In common with most start-ups, Lancor Scientific and its sister company Tumour Trace seem to spend as much time and energy on securing funding as they do on the “good stuff” - developing technology that will save lives.
The level of proof required for a medical device is high (and rightly so) and so the capital requirements are high also.
Right now, for instance, the company is preparing a Europe-wide cervical cancer screening trial that will see the device put through its paces in real-world conditions. The trials are analogous to the phase 2/3 studies performed with pharmaceutical drug candidates.
Hospitals in Austria, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium will be participating in the trials over a period of around 18 months.
"We will see whether what we have seen in laboratory conditions will work," the chief medical officer of Lancor, Professor Schlesinger explained.
Gopal Rao, Lancor's chief operating officer, said, "We're not massively changing the manner in which the patient would be handled anyway. We're asking for a smear test [aka a Pap test] that is standard practice for cervical cancer, anyway."
As such, the trial should not prove onerous for the hospitals and the patients but trials such as these cost money.
One of the areas where Lancor has been innovative in its thinking in terms of financing is through the use of crypto-currencies. It aims to periodically carry out initial coin offerings (ICOs) by issuing Medici tokens, a new crypto-currency based on Ethereum.
The early adopters will subscribe in the hope the coin value increases along with the size of the business. Further down the line Medici tokens could be used to pay for cancer diagnostic services at a discount to the standard price.
Butt is well aware that there is a certain amount of scepticism in some quarters about cryptocurrencies and says they are just one of a "smorgasbord of funding options" available to the company.
The Lancor boss’s view is that cryptocurrencies are emerging from the Wild West phase into a more regulated environment. Furthermore, he is intrigued by the notion of cryptocurrencies acting as a kind of crowd-funding surrogate, with an appeal to those who want to finance a technology that can bring a lot of good to the world.
“That [cancer screening] technology is available now; the only thing that is lacking is the capital to do it, so why not use a new asset class to raise some of the capital from ordinary citizens for the ultimate benefit of ordinary citizens?” he asks.
Austria’s interest in the device goes beyond participating in the trial
One country that has been attracted by the grandeur of Lancor’s vision is Austria and in particular the region of Styria, in the southern part of the country.
The company has entered into a strategic partnership cooperation agreement with the Graz University of Technology, the Medical University of Graz and the BioBank Graz, the central research facility of the Medical University of Graz. The parties will cooperate on a cancer research laboratory based in Graz.
"Lancor Scientific is a company with a clear vision to face the burden of cancer and provides a cutting-edge technological device for cancer screening,” said Friedrich Schmidl, a director at the Austrian Business Agency with responsibility for the Life Sciences sector.
The Austrian Business Agency is owned by the Republic of Austria and operated by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs.
Schmidl said the agency was glad to support on a governmental level "such innovative technology as quantum spectroscopy combined with blockchain technology and artificial intelligence paired in one medical device".
Graz is the capital of Styria and the second largest city in Austria. The region has a virtually unparalleled commitment to research & development, so it is a great place for Lancor to be and a great partner to have.
"With 5.2% of its GDP [gross domestic product] for research and development, Styria is the No. 1 region in Europe in this area. This is all thanks to an excellent scientific and industrial environment and the close collaboration between companies, universities, research institutes and political decision makers. In particular, life sciences (MedTech, pharma & biotech) have been a key strength in the Styrian economy for many years,” explained Dr Johann Harer, the chief executive of Human.technology cluster in Styria, an association of more than 110 and economic and scientific members.
The ‘human.technology.styria Cluster’ (HTS) ensures that synergies are well-used in life sciences and that companies benefit both from one another and from their partnerships with science.
“As business angels, network experts and strategic thinkers, we work to enrich the business of our strategic partners. HTS is supporting Lancor Scientific and their cutting-edge technology, not only financially – we provide a well-positioned and well-established economic and political network to extend and develop their Vision on Cancer Screening for everyone everywhere," he declared.
The creation of a cancer research lab in Graz will not only bring scientific benefits to Lancor but will add to its reputational capital. Butt has other high-level projects in the pipeline – but that is a story for another day.