Marc Rafat: “After my wife died, I decided to trade the automotive industry for healthcare to help cancer patients”
From prototyping vehicles for Audi to helping cancer patients find the best treatment available. Engineer Marc Rafat’s professional life pivoted 180 degrees after his wife died of cancer, making him change his mind: he wanted to help people like her. To achieve this goal, he took part in the Design Health Barcelona (d·HEALTH Barcelona) program and now heads up HealthQuay, his own business project geared towards oncology patients. Can you go from designing cars to transforming the healthcare sector? His motivation: working on something with the potential to improve quality of life for millions of people.
What was your professional life like before Design Health Barcelona?
I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Organization Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and an MBI (Master in Business Innovation). I worked in innovation and project development in the automotive and industrial machinery sector for over 15 years: I worked for Rücker in Germany, where we made prototypes of cars for brands like Audi, Volkswagen and Lamborghini. From there, I moved to Manresa (Barcelona), at an industrial machinery company that was working to open up a new line of automotive products (trucks). I was in charge of the full development cycle there, from the concept phase to delivery of the truck. That was when my third child was born and, one week later, my wife was diagnosed with cancer with a very poor prognosis. We lived through the disease for two and a half years: she died and I decided to leave my job as director of product engineering.
I decided I wanted to devote myself to solving the problem we experienced during my wife’s illness: the difficulty finding treatment for her disease. I started to work with one of my wife’s oncologists on the various issues patients experience throughout the illness, as well as other topics associated with innovation in oncology. This is when I realized that, even though I was capable of handling a whole project of developing a roadworthy truck, the healthcare world is totally different. I realized that I had some very big shortcomings in terms of my knowledge of that world.
So you decided to sign up for Design Health Barcelona. What was that experience like?
It was my wife’s oncologist that told me about the program and came with me to an information session. By the end of it, I was convinced I had to sign up. I quit my job and spent nine months acquiring the knowledge I needed to apply in the field I wanted. It was a very intense nine months. The program’s clinical immersion took me back to the hospital: an incredible experience but also very difficult for me, given my wife’s recent death. But by the end of the program, I had all the tools I needed to do what I wanted.
What did you do then?
Like the rest of the Design Health Barcelona teams, my teammates and I left the program with a project, Happy Injections, which we worked on for a few months but didn’t get anywhere. I went to the MIT Bootcamp and met my current partners: an AI-ace from Singapore and a biotechnologist from India. Together we created the company where I’m currently co-founder and CEO: HealthQuay.
What is HealthQuay’s mission?
We’re working to address the problem my wife and many cancer patients face when they’re diagnosed with a disease without a good solution within reach. How? By creating an online platform that can analyze the unique traits of each oncology patient and connect those patients with the best treatment options available anywhere in the world, quickly, reliably, globally, personally and free of charge. We’re developing the most advanced artificial intelligence solutions to give patients an answer to their real needs. This is one of the focuses of biodesign that I learned from Design Health Barcelona, and we hope to make it available to millions of cancer patients around the world.
If you have background in Life Sciences, Engineering, Business and Design and you want to follow Marc Rafat’steps, Biocat has open the selection for students of its 7th Design Health Barcelona (d·HEALTH Barcelona) edition, a postgraduate program to develop innovators and entrepreneurs in the healthcare sector, with starting date in January, 2020. The 95% of the previous editions participants have found a job in the healthcare sector and 30% of them started their own business project. Following the Stanford biodesign methodology, participants experience a full cycle of innovation. The fellows divide into multidisciplinary teams and do a two-month clinical immersion in top hospitals in Barcelona to detect real unmet clinical needs on site that can be the basis for creating new products or services. More info: http://dhealthbcn.moebio.org