TruScreen’s ASX listing will bring Aussie cancer-screen technology home
Health & Biotech
Health & Biotech
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A Kiwi cervical cancer screening company is set to dual list on the ASX, bringing some Aussie artificial intelligence medical technology back to Australia.
TruScreen is raising $NZ2 million ($1.9 million) in a “compliance IPO” and is scheduled to make its ASX debut next month.
The company’s technology was first developed back in the 1980s by University of Sydney cancer specialist Malcolm Coppleson and Sydney gynecologist Bevan Reid, who wanted to improve upon pap smears.
“They all believed there must be a better way of screening cervical cancer than scraping the tissue,” says TruScreen chairman Tony Ho.
The pair developed a “Polarprobe” screening wand that uses an opto-electric screening method to detect abnormal cells on a woman’s cervix. In 1986 they founded Polartechnics, one of Australia’s first biotech companies, to commercialise their invention,.
But funding dried up in the global financial crisis and the company went into liquidation in 2010.
But Polartechnics chairman Robert Hunter was a “true believer” in the platform and bought the intellectual property from the liquidator, Ho says.
With the help of Kiwi investors, he was able to carry on and the Auckland-based company listed on the NZX in 2014.
Now it’s coming back to Australia.
Ho says the TruScreen technology has obviously been improved over the years.
The device is now a pen-like wi-fi connected wireless wand that is used to touch 14 points around the cervix, using “optical light” and machine learning to detect abnormal cells.
“AI is now becoming the norm in a lot of medical devices,” Ho says. “We were ahead of our time 16 years ago. Now everyone is using AI.”
The device is not a diagnostic tool, but a screening tool, he says. Studies show it is more accurate than conventional pap tests, Ho added.
“It is ideally suited for low and middle-income countries where there’s no laboratory infrastructure to collect and analyse pap smears,” he said.
The company’s key sales focus is China, which accounts for more than half of all sales, with products also sold to Vietnam, Russia, Zimbabwe, India and Saudi Arabia.
Ho says while the cost of TruScreen devices vary by market, they generally cost around $US10,000 ($13,700) for a device, with the disposable sensor selling for $US15 to $20 each ($20 to $27).
That’s more expensive than traditional pap smears but patients don’t need to return to a doctor’s office to get their results – they are delivered within minutes.
Still, so far sales haven’t taken off. The company reported $NZ1.3 million in revenue for the 12 months to March 31, down from $NZ1.9 million the year before. It had a negative cash flow of $NZ1.6 million.
But Ho says the company is making inroads in Vietnam and recently shifted its manufacturing to China, so the TruScreen wands will be treated as locally-produced devices.
They’ve already sold about 100 devices in China and gynaecologists and clinicians there are excited about it, Ho said.
“All of a sudden they have this light bulb moment, why wouldn’t this work,” he said.
The company has no immediate plans to sell to developed countries such as Australia, because of the difficulty of competing with an entrenched national screening program, Ho says.
The company may get a boost from increased attention to infectious diseases in the wake of the pandemic. Over 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases are caused by the sexually transmitted disease HPV.
The World Health Organization on Tuesday launched a global campaign to eliminate cervical cancer, pushing the importance of vaccinating girls against HPV and screening adult women for cervical cancer. Because cervical cancer is slow-growing, it is curable if detected early. But globally 311,000 die from the disease, a number that’s expected to rise to 400,000 by the end of the decade.
Ho says investors in his company have the classic chance to do well by doing good.
“Yes, we need to monetise it, to make sure our shareholders get a return, but also, along the way, we also have an altruistic objective of saving lives,” he said.