You might call Lancor Scientific’s cancer screening device a game-changer, except cancer isn’t a game.
Cancer is a genetic disease so scary that most people can’t even bring themselves to refer to it by name; they call it the “big C”.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for around one in six deaths.
The old adage about prevention being better than cure applies in spades to cancer and the key to preventing the disease becoming fatal is to catch it early so it can be treated before it spreads.
The WHO reported that in 2017 only 26% of low-income countries had pathology (disease detection) services generally available in the public sector. If Aamir Butt, the chief executive officer of Lancor Scientific, has his way, that percentage will shoot up.
“I want to make early cancer screening available for everybody everywhere at a cost everyone can afford,” he declared.
That’s a bold ambition for a nascent, privately-owned medtech company and Butt has some innovative ideas about how the company will secure support in making that dream a reality (spoiler alert: it involves crypto-currencies).
First, though, let us look at the technology: the OMIS cancer detection system, developed by Lancor’s sister company, Tumour Trace.
The Tumour Trace device
OMIS stands for Opto-magnetic Imaging Spectroscopy. It was the brainchild of Professor Djuro Koruga 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.
The main, positive characteristics of the device are that it is cheap, accurate and fast.
A sample can be garnered using minimally invasive techniques and read-outs emerge in ‘near’ real-time (less than three minutes), while the technology itself is “cancer agnostic” in that it can identify different types of cancer.
Butt hopes in time to be able to offer screenings for as little as £10 a pop.
Being cheap is all very well but the device is also very accurate. Chief medical officer Professor Roland Schlesinger says, “we are absolutely able to reach an accuracy level of 98%.” This, Professor Schlesinger says, compares to other methods where the accuracy level is around “73 to 78%”.
Those other screening methods involve sending samples off to the lab and waiting for the results to come back. Even in developed economies, this can lead to an anxious wait of anywhere between five and 21 days, Professor Schlesinger asserted.
With the OMIS device, the results can be ready in the time it takes the patient to get dressed, and discussed there and then by the doctor and the patient.
Furthermore, the technology is also available in a handheld format so it can be used in the desert, up a mountain, in a frozen wasteland – basically, “all we need is a battery and it will work anywhere,” Professor Schlesinger quipped.
“So, we are able to offer an accurate medical device for cancer screening programmes in Third World countries that badly need it,” he added.
These are countries that tend not to have a nationwide infrastructure for performing and analysing screening tests. As Butt puts it, for these countries, the choice is between “having this [device] or not having anything”.
A mash-up of quantum physics and AI algorithms
The Tumour Trace device already has a CE mark – the certification that signifies the device meets The European Economic Area's safety, health and environmental protection requirements – for cervical cancer testing and is currently performing a retrospective study with a view to gaining CE mark certification for detecting other forms of cancer.
The retrospective study will enable the company to fine-tune its algorithms, because, Professor Schlesinger explains, "we have a combination of a little bit of quantum physics magic plus a little bit of machine learning".
Some results from the retrospective trial should be available from February of next year.
As well as the “quantum physics magic”, there is the wizardry of the blockchain, which Lancor plans to harness.
“Lancor Scientific is a global cancer registry on the blockchain. One of the companies that we are using to populate that blockchain is Tumour Trace’s technology,” Butt explains.
So, every time the company goes to a new country or community to perform tests, it is improving the global cancer registry and widening the opportunity for the artificial intelligence algorithms to fine-tune the device's cancer screening accuracy.
Adding to the registry is one of the reasons why Butt is so keen to distribute the devices to areas of need around the world.
“In the next five years we are going to put 10,000 of these devices around the world, making them available free of charge, so that people can go and get their testing done,” Butt said.
For the company, these high impact projects will be the keys that will open the doors to non-governmental organisations and bodies such as the World Bank, which have the wherewithal to fund the roll-out of the device on a wider scale.
Revenues, Butt believes, will naturally follow.