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Ferronova’s magnet cancer detection device draws investors

Article by Vaterina Changarathil at The Advertiser, Adelaide


A NEW spin-out company will receive funding support from international partners to commercialise a locally-developed medical device that helps in easier detection of cancers using magnetic tracers.

Ferronova has spun-out of research done at University of South Australia and will partner with New Zealand-based nanoparticle specialist Boutiq Science and major IP investor, Powerhouse Ventures to develop an ultrasensitive magnetometer probe, designed to be about the size of a ball-point pen.

Boutiq Science, which makes the tracers used in different applications across industries, is an exclusive partner with Ferronova on the medical use of its tracers.

While traditional radioactive tracers help detect 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.

The device, designed to replace invasive procedures, is a result of the doctoral work of UniSA researcher Dr Aidan Cousins, who will join Ferronova along with Associate Professor Benjamin Thierry.

“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,” Dr Cousins said.

“The work with Boutiq Sciences has refined the development of next generation magnetic tracers.”

The switch to magnetic tracers also removes the need for 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 said.

UniSA Ventures’ chief executive Dr Stephen Rodda said the research was now ready for commercialisation.

“A significant amount of research and design work has been done with Boutiq Science, Flinders University’s Medical Device Partnering Program and Bioinnovation SA.

“The new funding from commercialisation expert Powerhouse and a $200,000 grant from Bioinnovation SA will help take our product through animal studies and human trials in the next 12 months,” Dr Rodda said.

“We’ll need more funds later, millions, to get the product to market,” Dr Rodda said.

A pilot clinical study will start in the first half of 2017.

“This successful spin-out is a perfect example of the research partnerships and commercialisation pathways we are opening up at the university,” he said.

Powerhouse chief operating officer Colin Dawson said bringing nanotechnology and the magnetometer together has the potential to create a powerful system with an estimated market of between US$300 million and US$450 million.

“Powerhouse has agreed terms with Boutiq and UniSA Ventures, and will shortly be investing directly in the new company; Ferronova ... Our goal now is to work to get the system in the hands of clinicians for trial with patients by 2017,” Mr Dawson said.