Aamir Butt doesn’t lack ambition. “I want to make early cancer screening available for everybody everywhere at a cost everyone can afford,” says the chief executive of Tumour Trace (PRIVATE-UK:TUMT), a fledgling med-tech firm.
Simple when you say it quickly; more difficult when you have to deliver on those words.
I think I might have sniggered had Butt delivered this line up-front. He didn’t; he let the technology do the talking.
And what became apparent from the outset is that Butt and his team at Nottingham-based Tumour Trace have made an impressive fist of developing the OMIS cancer detection system.
OMIS stands for Opto-magnetic Imaging Spectroscopy. It was the brainchild of Professor Djuro Koruga, the company’s chief scientific officer, and emanates from his research at the University of Belgrade.
Put simply, the device detects the minute electromagnetic changes that occur in tissue as cancer emerges and develops. “It allows us to not only characterise the tissue so we know what stage the cancer might be at, but also allows us to detect pre-cancer,” says Butt.
A sample can be garnered using minimally invasive techniques and read-outs emerge in ‘near’ real-time (less than 30 seconds), while the technology itself is “cancer agnostic”. And it’s cheap as well. Butt hopes in time to be able to offer screening for as little as ten pounds a pop.
Delineation between screening and diagnostics
It is at this point I should make the delineation between screening and diagnostics as it is key to this particular story.
Screening is a pre-emptive process that sees tens of thousands of people annually assessed for the early signs of breast, cervical and prostate cancers.
It saves many lives but it isn’t an exact science with around a 60% strike rate. In other words, there are a lot of false positives.
OMIS is a far more reliable predictor, detecting cancer in 90% of cases. “That puts us right at the top end for screening,” says Butt.
However, for it to be a proper diagnostic tool it needs to rival the gold standard in this arena – biopsy. So the aim is to refine OMIS to the point where it provides the correct diagnosis around 97% of the time.
Tumour Trace is looking to the crypto-currency markets to fund further development, although it is not tapping investors directly.
Medici initial coin offering
The ICO has a soft cap of $5mln, which would be more than enough to complete the 4,000-person trial set to take place in Germany, Austria and the UK.
The hard cap is an impressive $50mln, which will allow Butt and his team to do a lot more than a trial.
A seed round launched earlier this week is close to bringing the targeted $1-$2mln and Butt says there is no shortage of demand from those who see the merits of holding Medici.
The early adopters will subscribe in the hope the coin value increases along with the size of the business. Further down the line Medici will be used to pay for cancer diagnostic services that will secure holders an immediate 20% discount.
While there may be a ready market for the currency, what about the Tumour Trace product?
Well, to supplant screening services in developed countries such as the UK OMIS will have to be palpably cheaper than what is currently in place. And it is.
However, large bureaucracies such as the NHS are glacial in their approach to change – particularly when a service is working.
Emerging economies offer most immediate prospect of success
And while there has been interest from Europe, common sense dictates the emerging economies offer the most immediate prospect of success.
“In countries where they don’t have screening programmes the opportunity is there to embed your technology from an early stage of the investment cycle,” agrees Butt.
The initial commercial plan is to sell OMIS units, or charge a lower fee and take a payment per test; however, there are grander ambitions down the road.
Butt wants to develop multi-cancer diagnostic centres where the public can pay to be screened privately. You’d imagine the demand for such a service would be huge.
As mentioned earlier, ICO itself isn’t being done by Tumour Trace itself, but via a company called Lancor Scientific, which encapsulates the far broader vision of Butt and his team.
The Lancor platform is the developer and holder of blockchain technology that will support Tumour Trace.
It is simultaneously capable of issuing contracts, garnering access to patient records and collating clinical data – and much more besides.
Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence it could be a treasure trove of data.
Down the line, other specialist testing companies could be plugged into the platform.
Properly funded, it becomes easier to see how Lancor could help Butt and his colleagues achieve that lofty goal of cheap cancer screening for all.