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Cancer detection device scores funds from Australian Unity and Brandon Capital

18/05/22 - Cancer detection device company OncoRes Medical has scored another $12.5 million in funding to support the development of its real-time, tumour-assessment tool for surgeons.


The Perth-based business, which was founded in 2016 based on work by oncological surgeon Christobel Saunders and University of Western Australia’s Brendan Kennedy, is developing its QME (quantitative micro-elastography) hand-held probe to help surgeons more accurately identify and remove cancerous tissue, starting with breast cancer.


The probe identifies cancer by providing miniature maps of the stiffness of the tissue – a key differentiator between cancerous tissue and healthy tissue.


The capital injection, which the company is positioning as an extension to its Series A funding round, was provided by Australian Unity’s Future of Healthcare Fund and Brandon Capital. About $3 million of the funding was a grant from the government’s Co-operative Research Centres Projects.


Currently, research from the US suggests 20 per cent of breast cancer patients who opt for surgery that conserves breast tissue, rather than a mastectomy, require repeat surgery because of inadequate margins at the initial operation. This leads to substantial physical, psychologic, and financial burdens for patients, higher risk of complications and an additional cost of about $US10,000 per patient ($14,400).


Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, with about 55 Australians diagnosed every day, the National Breast Cancer Foundation says.


OncoRes CEO Katharine Giles, a trained doctor who took on the top role in late 2017 after spending more than a decade working in venture capital for Brandon Capital, said surgeons currently rely on their own sense of touch to determine the margins of a tumour in surgeries.


No surprise tumours get missed

“If cancer is left behind, it’s more likely to come back,” she told The Australian Financial Review.


“Surgeons have no tools to determine whether they’ve removed all the tumour at the time of surgery. As they’re looking for less than 1 millimetre of tumour through a set of surgical gloves, it’s no surprise that tumour gets missed.


“Around 50 per cent of women then choose a mastectomy for their second operation because they lose confidence in the treatment pathway.”


Dr Giles had known the OncoRes founders and followed their work for almost five years before joining the business.


Her previous employer, Brandon Capital, provided the initial funding to get the business started in 2016.


“I started with Brandon in 2012, and I was literally walking the hallways of hospitals and getting in touch with people I’d worked with and cold emailing them,” she said.


“I had a great relationship with Sam South [the commercialisation officer] from the University of Western Australia, and she presented this technology to me that was under development. I remember sitting there and how excited I felt when Sam was running me through it.


“I was really keen to make sure this tech reached its full potential.”


OncoRes has already done a proof-of-concept study, which showed the device had 92.9 per cent sensitivity and 96.4 per cent specificity in detecting breast cancer based on surgically removed specimens. When an artificial intelligence algorithm was applied to the data, this jumped to 100 per cent sensitivity and 97.7 per cent specificity.


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OncoRes Medical chief commercial officer Simon Graindorge and CEO Katharine Giles.

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