30 Under 30: Karthik Ramachandran makes exciting strides in pet diabetes treatment

Special to Ink

Karthik Ramachandran, 29, knows what comes to mind when you mention scientists: “‘Nerdy’ and ‘lab space,’” he says. “White walls and sterile. Kind of boring.”

But Ramachandran and his team at Likarda, a biotech startup in Kansas City, Kan., are working hard to dispel that stereotype while making exciting strides in diabetes treatment.

“To cross new barriers, you’ve just got to be different,” he says. “You’ve got to think different.”

The mindset seems to be working as Ramachandran and his team are developing revolutionary diabetic treatments for cats and dogs.

To be fair, when you walk into Likarda’s headquarters on 39th Avenue, just off Westport Road, you do get white walls and sterility — this is a laboratory, after all.

But the plain commingles with the colorful. There are bright sticky notes, M&M jars and whiteboard updates on the office pizza fund. It’s a fun atmosphere that Ramachandran says fuels innovation.

In 2012, Ramachandran and his professor and mentor, Lisa Stehno-Bittel, founded Likarda (Likarda is a portmanteau of Lisa’s and Karthik’s names, and “dads,” an homage to the family and friends whose funding helped start the company.

Its goal is to produce “disruptive technologies that improve health care outcomes and lower costs for pets and people alike.”

Ramachandran had always been interested in diabetes research — the illness runs in his family — and ways to make its treatment more universal and affordable, specifically in cats and dogs.

The procedure Likarda hopes to improve is the injection of islet cells (the insulin-producing agents found in the pancreas) into patients. For humans, the process can cost upward of $150,000.

Dogs and cats get a lot of the same diseases, such as diabetes, as humans. Owners of diabetic pets usually have to administer insulin shots twice a day. The constant monitoring can make life hard for pet owners.

Likarda has engineered its own version of islets (the Kanslet) that, administered just once or twice a year, could regulate insulin levels in pets.

For his work, Ramachandran has been named a “Top Young Entrepreneur to Watch in Kansas City” byUnder30CEO.com, and Likarda has been recognized by Global Entrepreneurship Week 50 as one of the “World’s 50 Most Promising New Companies.”

Ramachandran gives credit for Likarda’s success to a lot of things: his “amazing staff,” his mentor and Kansas City’s enthusiasm for animal health care; the city is known in the science world as the “Animal Health Care Corridor.”

But above all, there’s the spirit of innovation.

“We’re changing the way people have been thinking in this industry for decades,” he says. Likarda “isn’t trying to be your average pill in a bottle. We want to shake things up. We want to treat diseases, not symptoms.”

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