Medtech startup Breathe Well just landed a $400,000 investment from Sydney Seed Fund to help develop improved cancer radiotherapy treatments.
Invented by Paul Keall, a professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Sydney, Breathe Well assists cancer patients in breathing predictably during a course of radiotherapy.
Keall came up with the idea while working in a teaching hospital at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA, while focusing his research and clinical activities on breathing motion during cancer imaging and radiation.
One of the key technical challenges during treatment was breathing irregularity.
“We could either develop complex imaging and treatment solutions to accommodate irregular breathing, or we could simply develop a system to help patients breathe more regularly,” he said.
“Breathing guidance improves efficiency, image quality and targeting accuracy. What this means is that with breathing training more patients can be treated, with higher cure rates and a better quality of life.”
Keall was involved in a study at Stanford University reviewing images from 50 lung cancer patients. It found significant errors for at least one image series in 90% (45/50) of the patients.
“Reducing these errors has benefits to the patient’s health, but also for the economy as the costly burden of managing treatment side effects is reduced,” he said.
By providing visual feedback of their breathing patterns, Breathe Well helps patients overcome the damaging consequences of irregular breathing.
“The problem of irregular and unstable breathing motion is widespread across the radiology and radiation oncology, affecting some of the most common forms of cancer such as lung, breast, and liver cancer. Errors caused by respiratory-related motion have been reported to be present in up to 90% of medical images used to plan the patient’s radiation treatment,” PhD medical candidate Sean Pollock who is also on the team, told Business Insider.
The startup secured a $588,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council earlier this year, allowing it to conduct a series of clinical trials around Australia. It has also applied for several additional grants including one from the NSW Health’s Medical Device Fund.
Keall has also recruited software engineers Kuldeep Makhija and Dr Ricky O’Brien, and commercialisation expert Daniel Zafir, who recently joined as Managing Director.
“Apart from ground-breaking Breathe Well technology, we were impressed by its remarkable team led by Professor Keall,” Sydney Seed Fund partner Benjamin Chong said.
Pollock says the simplicity of the design is why he joined the startup.
“Rather than spend millions on a better treatment machine, you can improve the accuracy of existing facilities at a fraction of the cost by providing breathing guidance to the patient,” he said.