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Breathalyzer Biopsy Company Gains $15M in New Funds

Lungs illustration

(National Cancer Institute)

5 March 2018. A company in the U.K. developing a technology for early and precise diagnosis of lung and other cancers by analyzing exhaled breath is raising $15 million in new venture capital. Owlstone Medical Ltd. in Cambridge, England says the funds will support current and planned clinical trials of its breath biopsy devices.

Owlstone Medical is a spin-off enterprise from its parent company Owlstone Inc., formed to commercialize research at University of Cambridge to detect volatile organic compounds, carbon-based chemicals generated by other physical processes emitted as gases. Owlstone Inc.’s technology licenses research on field asymmetric ion mobility spectrometry or Faims, that identifies characteristic volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere, such as those indicating chemical warfare agents.

The Owlstone technology uses a chip-style device that sends an electric field through air samples captured in a chamber holding an analytical buffer gas. The electric field causes target compounds to reverse their polarity, attracting them to electrodes that measure their concentration. Much of Owlstone Inc.’s work is for military and security agencies, including those in the U.S.

Owlstone Medical applies the Faims technology to diagnostics of lung diseases, including lung cancer and asthma. The company is also adapting the technology to diagnose colon cancer in breath and urine samples, and extending its breath biopsy device to screening for several solid tumor cancers, including bladder, breast, head and neck, kidney, esophageal, pancreatic, prostate, and brain cancers. To company co-founder Billy Boyle, the issue of cancer detection is personal. Boyle lost his wife to colon cancer at age 36, which became a key reason for starting Owlstone Medical.

The new funding of £11 million ($US 15 million) is led by Horizons Ventures, a Hong Kong-based investor in technology start-ups, and current investor Aviva Ventures in London. This appears to be the second financing for Owlstone Medical, following an initial round raising £4.9 million/$7 million in June 2016, led by Medtekwiz Advisory Ltd. The new funds are expected to support current large-scale clinical trials of the company’s diagnostics for lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and multiple-cancer screening.

In November, Owlstone Medical started a collaboration with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline as part of a clinical trial to test GSK’s treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Owlstone’s breath analysis device is expected to provide more precise diagnostics of COPD among participants, as well as better track the patients’ responses to those treatments.

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