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Moncton Company Gets Closer To Commercializing Lung Cancer Detection Device

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor blows into Picomoles breath sampler. Next to her is Chris Purves, Chief Technology Officer. Image: Submitted

MONCTON – Picomole Inc. is one step closer to bringing its cancer diagnostic technology to market with the help of $818,000 in funds from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

The Moncton-based company is set to establish a testing lab and start clinical testing of its technology, which consists of two parts. The first part is a breath sample device “the size of a microwave” that can be put in doctor’s offices, specialized clinics and pharmacies.

“So somebody with a minimum level of training can take a person’s breath sample. That breath sample gets pressed into a stainless steel tube about the size of a pencil, that gets shipped to our lab in Moncton and we put it in our analyzer,” CEO Stephen Graham explained.

The analyzer, the second part of the technology, looks at the amount of light absorbed by the organic compounds from the breath sample. Using artificial intelligence machine learning algorithms, the analyzer compared the results to the absorption profile of a healthy person, thereby accurately identifying whether a person has lung cancer or not. Graham says the NRC has reviewed the technology and concluded that it’s valid.

The new investment – $500,000 from ACOA and $318,000 from NRC IRAP – will help Picomole take the next step.

“What that allows us to do is to completely build our next generation technology,” said Graham. “Right now we have a working prototype for the analyzer that analyzes the breath sample. We’ll be able to build two more of those machines and incorporate newer technology to make them more powerful. So what it does, it gives us the money to buy the parts and pay for the labour to do that.”

Graham said this is the latest round of funding from the federal government, a “very, very important source” of financing for the company.

“The technology that we’re building now is the technology that we’ll take into the registration trials with Health Canada. That’s a really important step because that means that the technology we have now is what we’re confident will be the market entry technology,” he said.

Picomole was founded by Dr. John Cormier and incorporated in 2005. Prototype research started then, but it only began to gain traction in 2015. It focuses on lung cancer first because there’s an opportunity.

“We said, ‘okay, the one cancer that seems to be the most troubling for clinicians and for the health system is lung cancer because there isn’t a really good, affordable test for screening.’ That’s why we started with lung cancer,” Graham said.

Currently, Picomole is in the process of submitting proposals to hospitals to begin a proof-of-concept pilot project for breast cancer diagnosis using its technology. The company expects this project to begin in the next three months.

It’s also working to register its technology with Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.

“Once we get their certification, we can go on to the commercial market,” Graham said. “We’re looking at 2022.”