Like many, we believe nanotechnology can transform markets and the world. So each year we talk to the Institute of Nanotechnology to hear which are the hot young nano firms. This year Endomagnetics was the name on many lips.
Endomagnetics is a University College London spin-out focused on cancer detection. The full technical explanation is tricky for the layman, but persist and just marvel and what these guys are doing.
In essence, Endomagnetics is developing instruments based on nanomagnetic technology that eliminate the need for radioisotopes, which are a key technique in cancer staging (sentinel lymph node biopsy or SLNB). This spares the patient unnecessary pain, and the hospital unnecessary expense, by avoiding over-treatment.
In the case of breast cancer alone, 1.6 million new cases are diagnosed globally each year, and in almost all these cases, surgery is required. SLNB is used to determine the spread of the cancer, and allows informed decisions to be taken regarding post-operative care. In the west, of those patients that could benefit from the procedure, only around 50 per cent have access to SLNB. This figure drops to five per cent in China, and is minimal in most of the rest of the world. The principal cause of this restricted availability is that current radioisotopes have a short shelf life, and require specialist handling that may not be available in smaller hospitals, for example.
Formed by uber-physicists Simon Hattersley and Quentin Pankhurst, Endomagnetics makes SLNB much more widely available. It eliminates the need for radioactive tracers by using nanomagnetic technology; its system can be operated at room temperature, and functions successfully in the challenging environment of the operating theatre. After rigorous testing, the complete system is CE-approved and allows SLNB to be performed anywhere, by any practitioner, without substantially changing their working practices.
A major funding grant was obtained from the government’s Technology Strategy Board in 2008. Since then, the company has made strong progress, and in 2011, Endomagnetics raised £1.8m in several funding rounds. It also sold the first SentiMag system in 2011. The firm now has the resources required to begin full scale commercialisation.