Investing in Cancer Detection

Posted on: April 2nd, 2021 by admin
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It is a sobering statistic – one out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. However, if the cancer is detected early enough, the patient can be treated successfully, and she will have an opportunity to lead a normal life. It is therefore no surprise that individuals and institutions are looking to invest in companies that have developed novel methods for the early detection of breast cancer. In the past few weeks, there have been three notable investments, ranging from just $5 million to more than $7 billion.

Volpara Health, a software company based in New Zealand and listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), recently announced the acquisition of CRA Health. Volpara paid $18 million to acquire all outstanding equity of a company that assesses breast cancer risk and was spun out from Massachusetts General Hospital 15 years ago. Volpara’s software, which uses AI to measure breast density, is employed in 27% of breast screening clinics in the USA. The company’s CEO Ralph Highnam commented, “CRA will accelerate us on our mission to save families by preventing advanced stage breast cancer.”

Earlier this week, UK-based Micrima announced an investment of $5 million, with half coming from existing shareholders and the balance from the British Business Bank. The company’s MARIA system, which was awarded the CE Mark in 2015, requires the patient to lie prone on a bed and images are acquired using radio waves. Their CEO Adrian Waller said, “This latest round of funding will allow us to work on automatically classifying findings, and to transform the landscape of breast cancer detection.”

Exactly a year ago, we highlighted the latest breakthrough by a company called Grail that had pioneered the underlying technology to identify more than 50 types of cancer – including breast cancer – from a blood test. On 30 March 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States challenged the proposed $7.1 billion acquisition of Grail by Illumina, alleging that the transaction would jeopardize competition for life-saving early detection tests in the country.

There is an irony here, given that Grail was founded by Illumina and spun out as a standalone company four years ago. As expected, Illumina has opposed the FTC’s challenge to the deal, arguing it “will pursue its right to proceed through all legal options to complete the acquisition.” Among Grail’s shareholders are Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. Maybe these billionaires know a thing or two about investing in novel technologies for early detection of cancer.

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