Today, over half a million women die of breast cancer every year. Yet, if a tumor of less
than 1cm in size is detected, with no lymph involvement, survival rates at 5 years are comparable with someone who has not had cancer. Addressing this problem, an eminent organization named Micrima was set up with the aim of reducing the number of women who die of breast cancer by developing a system that can aid earlier detection.
Micrima believes that the early detection of breast cancer can be achieved by frequent screening from an early age, which cannot be achieved with current screening methods. Dedicated to improve the conventional diagnosis methods, Micrima has set out to develop a system that is comfortable for the patient, easy to interpret, and can be used frequently from a much younger age in order to detect cancer early.
Originally based on technology for the detection of buried landmines, the early application to breast imaging was spun-out from the University of Bristol, as Micrima, in 2006. The founders of the company, Roy Johnson, Professor Alan Preece, and Professor Ian Craddock, recognized the impact the technology could potentially have on breast cancer detection and mortality rates. Until 2014, Micrima continued to fund the work at the University, when the reduced technology risk justified the investment into establishing and growing the physical company. Today, the company consists of 23 hardware, software, and product development engineers with a small commercial team. It is continuing to expand in all areas of the business to meet the strategic aims of the company.
About the Intellectual Leader
Roy Johnson is the Executive Chairman of Micrima who has over 35 years’ of enriching experience in the medical device and diagnostics sector. He has been operating at board level in both the UK and the USA. He is particularly conversant with bringing complex technologies to market, developing worldwide distribution networks, and negotiating and managing strategic relationships with some of the industry’s leading players. Following a career in large USA corporates, he has founded 4 medical technology companies and has advised the government in the Life Sciences sector.
MARIA®: A Unique Product of Micrima
MARIA® (Multistatic Array Radio-wave Image Acquisition) is a revolutionary product of Micrima that uses radio-waves to detect breast cancer. The procedure of diagnosis includes the patient lying on their tummy on the bed, such that breast to be imaged is pendulant through a hole in the bed. Then, the array comes up to meet the breast, there are different size inserts to accommodate different sizes of breast. This array contains 60 antennae that each transmits and receives. They each do this in turn, taking 22 seconds before the array rotates. The same process is repeated twice more to build up a 3D map of the tissues throughout the breast. MARIA® measures the signal reflected at the interface between tissues of different electromagnetic material properties showing reflections from the edges of lesions.
The commercial team at Micrima is working very closely with its clinical partners ensuring the exact needs of the customer are met. Today, MARIA® is used as an adjunct to other imaging modalities to reduce the chances of missing the tumor. Producing the image takes about 1% of the collected data on the breast tissues, so there is a lot more information available. The next important step is to work with the clinical partners in Europe to understand what information they require and the best way to display such information, adding higher levels of functionality to the system. The company will launch the first step of this program soon and will begin to classify regions of interest as to the likelihood of these regions of interest being benign or malignant.
Professor Lain Lyburn, a consultant radiologist at Thirlestaine Breast Centre, Cheltenham, recently said, “We have been involved in the evaluation of the MARIA® system for some time now and whilst it is currently offered as an adjunct to other imaging modalities, particularly where dense tissue is involved, the technique promises the exciting ability to distinguish between tissue types in the future. Any imaging modality that can readily give this sort of functional information has the potential to influence many points in the diagnostic and treatment pathways – there could be less need for biopsies and possibly a reduction in overtreatment. ”
Challenges on the Way
The road to success is never easy. Likewise, Micrima, faced many ups and downs in getting to this stage of development. Right from persuading the investors to back the growing enterprise to solving various technical challenges along the way and ensuring the right approach to the commercialization of the product, Micrima has overcome all these hurdles.
On the financing front, though it wasn’t tough for the company to convince the audiences of the unmet need regarding breast cancer, the case still had to be made for its specific technological approach. The crucial part was to prove the capability and determination of the key personnel and the growing management team. Today, Micrima is supported by a growing list of quality investors who passionately wish to take the organization forward.
Awards and Accreditations
In recent years, Micrima has been recognized with several awards. Most of these awards are focused on the technology and innovation of the MARIA® system. These include general innovation awards, like the ‘Medilink SW innovation Award in 2018’. Micrima has also been honored with ‘The Frost and Sullivan New Product Innovation Award– Breast Imaging in 2019’ and the ‘Global Health and Pharma Best Oncology Diagnostic Imaging Device Manufacture in 2019 Award’.
Moving towards Success
The ongoing primary goal for Micrima is the evolution of the MARIA® software to deliver increasing degrees of tissue differentiation. The company is hopeful to be able to identify the type of malignancy along with the diagnosis of the disease. “If we can assist radiologists by indicating which are low grade, slow growing, and can/should be monitored over time, and which are invasive, high grade, and rapidly growing, this could have huge implications for the treatment of breast cancer. There is also the possibility to use this technology for detecting other types of cancer in the body in the future,” says Roy.
On the commercial front, Micrima will continue its progress in Europe. The company is also planning to take this inventive technology to the US and Asia, once the relevant regulatory approvals are in place.