PCR invests to develop AI for cancer screening

Cambridge-based startup Lucida Medical has raised significant seed capital from a group of investors led by XTX Ventures and Prostate Cancer Research (PCR). The company’s goal is to disrupt the cancer diagnostic pathway with technology that finds cancer more accurately by analysing MRI, enabling radiologists to save time and patients to receive the best possible diagnosis and treatment. The initial focus is prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men in Europe, Africa and North and South America, with 1.4 million diagnosed worldwide each year, and 375,000 deaths. Earlier and better detection saves lives.

Lucida Medical’s technology, presented at the European Congress of Radiology (ECR) in March 2021, helps to automate labour-intensive tasks such as marking out lesions, and avoid unnecessary invasive biopsies, with unprecedented accuracy and consistency. The funding will be used to extend the team, achieve regulatory approvals for the company’s technology, and complete a 2000-patient clinical study.

Co-founders Prof Evis Sala and Dr Antony Rix have developed the software using radiogenomics, machine learning and image processing to analyse magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. MRI is now the preferred technique to assess a range of cancers, including prostate and metastatic disease. However, the current process of radiologists interpreting oncological MRI requires specialist training and is labour-intensive, creating a growing skills challenge: the shortfall in the UK radiologist workforce is forecast to reach 43% by 2024. Prostate cancer diagnosis using MRI represents a major step forward compared to earlier methods, but remains error-prone. The ground-breaking PROMIS study (Lancet 2017; 389: 815–22) indicated that radiologists can miss 12% of significant cancers on MRI, and lead to 55% of individuals without significant cancer receiving a painful and costly biopsy. The study presented at ECR 2021 suggests that Lucida Medical’s AI technology could help cut missed cancers to 7% and unnecessary biopsies to 24%, as well as making the process faster.

Access to accurate diagnosis is a particular issue outside of leading institutions, especially for specific groups known to be at higher risk, for example men of West African genetic heritage. Lucida aims to screen up to 54 million men for prostate cancer each year using its technology, to offer the benefits of early detection and personalised care to everyone.

We are grateful that XTX Ventures and PCR recognise the potential of AI in oncology. Today, about half of cancers are found when they have already spread and this makes them difficult and costly to treat. Our unique approach could allow patients to get exactly the tests, diagnosis and treatment that they need. With around 20 million new cases of cancer diagnosed each year worldwide, there is enormous potential for us to improve patients’ outcomes and reduce costs for health systems like the NHS.

Dr Antony Rix
CEO and Co-founder of Lucida Medical

Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer Prof Evis Sala, Professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Cambridge, said “we are tremendously excited about the potential of this system to enhance our ability to detect cancer accurately and early. We are now looking forward to working with hospitals and radiology and urology partners to prove the technology and bring it into clinical use. Covid-19 has created a serious backlog in cancer screening and Lucida Medical is well placed to help us clear this and improve the care that we offer further over the coming years.”

Ekaterina Holt, Head of XTX Ventures, added “We are delighted to lead the investment round for Lucida Medical, which is targeting to save lives from cancer with their best-in-class, non-invasive machine vision technology. We are excited to have so many clinical experts involved in supporting the company, from Prof Evis Sala as the Co-Founder to over 15 leading radiologists and urologists, and Prostate Cancer Research.”

Prostate cancer patients deserve the best possible care and to live as full a life as possible. For that to happen, great ideas need to be supported so that they can reach the clinic. Lucida’s work could have significant patient benefits and we hope that our investment will support them to take their invention forwards so that soon, more people will receive the treatment they need more quickly, and fewer men with suspected prostate cancer will have to face an unnecessary biopsy, which would spare them the discomfort of the procedure and unnecessary side effects, and reduce some of the burden on the NHS.

Oliver Kemp
CEO of Prostate Cancer Research

Dr Terry Parlett, Commercialisation Director, Cambridge Enterprise

“Cambridge Enterprise has been proud to support the Lucida Medical team on its route to launch and the development of its technology, which harnesses both University and NHS expertise. We hope it will benefit radiologists, clinicians and, most importantly, patients, through its early and accurate detection of cancers. We wish Lucida Medical success and look forward to watching the company go from strength to strength.”

Professor Hashim Ahmed, Professor of Urology at Imperial College, University of London

‘There is tremendous need for an AI decision support system that significantly increases productivity and the quality of MR prostate cancer reporting and the Lucida Medical system shows great promise.’

Professor Ahmed was one of the very early users of MRI and transperineal biopsy to diagnose prostate cancer. Further he is a pioneer of focal therapy treatment for prostate cancer.

His current trials are focused on the Prostagram, the objective being to have a short MRI scan to screen for prostate cancer in the same way as mammograms are used to screen for breast cancer in women.

Prof Grant Stewart, Professor of Surgical Oncology at the University of Cambridge

“There is an urgent need to improve the early detection, diagnosis and management of cancer. Imaging now plays an essential role, but could have much wider benefit if AI can reduce its costs and enhance the speed and accuracy of assessments. We welcome the development of this technology and look forward to seeing its impact in the clinic.”

About XTX Ventures

XTX Ventures is the venture capital arm of XTX Markets. XTX Ventures leverages XTX Markets’ deep expertise in machine learning and financial technology to invest in companies where the core technical expertise of XTX Markets can be used to help grow and enhance those businesses.

For more information please visit: https://www.xtxmarkets.com/ventures/

About Cambridge Enterprise

Part of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Enterprise supports academics, researchers, staff and students in achieving knowledge transfer and research impact. We do this by helping innovators, experts and entrepreneurs use commercial avenues to develop their ideas and expertise for the benefit of society, the economy, themselves and the University.

Liaising with organisations both locally and globally, we offer expert advice and support in commercialisation and social enterprise, including help with academic consultancy services, the protection, development and licensing of ideas, new company and social enterprise creation, and seed funding.

For more information, please visit: www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk

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