Perth startup building tech for quicker cancer recovery kicks early goal in prestigious US accelerator

OncoRes

OncoRes chief executive Katherine Giles with co-founders Brendan Kennedy and Christabel Saunders. Source: Supplied.

Medtech startup OncoRes has been selected to take part in the prestigious MedTech Innovator Accelerator program in the US, becoming the first ever Aussie company in the final 24 and making waves within the first few weeks.

The startup beat some 818 applicants to make the final accelerator cohort.

And, in the first pitching event of the program, OncoRes was voted as having the best value proposition, taking home a cheque for $US25,000.

Based in Perth, OncoRes is developing an imaging solution to help cancer surgeons remove 100% of a tumour on the first try, initially focusing on breast cancer surgery.

The technology is intended to reduce the risk of any parts of a tumour being left behind, and of patients having to undergo multiple surgeries.

Speaking to StartupSmart, chief executive Katharine Giles who works as both an assistant surgeon and a venture capitalist says the technology could make a “massive difference” to breast cancer sufferers.

Currently, in 20% to 40% of breast cancer cases, surgeons do not get the whole tumour, and the patient has to return for further surgery within weeks.

In many cases, at this point, a mastectomy is the only way to ensure the entire tumour is gone.

The OncoRes technology could help women feel more confident after surgery, while also improving long-term outcomes.

“You would hope that would translate through the whole thing, and they would have a far better outcome than they would have had,” she says.

The technology was created by Christobel Saunders, who Giles calls “the most amazing breast cancer surgeon”, who teamed up with engineer Brendan Kennedy to create a tool that would solve the repeat-surgery problem.

“They developed this technology that effectively translates the surgeons sense of touch into a microscale image,” Giles says.

Giles herself started working with the company in 2013.

“It was love at first sight for me,” she says.

“I could see how this could have such a fantastic impact and really improve surgical outcomes.”

Connections and accolades

Being accepted into the Medtech Innovator Accelerator Program is “such an accolade” in itself, Giles says.

Ultimately, OncoRes will be primarily targeting the US market, and the program “embeds us in the US medtech community”.

Through the accelerator, the startup will gain access to one-to-one mentoring, tailored to the particular goals of the company. It also gives them the opportunity to connect with and work alongside, potential industry players.

“For us to have maximum global impact, we will need to partner with a global medical device company,” Giles says.

“[The accelerator] helps us develop relationships early on with industry partners, and get a very good understanding of what they want to see.”

Finally, the startup is getting itself in front of investors. Just a matter of days ago, Giles returned from San Francisco, where OncoRes had been among four of the accelerator cohort selected to pitch for the prize of best value proposition.

An audience of industry partners, other medtech companies and investors voted for the winner, and OncoRes won out.

“[The win] really validated our approach,” Giles says.

“To have been voted by that audience as the one who has the greatest value proposition … was a bit mindblowing really.”

Katherine Giles and Brendan Kennedy (centre front) after winning the value proposition pitch competition. Source: Supplied.

On investors’ radar

OncoRes is hoping to raise $15 million in funding at the end of the year, Giles explains, and so being seen by high-profile investors is invaluable for the startup.

They’re already on investors’ radar, she says.

“The amount of interest we’ve received from investors in the past few days since winning the competition has been fantastic.”

The funding will be used for OncoRes to complete clinical trials, and prove that the technology works.

It will also go towards securing FDA approvals, “so we will be able to be on-market,” Giles says.

Her hope is that the technology could be on the market within three or four years, she explains.

“There’s more that needs to be done after that, but that will be the first point at which we can start to get enter the market.”

Everything else follows

Giles advises other startups, particularly in the medtech sector, to always remain open to new opportunities.

“You never know when you’re going to learn something that’s really going to change the course of your company,” she says.

“If we hadn’t been open to doing things slightly differently and taking up opportunities, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” she adds.

Also, she urges medtech innovators to keep their eyes on the prize, and keep their ultimate goal in mind.

“Always put the patients first,” she advises.

If you remember that the patient comes first, and concentrate on improving care, then “everything else follows”.

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