UniSA’s improved cancer detection technology a magnet for commercialisation

Illustration of cancers cells and lymph nodesResearchers at the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute will join forces with New Zealand based nanoparticle specialist Boutiq Science and major IP investor, Powerhouse Ventures to develop an improved system for cancer detection that relies on magnetic rather than radioactive tracers. 

While traditional radioactive tracers have been a mainstay for detecting the spread of both breast cancer and melanoma in lymph nodes, they have proved less effective in other cancers such as head and neck, gastrointestinal and oesophageal cancers, where nodes are closely packed or clustered. 

Research to develop the new technology – an ultrasensitive magnetometer probe designed to be about the size of a ball-point pen - evolved from the doctoral work of young UniSA researcher, Dr Aidan Cousins, who is now overseeing the development of the technology in collaboration with Assoc Prof Benjamin Thierry

Dr Cousins says while operating in the same ways as traditional gamma probes, the Magnetometer Probe is much more accurate for these complex cancers and cheaper to operate than existing probes. 

“Doctors will find this product just as easy to use but the results will be superior,” he says. 

“The work we have been conducting with nanoparticles specialist, Boutiq Sciences Ltd in Wellington has refined the development of next generation magnetic tracers, capable of delivering magnetic fields up to three times that of other magnetic tracers. Boutiq was established in 2011 to develop and commercialise nanoparticle technologies developed by Prof Richard Tilley. 

“Together the new tracers and the new probe represent cutting edge technology that delivers a much more accurate and affordable system for the staging of deep or complex cancers.” 

The technology also offers logistical benefits for hospitals. The switch to magnetic tracers means there is no need for the specialised rooms, equipment and training currently required for radioactive agents. 

“Magnetic tracers have a much greater shelf life than radioactive agents – years rather than hours –reducing storage and supply complications and costs,” Dr Cousins says. 

“Both factors mean it is likely that smaller or regional hospitals and medical services will be able to employ the technology locally, reducing stress and expense on cancer patients who would otherwise have to travel to major city hospitals for treatment.” 

With backing from the highly experienced IP commercialisation company, Powerhouse Ventures, a new company Ferranova Pty Ltd has been established to take the innovations and develop them into a system that clinicians and cancer patients can benefit from as soon as possible. 

Assoc Prof Thierry says they anticipate a pilot clinical study will start in the first half of 2017. 

Congratulating the team of innovators, Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says the deal is a clear example of what it means to be part of an enterprise university. 

“This is a great example of the way UniSA research operates at its best - to have identified a problem and worked innovatively to create and test a solution, and then to find the partners that can help to refine your vision and bring it to life,” Prof Lloyd says. 

“That happens because several elements are right. You have talented researchers who are connected to society and its needs. You have researchers with great relationships across different disciplines, across institutions and across borders. And, you have an effective commercialisation broker working on behalf of the innovation and the innovators – which we have in UniSA Ventures.” 

Powerhouse Chief Operating Officer, Colin Dawson says that the collaboration and the technology is very exciting. 

“Bringing nanotechnology and the magnetometer together has the potential to create a powerful system that will solve a real problem in healthcare, and has an estimated market of between US$300m –US$450m,” Dawson says. 

“Powerhouse has agreed terms with Boutiq and UniSA Ventures, and will shortly be investing directly in the new company; Ferronova Pty Ltd which will develop an enhanced cancer detecting magnetic probe system.  Our goal now is to work to get the system in the hands of clinicians for trial with patients by 2017.” 

Ferronova has also received funding from the BioSA Industry Development program, which helps South Australian technology organisations to develop their businesses. 

About  UniSA’s Future Industries Institute

The Future Industries Institute (FII) is a new multi-million dollar research concentration at the University of South Australia’s dedicated to building knowledge and capacity in core future industries. 

About Powerhouse

Powerhouse is a leading intellectual property commericalisation company, which focuses on developing brilliant research from New Zealand and Australian universities, into world changing businesses.  It has developed a unique approach to develop these innovations and businesses by providing access to business building expertise, capital, networks, recruitment and ongoing business support. Powerhouse has a successful track record with an existing portfolio of 22 early stage to mature businesses across four main sectors: engineering and cleantech, medical and healthcare, agritech and environmental and digital and ICT.

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli mobile: +61 418 823 673 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

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