As if a cancer diagnosis isn’t bad enough… the reality that a battle to survive will involve surgical intervention, possibly the horrors of chemo and radiotherapy and, in many cases, life changing side effects. In surgical cases, despite extensive pre-operative planning, even the most talented and experienced surgeon may not be able to remove all cancerous tissue during the operation – relying completely on their sense of touch and naked eye – which would therefore necessitate further surgery. There is also the risk that healthy tissue is removed, which can leave patients with long term complications or the need for additional surgery and radiotherapy. Getting as many of these cells out as possible in one intervention drastically increases the patient’s odds of recovery; increasing the chances of successful surgery is critical to the effective treatment of the cancer and the eventual cure of the patient.
Medical imaging has long been acknowledged as a valuable weapon in the cancer slaying arsenal and very much Dr David Tuch’s area of expertise. A native New Yorker, he was educated at MIT and Harvard and has spent his entire career in the medical imaging field, with senior roles including Head of Research Alliances at GE Healthcare and Head of Clinical Imaging at Novartis.
‘The genesis of LIGHTPOINT came about when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer’, explains David. ‘Thankfully her treatment was successful but, as part of her cancer care plan, she needed to have her healthy lymph nodes removed as the surgeon was unable to see whether the cancer had spread. This put her at risk of infection and, to reduce the possibility of lymphedema, she was forced to wear compression bandages and fitted sleeves on the affected arm. This visual and tactile standard of care in breast cancer surgery is highly subjective; confirmation that no further surgery is required can only happen after histological assessment of the removed tissue, a process that can take up to several weeks. The current statistics supplied by the NHS show that 20% of patients will require further surgery to remove the primary tumour; there simply hasn’t been a method for even the most skilled surgeon to know that all cancerous cells are removed through touch alone. This is a universal medical problem faced by cancer patients: namely, that surgery is very often unsuccessful’. David thus founded LIGHTPOINT in 2012, with the specific purpose to address this problem.
‘We have developed an instrument that will guide surgeons and clinicians through light and in real time. We have four devices in various stages of development: the LightPath Imaging System for imaging specimens, the PICO laparoscopic probe for minimally invasive prostate surgery, HARLI for the life sciences market and Clovis for open surgery. Our products improve clinical outcomes, reduce the need for further surgery and radically decrease the chances of developing the terrible side effects that the patient may have to endure. This in turn, of course, has a massive reduction on healthcare costs.
In 2014, LIGHTPOINT scanned their first patient in a breast cancer clinical trial. In the following years, they have won multiple awards – including the UK Private Business Award for Technology Innovation of the year in 2017 – and signed three development contracts with NHS England. Their devices have been sold in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, in David’s words, it’s been like ‘a rocket ship’.
‘Our aim to is reduce the need to remove excessive tissue to 10%, which will significantly raise the patient’s quality of life. Our products are applicable for a wide number of cancer types, but we will focus – for now – on prostate and breast cancer. This will prove to be an absolute game changer for those who have a radical prostatectomy or large sections of lymphatic tissue removed, procedures that often leave the patient with life-long complications. Preliminary clinical trial data shows that our technology agrees well with the gold standard of pathology. Our key competitive advantage is that our technology is using imaging agents which are already clinically validated and approved by regulatory agencies; our competitors all face the enormous barrier of millions of dollars in capital and years of development time to gain FDA clearance: we already have it.”