Verisnate Technology Inc.
’s (TSX: V.VRS
, Stock Forum
) skin cancer testing device is the subject of a recent piece by the Vancouver Sun’s Pamela Fayerman
The device in question, Aura, is a UBC, BC Cancer Agency invention, tested on patients at Vancouver General Hospital over the past decade.
After buying the licensing rights, Verisante is offering the device for sale at $40,000 a piece.
According to the article, in North America, the device would give dermatologists high-tech help in determining which moles and other skin lesions (growths) should be excised and examined (biopsied) by a pathologist” as there is a shortage of medical dermatology practitioners, caused by the much more lucrative cosmetic work available.
According to advocacy organizations as reported in the original article, patients are waiting twice as long as they should due to the shortage. Virtually all patients diagnosed with melanoma in the earliest stages can be cured. But about 85% of patients diagnosed in the late stages die within five years.
“This is what you would call game-changing disruptive technology because it detects things doctors don’t necessarily see with their naked eyes and it finds cancers at the earliest, most treatable stages,” said Thomas Braun, CEO of Verisante Technology in an interview with Fayerman.
The Aura uses fibre optics and laser light to excite the molecules inside the growths. A hand-held wand with a disposable tip is connected to a computer that is loaded with software that compares the lesions in question with a database of melanoma and non-melanoma cancers. The probe scans for 21 biomarkers.
According to Fayerman, Braun’s goal is to sell at least 100 devices in the next year, and convince health professionals around the world that they don’t have to be dermatologists to use it.
Braun has asked the B.C. Medical Services Commission to allow doctors to bill for examinations with Aura. But that is not likely to happen soon since no government is keen on adding costs to the ballooning health care budget.
In an interview with Fayerman, Dr. Evert Tuyp, a Coquitlam dermatologist who’s head of the BC Medical Association section on dermatology, said he understands Braun’s frustration at the slow adoption of technology, but he’s not yet convinced that Aura will perform better than a dermascope, a tool he currently uses as an adjunct tool to his naked eyes.
The dermascope (also called dermatoscope) is a simple magnification device which uses polarized light to see into lesions. It is far from perfect and is said to miss about 15% of cancers. On top of that, a study in a dermatology journal a few years ago showed disagreement among pathologists in about 15% of biopsy samples so Tuyp agrees a perfect system of detection does not yet exist.
Tuyp said he paid about $1,200 for the dermascope he’s been using for about six years. Since the government has refused to reimburse doctors for buying and using the device during examinations, they can’t recapture their costs nor can they charge patients for it:
“So if there’s no fee code for dermascopy, do you think there will ever be one for the Aura? Probably when pigs fly is what I would say to that.”
“So while it’s fascinating technology that makes you say ‘wow’ there are some big issues to overcome here. One is that we need more studies to demonstrate that it will pick up more cancers without more false positives and the other is the tariff issue.”
Braun said he’s spoken to dozens of doctors about the fee issue:
“Cancer screening is medically necessary and so many physicians feel uncomfortable asking patients to pay for it. On the other hand, MRI scans are also medically necessary but patients pay for those (at private clinics, on an expedited basis) and you don’t hear too many complaints with that.”
On Monday, Verisante lost 7.6% and was trading at $0.245 a share.