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The company is first tackling NASH, a liver disease that affects 100M people in the United States
MRIs are not new technology; the first MRI was successfully performed on a patient all the way back in July 1977 and, despite some advanced in the hardware, they've stayed relatively the same since. Some of the most important breakthroughs have come on the software side, with analytics, as well as artificial intelligence, making it easier to can detect diseases earlier and with greater accuracy.
Perspectum is one such startup in the space, providing software that can take data from MRI scans to detect and monitor multiple disease. On Tuesday, the Oxford, England-based company announced that it raised a $36 million round of funding co-led by the Blue Venture Fund and HealthQuest Capital. Oxford Science Innovation, Puhua Capital, the University of Oxford and other existing investors also participated. This brings the company's total funding to $46.7 million.
Along with the funding, it was also revealed that Garheng Kong, Managing Partner at HealthQuest Capital, will be joining the board of directors at Perspectum.
Founded in 2011, Perspectum's first product is called LiverMultiScan, which uses software to take data from MRI scans to detecte chronic liver disease. Specifically, it is targeting people who have Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH), a condition that affects more than 100 million people in the US.
NASH, Kong explained in an interview, is a disease that can cause fibrosis and then cirrhosis, and so it has come to the attention of many players in the pharma and biotech spaces. The problem so far, though, has been how to diagnose it.
"One of the issues with NASH is diagnosing it because the current gold standard way is a liver biopsy, and as you might imagine that’s not the most pleasant thing. There are complications attached to it, including bleeding, and it’s not really something that you can do on a regular basis to monitor. Unlike something like type 2 diabetes, where you can do a finger stick and measure somebody’s blood glucose and do that on a fairly regular basis, you can't really biopsy somebody’s liver on a regular basis," he explained.
"One of the holy grails of NASH has been how to figure out a way to diagnose and the monitor it. There’s a whole slew of these clinical trials that are going after NASH and the only ways to identify these patients, and also monitor them to see whether or not their intervention is working or not, has been a biopsy."
Perspectum has solved the problem by figuring out a way to diagnose NASH in a non-invasive way: it uses a standard MRI and then applies its algorithm to look at the image, analyze it, and determine if a patient has NASH. If the patient does have the disease, the MRI can be done at regular intervals in order to monitor the patient's progression,
Along with its diagnostic platform, Perspectum also has an imaging-focused Contract Research Organization (CRO) business through which it has partnered with different biopharmaceutical companies that are developing drugs in NASH. That means those companies can use Perspectum's technology as a way to determine whether or not their potential drug has an effect on the patient who has the disease.
That two-pronged business approach was a key driver in what made HealthQuest want to invest, Kong told me.
"The team is a group of extremely intelligent clinicians and scientists. We felt like it was a large market, it was an application and product that, in and of itself, would make the company successful, and it has two business models that sits on top of a company that we think can have multiple other products to detect other diseases," he said.
As for what HealthQuest brings to Perspectum, Kong told me that the company was specifically seeking "a certain type of investor," one that "had experience in commercializing technologies of this ilk."
"At HeathQuest, we’ve had the privilege of working with multiple diagnostic companies and helping them launch and ramp and get adoption and, more importantly, get reimbursement for their products. I think Perspectum was looking for a partner who had had that experience to help give them some guidance with respect to commercialization and reimbursement," Kong explained.
"We also have experience on the CRO side, so I think they were also glad to have somebody who has that perspective as well."
The new funding will go toward driving the commercialization of LiverMultiScan for clinical use, while also expanding the CRO side of Perspectum's business. The company will also be looking at developing new products for disease beyond the liver, including biliary disease, diabetes and cancer.
"At the end of the day it's about the patients. At HealthQuest, our mission statement is to reach the most number of patients in a positive way around their health, and we happen to do that by investing in great companies and generating great returns. NASH and Perspectum is a great example of where we have the opportunity to accurately diagnose and monitor millions and millions of patients," said Kong.
"My hope for Perspectum is that it will become the gold standard for how we diagnose and monitor this very large population, and then we take that same underlying approach and go after other diseases as well."
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