An Unexpected Path

Wife’s life-changing cancer diagnosis altered master’s candidate’s career path

Photo of Mangalath and Cheung at Desert Island Marathon

Pradeep Mangalath with wife Amy Cheung at the Mount Desert Island Marathon. Image credit: Kwan Cheung

This is one in a series of profiles featuring graduating HMS students.

Pradeep Mangalath, a master’s in biomedical informatics candidate graduating this month, has always been fascinated by technology. Raised in Bangalore, India, Mangalath grew up around computers, with a father and older brother who were both computer scientists. Mangalath studied electrical engineering at India’s National Institute of Technology and worked for Hewlett-Packard after graduation, focusing on computer programming.

Motivated by an interest in technology’s practical applications, Mangalath earned an MBA at the University of North Carolina, Chapel-Hill. He was recruited into management consulting by Deloitte and joined the firm’s technology strategy practice. His work was highly analytical and data focused, involving solving intellectually challenging problems for multiple clients, particularly in financial services.

“The work aligned very well with what I thought I’d be doing for the rest of my life,” he said.

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But his life took an unexpected path that led him to the Department of Biomedical Informatics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and, ultimately, to cancer research.

A vortex of decision making

Living in Boston, working for Deloitte, training for marathons and enjoying life, Mangalath and his wife Amy Cheung—then a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education—were thrown off course when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mangalath described the scary first few months after his wife’s diagnosis as “a vortex of decision making around treatments.” He stopped working altogether and became a full-time caregiver, helping his wife through chemotherapy.

When his wife’s condition improved, Mangalath returned to Deloitte, but the work no longer interested him like it had. After about a year, he stepped down. Mangalath read about cancer biology and attended conferences on cancer. He took bioinformatics courses and volunteered at a cancer research lab run by Taru Muranen, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He asked himself, “What skills can I bring to make a difference in cancer treatment?”

While he was volunteering in Muranen’s lab, he attended a conference on precision medicine led by Isaac Kohane, the Marion V. Nelson Professor of Biomedical Informatics and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, that had a huge effect on him.

“It exposed me to what precision medicine is and how data can make a difference,” he explained. “I thought it was important to arm myself with whatever tools I needed related to precision medicine.”

He spoke with faculty and staff in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at HMS and decided the Master of Biomedical Informatics program would be a good fit. 

A perfect internship

While considering possible summer internships during his MBI experience, Mangalath learned about a fellowship through the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

The Public Service Data Science Graduate Fellowship provides students in Harvard’s data science programs the opportunity to explore careers at nonprofit and public sector organizations. Nils Gehlenborg, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at HMS and director of the MBI Program, encouraged MBI students to apply.

Mangalath applied and, once chosen for the fellowship, he had the flexibility to work with any organization he wanted. He looked for an opportunity to have an impact on patients’ lives and to use both his business background and his new skills in data science.

After presenting a poster about repurposing noncancer drugs to treat cancer at an event, Mangalath met Laura Kleiman, the founder of Cures Within Reach for Cancer (CWR4C). The nonprofit’s goal is to use artificial intelligence to identify generic noncancer drugs that can be repurposed to treat cancer.

“I want to be part of that,” Mangalath thought at the time.

He joined CWR4C for the summer of 2019. While there, his responsibilities included developing collaborative relationships with IBM Research, Northeastern University and MIT; building models and training datasets that use natural language processing to extract evidence from scientific literature that a noncancer drug may be able to treat cancer and developing a scoring model for drugs showing evidence of efficacy; leveraging his business background to help set up the organization, especially product management; and participating in defining the organization’s business models and funding sources.

The internship was a perfect fit, allowing Mangalath to use his business experience and data science skills to make a difference in cancer research.

After a positive and meaningful summer with CWR4C, and having completed the MBI program in December 2019, Mangalath decided to join Cures Within Reach for Cancer in a full-time, leadership capacity.

He now leads technology, data science and product strategy—building the organization’s core analytical platform while simultaneously taking CWR4C’s bootstrapping activities to the next level. Along with Catherine Del Vecchio Fitz, who leads cancer biology research and precision medicine, Mangalath will be involved in incorporating other types of data, including genomic, molecular and electronic health record data.

Reflecting on his journey and where he now finds himself, Mangalath is excited by the prospect of making a difference in the world of cancer treatment. He feels fortunate to be surrounded by smart, passionate people—including mentors—who are supportive of his work.

“This is exactly what I want to be doing,” said Mangalath.

Read profiles of graduating students and get details on graduation here.