British Skin Analytics’ smartphone-attached lens and app let people identify skin cancer at home. Since 97% of early cases survive cancer, this could be huge
In a new bi-monthly column on Fridays, we will interview companies and individuals creating technology that matters. Here, each innovator aims to impact large amounts of people in profound ways.
The survival rate of melanoma, which usually becomes skin cancer, is 97% when caught in stage 1. But by the time a patient reaches stage 4, that rate drops down to 10 percent.
Considering the easiest way to increase melanoma survival rates is to catch the disease at the earliest stage possible, Skin Analytics‘ home diagnosis device shows great promise. A user can can take a medically accurate picture of a legion or mole with its smartphone-attached lens and use the app to identify whether the image shows possible signs of melanoma. This will hopefully encourage more people to diagnose skin cancer early, particularly those that are hesitant to visit a doctor.
On Thursday, not only did the British startup launch their crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube, they also won the 100 Pitches Norway contest, where they received £24,000 and offered to share the other part of their prize, legal support and 6 months’ office space at the Trampery in London, to the second place company. So far, the Crowdcube campaign has raised an impressive 35% of an ambitious £450,000 goal to advance the production and distribution of the diagnostic lens.
Skin Analytics, which is backed by Telefonica and Angels, is classified as a Class II medical device in the UK, which means that it can make a diagnostic decision but needs a medical professional to verify the information. Its partnership with Vitality UK will also help Skin Analytics release the device in pharmacy chains.
Speaking with Skin Analytics’ Founder and CEO, Neil Daly
Skin Analytics Founder and CEO Neil Daly believes that enabling people to check moles and legions as early as possible is “the single most powerful thing we can do to increase melanoma survival rates,” envisioning that Skin Analytics’ solution will help increase the survival rate of skin cancer to 100 percent. This is a noble goal and one that Skin Analytics is certainly advancing.
The device will initially cost £40, which will hopefully be affordable enough to entice consumers, particularly families, to buy it. Still, we asked if he imagined that the device will be more aimed for medical professionals and hospitals rather than consumers? Daly replied, “We think the consumer market will be the largest market in the long run. We’ve had a website up for 6 months, have had several hundred thousand views, and 30,000 visitors that have said they are interested in buying.”
Beyond the consumer market, he plans on selling the device to two other key sectors: medical professionals and workplaces, and the insurance market. “Private health insurance companies pay a lot of money for patients to go to specialists who may not need to see that specialist. They could go for this first,” he explained.
Another interesting aspect of Skin Analyics’ technology is that it uses machine learning algorithms to compare the images to a database of mole and legion photos. According to Daly, this machine learning capacity could eventually be used by insurance companies, such as their partner Vitality Health, to sell automated insurance.
Why not diagnose a mole from a smartphone camera?
The simple answer is the technology is just not there yet. According to Symon Cotton, leader of the electronics group in the medical technology division at Cambridge Consultants, a product development and design firm, “There is little evidence to suggest that apps are technologically advanced enough to diagnose skin conditions such as skin cancer. The weaknesses of these technologies have been highlighted in a recent report published on JAMA Dermatology by Wolf et al, 2013 where the sensitivity, specificity and likelihood of providing false negative results of several apps were evaluated. Data indicated that intended users cannot rely solely on them to diagnose skin cancer.”
This is also why Daly decided to create a diagnostic tool. However, Daly noted that Skin Analytics has a patent for a smartphone app that could diagnose melanoma on its own, hoping that this could become a reality in about 3-5 years. But until then, we will need some kind of camera attachment to make a proper diagnosis.
In the meantime, Daly is partnering with two of London’s leading hospitals to perform a study on Skin Analytics in order to evaluate the technology independently. “This is really important because if you do quick research on skin cancer apps, you find 39 other apps: Eighteen say that they do some kind of analysis, but none of them are validated from a clinical study at the level of a dermatologist,” he said.
So far, Skin Analytics has raised more than $800,000 in funding rounds, grants, and prizes since launching in 2012. If they reach their Crowdcube goal of £450,000, that would almost double their total funding to date. We wish them the best of luck.
For more information about Skin Analytics, watch this video: