Hungarian startup seeks med tech partner for intelligent cancer knife

A Hungarian startup is generating serious buzz over its "intelligent" surgical knife designed to tell the difference between cancerous and healthy tissue. The iKnife device, developed by Budapest-based MediMass, has wowed researchers in early testing. And now the Budapest company's CEO says he's close to partnering with a larger med tech operation in the hopes of bringing the product to market. 

Device inventor Zoltan Takats told Bloomberg he and his company are talking actively with Waters Corp. of Milford, MA. Imperial Innovations Group, a U.K. company that commercializes and invests in technology, is also in the mix. MediMass itself is backed by the Hungarian venture capital firm Euroventures Hungrary BV, Takats said in the story.

As both Bloomberg and Reuters report, the interest revolves around a study of 91 patients led by scientists at Imperial College London, where Takats works as a medical mass spectrometry specialist. A study, which is published in Science Translational Medicine, found that the device correctly diagnosed tissue in 91 patients with 100% accuracy.

Essentially, the iKnife is the combination of two existing technologies for a new use: an electrosurgery knife blended with a mass spectrometer. As Bloomberg and Reuters explain, the device cuts into tissue through the use of electric current. Cutting creates smoke, which travels through a tube to the spectrometer, which compares its molecular composition to a biological database of healthy tissue and tumors. Within seconds, the device can identify whether tissue is cancerous or not. That would be a big boost over the existing standard of care, where tissue is analyzed in a lab in about 30 minutes, while patients are still under general anesthetic.

The iKnife isn't exactly cheap, with the existing prototype costing around $300,000 to build, Reuters notes. The company says the price tag would come down once the device is produced for commercial sale. While the device has promise, it is a long way from the market. A larger trial involving as many as 1,500 patients is a likely next step, Takats told Reuters.  And that process could take a couple of years, after which the device would be submitted for regulatory approval. It also is slated for future testing on patients with different kinds of cancers.

- here's the Bloomberg story
- read Reuters' take