Putting Cancer in the Crosshairs | SGInnovate

Putting Cancer in the Crosshairs

Guest Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Augmenting oncology with technology can help physicians make more informed decisions and drive better patient outcomes.

This article is written by Dr Tan Min-Han, the founder and CEO of Lucence Diagnostics.

 


 

Nothing is more precious to a cancer patient than time. As a medical oncologist and clinical geneticist, I know the importance of early cancer diagnosis. Once the cancer diagnosis is known, oncologists need toquickly make the right treatment decisions so that patientshave more time for treatments to work.

To make these decisions, oncologists need to ask: What subtype of cancer are we dealing with? What are the mutations driving the malignancy?Which therapy is most likely to have the greatest impact?Oncologists depend on their medical training and experience to help. However, tools that give more clarity on these questions—within a shorter time—go a longer way towards improving patient outcomes.

I founded Lucence Diagnostics to create these tools. The word ‘lucence’ encompasses the ideals of lucidity, illumination and hope—ideals that I seek to realise for fellow oncologists and the patients we treat.

Building a blood test for cancer

The technology developed at Lucence is the first blood test that can detect and monitor cancer-causing genes and virusesfor multiple cancers with one draw of blood. Our liquid biopsy test, LiquidHALLMARK™, focuses on cancers that are more common in Asiasuch as breast, colon and lung cancers.Cancer in Asia accounts for more than half of the global incidence of cancer. 

Liquid biopsy is different from tissue biopsy—thecurrent gold standard for diagnosing cancer—whichinvolves an invasive process of surgicallyremoving tumour tissue from the body. The non-invasive nature of liquid biopsy and the high speed, low cost of sample analyses allow oncologists to quickly make the right treatment decisions, and patients to start their treatments sooner.

What LiquidHALLMARK™ looks out for are fragments of DNA shed by the tumour into the blood. By piecing together these DNA fragments, we canglean important information about the tumour.My analogy for this is to imagine the tumour as a book that has beentorn apart and flushed down awash basin—we are on the other side of the pipe collecting fragments of the pages and reassembling the content of the original book.

Data in the DNA

As you can imagine, the reassembly process is impossible to perform manually. Every patient sample contains thousands of DNA fragments shed by the tumour, each of varying lengths. Some of these fragments overlap. We therefore rely on analytics and machine learning to decipherwhere one ‘sentence’ ends and another begins. This allows oncologists to provide timely treatment to patients by selecting the right drugs for them and sparing them the need to go through possibly futile treatments with toxic side effects.  

Our use of these digital technologiesextends beyond justreassembling DNA from cancer cells. Wealso integrate information about the patient, the stage of the disease and available treatments into our assessment.This is reminiscent of the oft-told parable of the blind men trying to identify an elephant by touch.

The elephant represents the healthcare problemweare trying to solve—cancer. Diagnostic tests, clinical examinations and treatment interventionsaddress different parts of the problem, yet each approach by itself can mislead, just as each blind man gave an inaccurate account of the creature he was touching. It is by consolidating data from a wide variety of sources and putting them through a data analysis pipeline, that we canprovide oncologists with the clinical intelligence to make the best treatment decisions for their patients. 

Not just any startup

Having founded a MedTech startup that combines laboratory analysis and digitalanalytics for cancer diagnostics, I am well awareof the high standards thatthe healthcare sector must conform to. This is for good reason:our patients trust us to use safe tests and to provide sound advice. It is our ethical responsibility to uphold that trust.

Robust as liquid biopsy already is, it currently complements tissue biopsy as the widely accepted benchmark for cancer management, rather than replacing it. 

Butoncologists owe it to their patients to stay informed about new technologies. This is why Lucence initiated the first national genomic tumour board in Singapore involving all the public and private sector hospitals. The board brings togetheroncologists, geneticists, pathologists and bioinformaticians for discussionson how we can better use genetics to improve treatment options for real cancer patients.

Another reason for the relatively slow uptake of new technologies in the medical domain is the fact that the practice of medicine is founded on a long history of common and shared experience. These traditions are something that emerging technology does not easily displace.Even now, machine learning and artificial intelligence fall short of clinical standards in many areas of healthcare.However, I am optimistic that we are making progress. The day will come when machines make judgementsthat are as good as physicians’. When that happens, our patients will be the biggest beneficiaries.

It takes a village

Because of the relatively long gestation periods for inventions in theMedTech industry, having a supportive ecosystem for research, development and commercialisation of deep technologies is critical. I think the value of a large public sector agency with a single-minded focus on creating commercialisation and industrial opportunities for healthcare innovationcannot be overstated.

Such agencies support the creation of important intellectual property, which can then be commercialised. It is important for the public and private healthcare organisations in Singapore to be aligned for the national interest. Subsequently, it is up to the private sector to deliver products and services in a scalable way to the region and to the rest of the world.

This is what we are striving to achieve at Lucence—we want to deliver the technology we have developed to the world, for the benefit of patients and physicians.As we continue to develop and validate our technology, we envision a future with fewer preventable deaths, fewer futile treatments and better patient outcomes.

Medical Technology is one of our three focus areas in our Deep Tech Nexus strategy.  We have invested in numerous MedTech startups as we believe Singapore has the resources and capabilities to solve problems that will impact the world. 

Keen to share your thoughts on deep tech? Connect with us here.

Dr Tan Min-Han
Topics: A.I.,MedTech,Data Science / Data Analytics,Investments

Share this with your network!

    You may also like the following:

    • Innovate, Scale, Accelerate Your AI Journey

      Data is your most strategic asset and AI can help you unlock new value from it. However, will your current approach deliver the value you need to lead in your industry?

      Topics:

      Artificial Intelligence / Deep Learning / Machine Learning / Robotics, Data Science / Data Analytics

    • #SGInnovateTurns2

      On 22nd November, we marked our second anniversary at 32 Carpenter Street with our close friends and partners from the deep tech ecosystem. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was the Guest-of-Honour for the event.

      Topics: Startups, Talent, Investments, Others

    • AI, autonomous vehicles, and the future of energy - all these fall within the scope of SGInnovate

      Hot Topics (YouTube) published a teaser video to their series “In the Fast Lane”, where Steve introduced the role and responsibilities of SGInnovate. “My team and I at SGInnovate work every day with amazing people. We get the chance to think about artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, future of energy – all kinds of exciting things, with amazing people. Our job is to help them build startups that might change the world,” says Steve.

      Topics: A.I.

    • SMU China Forum 2018: “Digital Revolution and AI – Developmental Experiences of Singapore and China”

      SMU Perspectives published an article from the SMU China Forum 2018, a high-level dialogue platform for the academic and business communities of Singapore and China to exchange views and experiences on developmental issues of impact common to both countries. During the panel discussion on the topic of “Made in China 2025 – Strategy and Implementation”, Steve Leonard shared the ambition of Singapore’s Smart Nation drive for entrepreneurs, corporates, government and academics to work together on challenging problems such as ageing population, transport and urban density, with the use of technology. With the capabilities developed since, he commented that Singapore has an opportunity to be an important contributor to China’s application of AI, in areas such as healthcare and housing.

      Topics: A.I.

    • Guest Writer

      Helping AI Embrace Empathy

      Artificial intelligence is already a part of our everyday lives, but for it to truly make a difference it needs to understand human emotions, says Live with AI founder Pierre Robinet.

      This article is written by Pierre Robinet, who is a senior consulting partner at Ogilvy Consulting and founder of Live With AI, an independent think tank based in Singapore.

      Topics: A.I., MedTech, Data Science / Data Analytics, Others

    • Electric Dreams

      Singapore-developed electric hypercar is capable of accelerating from 0-100km/h in under 3 seconds.

      Topics: A.I., Data Science / Data Analytics, Others