Owlstone raises $15M to bring cancer breath test to market

Owlstone Medical has raised $15 million to bring its breath-based cancer test to market. The startup sees the test enabling the detection of cancers and stratification of patients through the analysis of exhaled volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

Cambridge, U.K.-based Owlstone spun out of its parent company of the same name in 2016 to apply ion mobility spectrometry technology to medical diagnostics. Clinical trials in lung and colorectal cancers, more than $23 million in venture funding, a tie up with GlaxoSmithKline and a pan-tumor collaboration with Cancer Research UK followed.

Now, Owlstone has pulled in another tranche of cash. New backer Horizon Ventures—the investment arm of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing—co-led the round with the support of existing financier Aviva Ventures. Other existing investors also contributed to the round.

The financing comes at a time when Owlstone is preparing for life as a commercial company. The primary completion of the company’s lung cancer study is penciled in for next year. Data from the 520-person trial will show whether Owlstone’s breath test can accurately predict whether someone has lung cancer.

Success in the first trials set up by Owlstone will position the company to bring its test to market and validate the concept. Owlstone plans to build on that validation by developing the diagnostic as a pan-cancer test and branching out into infectious and inflammatory diseases.

The alliance with GSK is an early example of Owlstone’s activities beyond cancer. The Big Pharma has incorporated Owlstone’s breath test in the clinical trial program for danirixin, a CXCR2 antagonist in development as a treatment for COPD. GSK is using the test to stratify patients and assess the effect of danirixin on the disease.