29 NOVEMBER 2019
Driven to improve quality of life and outcomes for cancer patients, one startup has created a simple test that can quickly and sensitively detect infections – helping patients to access the care they need, when they need it.
Developed by Dr Hannah Wardill and Associate Professor Joanne Bowen from Rapid Motion, the new test can be performed by anyone, without specialist training or personnel, at any time or place – even from the comfort of home.
Hannah and Joanne have backgrounds in supportive care in cancer, a field that supports people from diagnosis, throughout treatment, to end of life care.
Infections are one of the largest killers of people with cancer, aside from the disease itself. One of the most common infections in people with cancer is Clostridioides difficile (C-diff), affecting one in five people treated with chemotherapy.
“C-diff causes severe diarrhoea. But in people with cancer it is difficult to identify, as diarrhoea is already a very common side effect of chemotherapy,” says Hannah.
“As such, patients experience considerable anxiety differentiating C-diff diarrhoea from ‘expected’ diarrhoea and often wait several days before seeking medical attention.”
This usually means a trip to the emergency department, where they are admitted for investigation. Current C-diff diagnosis takes approximately three days, leaving the patient to deteriorate and the infection to spread.
“This problem was a key starting point for our approach at Rapid Motion. Not only is infection detection a pain point for patients, but also doctors and health economics, with C-diff worsening treatment outcomes for patients and increasing the length of hospitalisation. C-diff is now estimated to cost 6 billion USD every year to manage,” says Hannah.
Hannah and Joanne came up with the idea of developing a simple test for C-diff detection, with the goal of enabling high risk patients to screen for C-diff in the comfort of their own home. The team is now looking at expanding the test to other microbes of interest.
Hannah has seen that acknowledging and tackling the side effects of cancer patients’ treatment is something that does not receive the attention it deserves.
“Patients are ill informed about the side effects they are likely to develop, and treatment efficacy often takes precedent. Side effects are almost considered the necessary evil for someone to be ‘cured’”, says Hannah.
“I am motivated by the challenge of changing this perspective, getting people to recognise that by controlling side effects we can actually improve efficacy outcomes, reduce the economic burden of cancer care and promote quality of life both during and after treatment.”
“Infection detection is a critical part of this process, particularly given that our approach empowers patient autonomy with the goal of keeping them out of hospital.”
Hannah is now working closely with her new mentor, Michelle Kleynhans from the MedTech Actuator to prepare to pitch at the MedTech’s Got Talent Challenge Gala Finals next Thursday evening.
At HealthTech’s night of nights, Hannah will battle it out with the brightest emerging HealthTech and MedTech entrepreneurs for a share in $50,000 and fast-tracked entry to the MedTech Actuator Accelerator program.
Hannah is a National Health and Medical Research Council CJ Martin Biomedical Research Fellow and translational scientist by training. With little commercial experience, she has found the regulatory aspects of medical devices particularly challenging.
“It has been a significant learning curve in understanding jargon such as intellectual property, paths to market and market validation. But through MedTech Actuator and other similar schemes, I have been paired with some great mentors that have guided me through the process.”
Hannah would definitely recommend the Challenge to other entrepreneurs, saying that it pushes you well outside your comfort zone.
“It is here where you grow the most,” she says.
For Hannah, the time with her mentors has been invaluable as it has helped her to see where the true value of her work lies and where the shortcomings and holes are.
“Sometimes it is hard to see the limitations of your approach when you are so deeply invested in it. My mentors were very open and honest about where my weaknesses were or are, and this has been a really important point of reflection for me and critical in defining my next steps.”
Thank you to our major Challenge partners and sponsors – we couldn’t do this without you: The Federal Government, The Department of Industry, Innovation & Science; The Victorian Government, The Department of Jobs, Precincts & Regions; Global Victoria; LaunchVic; Government of Karnataka; Bangalore Bioinnovation Centre; Johnson & Johnson; Cook Medical; Medtronic; K&L Gates; Vestech; IDE Group; Design + Industry; Tricycle Developments; Ingenuity Electronics Design; Outerspace Design; MiniFAB; LEAP Australia and Wave Digital.