Stratagen Bio: The Future of MRI

STEX25 Startup:
January 20, 2023 - June 30, 2024

Gregory Ekchian is the Co-founder and CEO of Stratagen Bio, the MIT spinout transforming MRI into a tool for quantitative biomarker assessment and clinical decision making.

By: Daniel de Wolff

Greg Ekchian knows the halls of the Institute well. He spent his time as a master’s student, PhD candidate, and postdoctoral fellow working in the Cima Lab, a multidisciplinary group at MIT that is devoted to the development of diagnostics and therapeutics aimed at improving human health. With Professor Michael Cima, Ekchian devoted his attention to developing a novel silicone-based sensor that used quantitative MRI to monitor the oxygen levels of tissue in tumors. Ekchian and Cima co-founded Stratagen Bio, launching in 2021, to further develop and commercialize the technology.

We have really de-risked the interpersonal aspect of working together

Their longstanding relationship is a critical aspect of the young startup’s success—in addition to working in Cima’s laboratory for years, Ekchian also did a stint at one of Cima’s other startups. “I was lucky to form Stratagen Bio with my academic advisor,” Ekchian says. “We’ve worked together in many capacities. We have really de-risked the interpersonal aspect of working together.” It’s a claim that might cause a chuckle, but in the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of startups open communication and understanding between the individuals steering the direction of a company is a significant advantage.

Reflecting on the decision to transition their research in the lab into a real-world endeavor by launching Stratagen Bio, Ekchian pinpoints an early collaboration with Boston’s world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Center as a key moment. “Running a human clinical pilot during my postdoc was transformational for us,” he says. “It provided the opportunity to work with clinicians and receive firsthand feedback on our technology, and that provided really important information for the development of the product.” Furthermore, the pilot allowed both MIT-based scientists to witness the life-changing potential of their work for future patients, which Ekchian says was a motivating factor for him not only as an individual but also as the co-founder and CEO of Stratagen Bio.

It didn’t take long for the MIT spinout’s co-founders to recognize the value the of the underlying software and the data processing platform they were developing to make quantitative MRI measurements with their oxygen sensor. That same platform, they realized, has a wide array of applications beyond the oxygen-sensor space.

Ekchian explains: Qualitative magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is the current standard. Walk into any hospital for an MRI scan and you’ll receive a qualitative scan that allows healthcare professionals to peer into the human body with astonishing accuracy. But it offers at best an incomplete picture, a snapshot composed of uncalibrated pixels and relies on visual interpretation.  

On the other hand, quantitative MRI provides concrete, quantifiable measurements of a patient’s internal structures, organs, and tissue properties. Quantitative MRI has historically been relegated to research settings due to long scan times, lower resolution, and non-standard processing techniques. Stratagen’s platform is an opportunity to fill the gaps of an incomplete picture, eliminating guesswork and allowing clinicians to confidently make an initial diagnosis and assess disease progression and response to treatment in an objective manner.

Today, Stratagen Bio’s product offering has expanded. Their platform is being built to enable non-invasive measurements with a host of applications in various branches of medicine including neurology and oncology. “We are building a comprehensive tool for assessing different biomarkers based on quantitative MRI, and we can offer guidance to clinicians as they decide how to best treat a patient and which treatment may be most effective.” says Ekchian.

We are building a comprehensive tool for assessing different biomarkers based on quantitative MRI, and we can offer guidance to clinicians as they decide how to best treat a patient and which treatment may be most effective.

Stratagen Bio currently collaborates with five top hospitals including Brigham and Women’s/Dana Farber in Boston and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and there will be a sixth by the end of the year. Looking forward, Ekchian says he sees opportunities for Stratagen to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies as well as entities in the MRI and treatment planning space. “We see this as a tool that can be used broadly, very quickly. We're always looking to expand to other key sites where we can generate clinical data.”

As for being named to the newest STEX25 cohort, Ekchian says, “Being part of Stex25 offers us a unique opportunity to access companies that can offer strategic partnerships or be potential customers down the line. For an early-stage company like Stratagen, access to these types of relationships is fairly unique, and it serves as a real catalyst and accelerator.”

He and Cima are currently placing a strong emphasis on seamless clinical implementation of their technology to provide measurements that wouldn’t otherwise be available while improving workflows for clinicians. “Stratagen Bio is focused on ensuring we have a rapid, harmonized, and scalable tool for quantitative MRI to enable our broad range of MRI-based biomarkers are ubiquitously available,” he says.