How Cytel Happened: Five Factors for Success

WZCC-NY convened on February 5, 2017 for the Chapter’s Winter Quarterly Meeting. We met at the Arbab Rustam Guiv Dar-e-Mehr in Suffern, New York in conjunction with ZAGNY’s adult lecture series. The Chapter also welcomed new members of the IZA community in the USA from Yazd, Iran.

Our featured speaker was Dr. Cyrus Mehta, President & Co-Founder of Cytel, Inc. and Adjunct Professor of Biostatistics, Harvard University.  Dr. Mehta consults extensively with the biopharmaceutical industry on group sequential and adaptive design, and offers workshops on these topics. He serves on data monitoring and steering committees for trials in many therapeutic areas including oncology, cardiology, neurology and metabolic disease. He has led the development of the StatXact, LogXact and East software packages that are widely used by the biopharmaceutical industry, academic research centers and regulatory agencies.

He has over 100 publications in leading statistics and medical journals. He is a past co-winner of the George W. Snedecor Award from the American Statistical Association, is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. He was named Mosteller Statistician of the Year by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Statistical Association in 2000, and Outstanding Zoroastrian Entrepreneur by the World Zoroastrian Chamber of Commerce in 2002. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Indian Statistical Association (2015) and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (2016).

Cytel (www.cytel.com) is a leading provider of software, clinical services and strategic consulting on the design, interim monitoring and implementation of adaptive clinical trials. Cytel was found 30 years ago as a four-person operation from Cyrus’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has grown to a 700-person company with offices in the USA, Europe and India. Although still dazed by it, Dr Cyrus recounted how it happened, what lessons were learned, and how his Zoroastrian faith has been a guiding source of strength and wisdom through both the good and difficult times.

Cyrus provided “Reflections on 30 Years of Struggle to Balance Work, Family and Spiritual Life” in explaining the Cytel story. He began by citing powerful people in his life, his wife Satu, his children Arun and Mira, and the spiritual teachers Swami Sarvagatananda and Swami Adiswarananda. He especially mentioned Professor Marvin Zelen, his colleague and mentor at Harvard, with deep gratitude. With this spiritual tone, Cyrus moved to providing a lucid insight into advanced statistical texting. Exact tests among possible outcomes turn out to be a generalisation of a “lady tasting tea experiment” in which a fine lady is able to definitively choose between teas prepared in precise ways, with milk poured into tea or tea poured into milk. The generalisation is described in a statistical paper Cyrus published in the Journal of Statistics with co-author and partner Nitin Patel. The editor of the journal inspired Cyrus to begin developing software which could implement his statistical insights on exact tests.

Cytel launched in 1987 from the first office in Cambridge, Massachusetts with funding from the NCI and devoted itself to developing software for use in medical clinical testing. Venture capital and advanced growth with globally located offices developed after 2006. A CEO was hired, freeing Cyrus to focus on innovation. The company’s strategic consulting offers customised software and consulting services to pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

The services help to identify which drugs work and which do not, allows for mid-course corrections to drug and medical trial designs, increase the sample sizes or change dosages, and identify promising subgroups, and provides scientific representation as regulatory agencies. In the company’s culture, a priority is placed on its people and their growth.

Clients are treated as colleagues, not merely as vendors. Factors for success include building a strong inner life and reliance upon The Gathas. Cyrus praised the Zoroastrian emphasis on Truth, or Asha, as a deep guide and the distillation of his education in India.

WZCC President Edul Daver invited and introduced Cyrus and organised the event. Darius Jamshidian, WZCC-NY Chapter Chair, expressed the Chapter’s gratitude to Cyrus and his wife. Team members Arnaz Maneckshana and Noshir Dutia provided membership information, WZCC periodicals, and recruited new members. Jasely and Kerman Dukandar, along with Sheroo and Vispi Kanga, provided a fine luncheon. Past Chair Rusi Gandhi assisted with tasks and Ushta Canteenwalla was recruited as the Chapter’s Youth Representative. ArZan Wadia recorded and photographed the talk. The event was well-attended. Edul highlighted upcoming WZCC activities, such as a regional gathering in Houston with the FEZANA AGM, a Business Exploratory Expedition to Iran and 2017 AGM in Bangalore

– Natalie Gandhi, WZCC Director, February 5, 2017