An ambitious startup is aiming to beat lung cancer after securing backing from top venture capital funds, angel investors and Cancer Research UK.
Every day in the UK, around 130 people are diagnosed with lung cancer. Those diagnosed during the earliest stage have a 57% chance of living for more than five years. Those diagnosed during the latest stage face reduced chances of survival of just 3%.
Founded by Oxford-educated scientists, Dr. Peter Jianrui Liu and Andreas Halner, Oxford Cancer Analytics aims to detect lung cancer early using a painless screening technology.
They say OXcan is building a future in which patients will no longer have to wait for an anxiety-inducing series of X-Rays, CT Scans, and Bronchoscopies – a procedure which involves passing a tube down the throat and into the airways in order to scrape off cells for analysis.
By applying machine learning techniques to anonymised patient data sets in order to flag risk levels, in combination with cutting-edge liquid biopsy techniques, the startup can search for biomarkers indicative of stage one lung cancer.
OXcan has raised around £1.3 million in an oversubscribed seed round and is now supported by Cancer Research UK, Civilisation Ventures, the Francis Crick Institute, Oxford Technology Management and MegaRobo.
Joining this international group of backers are business angels such as the chief digital officer of T-Mobile USA, Marcus East, and the former European president of GlaxoSmithKline, Brad Wilson, who asserted that Liu and Halner have “assembled a team which can turn the dream of overcoming cancer into a reality”.
The duo said: “At Oxford Cancer Analytics, we create cutting edge innovations that have not existed for early cancer detection through rigorous scientific approaches.
“With the closing of this seed round, we have assembled a world class team with extensive experience in cancer research, machine learning, and business development.
“Together, we will work towards a world where early detection, accurate monitoring and successful treatment of cancers is the norm rather than exception.”
CEO Liu says that in this way they can “revolutionise cancer management”, whereas “current approaches are only scratching the surface of what’s possible”.
OXcan says its latest results show a doubling in early-stage lung cancer detection rates, to 90%.
OXcan can help post-diagnosis too: advisor Dr. Nicholas Coupe, consultant medical oncologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says that the technology has “the potential to monitor responses to treatment” in a far less invasive manner.
Liu first met Halner when the former was serving as president of the Oxford University Scientific Society, aiming to foster interdisciplinary scientific collaborations.
After beating 100 other entrants to win the Oxford University All-Innovate competition in 2019, the pair worked through a series of incubators such as Oxford Elevate, KQ Labs and the Alderley Park Oncology Development Programme.
With initial results validating their approach, Liu and Halner are now using their seed funding to rapidly scale the business and hire talent in the fields of AI, clinical medicine, business development, and regulatory affairs.
To ensure that as many at-risk individuals as possible can get access to easy, effortless screening, they’re busy partnering with hospitals, clinics, and doctors, from Canada to China.
The latter is a huge market where risk factors for lung cancer such as smoking and air pollution remain stubbornly high.