instilling in him a love for learning and the importance of working to impact others positively.

Atul and his wife Gauri, a Medical Oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, moved from Baltimore to Houston 23 years ago – a move he quips was “heavily driven by the weather.” While pursuing demanding high profile careers, the couple also displayed their communitarian spirit including working with Pratham in India for a year. Atul subsequently served as Pratham USA’s President for 5 years while Gauri is on the Pratham Houston Board. Boards on which Atul is or has served include the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Harris Health System and BioHouston. He was also Past President of IACCGH and is President Elect of TiE – an organization that promotes the next generation of entrepreneurs.

A program he’s says he’s “probably most proud of” is Fannin’s Fellowship and Internship program which aims to develop Houston’s next generations of entrepreneurs by providing them with mentoring and hands-on experience. The company has welcomed 165 interns and Fellows so far.

When he’s not bringing cutting edge medical science to real life or involved in civic engagement, Atul gives in to the lure of a good book. He’s fond of a good mystery, is partial to science fiction and considers the “Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb one of his best reads.