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18 March, 2021 - 12:56 By Tony Quested

Lucida Medical raises seed funding to develop AI for cancer screening

Cambridge start-up Lucida Medical has raised significant seed capital from a group of investors led by XTX Ventures and Prostate Cancer Research.

The multi-million-pound investment is a major advance towards Lucida Medical’s goal 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) this month, 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 2,000-patient clinical study.

Co-founders Professor Evis Sala and Dr Antony Rix have developed the software using radiogenomics, machine learning and image processing to analyse magnetic resonance imaging 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 per cent by 2024.

Prostate cancer diagnosis using MRI represents a major step forward compared to earlier methods but remains prone to human error. The ground-breaking PROMIS study (Lancet 2017; 389: 815–22) indicated that radiologists can miss 12 per cent of significant cancers on MRI, and lead to 55 per cent 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 seven per cent and unnecessary biopsies to 24 per cent, 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.

Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer Professor 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.”

Dr Antony Rix, CEO and Co-founder, added: “We are grateful that XTX Ventures and Prostate Cancer Research 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.”

• XTX Ventures, part of XTX Markets, has operations in the UK as well as New York, Singapore, Mumbai and Paris.

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