Hand-held breast cancer scanner highlights journey from university lab to marketplace

PHILADELPHIA — A great innovation requires many things for it to work — the right idea with the perfect development team bringing it to life. It also requires funding. For the team behind the iBreastExam, a hand-held breast cancer screening tool, that last piece proved to be the trickiest.

The iBreastExam’s journey from idea to being used to screen 75,000 women for breast cancer is detailed in the latest case study from “The New Philadelphia Casebook: Studies in Health Care Innovation,” a preeminent publication that is part of the Health Care Innovation Collaborative, a CEO Council for Growth initiative to draw attention to the Greater Philadelphia region’s accomplishments in health care.

“At Drexel, we operate in a culture that looks for problems and the ways to solve these problems as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Keith Orris, Drexel’s senior vice president for corporate relations and economic development. “The iBreastExam exemplifies the success of our culture, and I am thrilled it’s being featured as an example of innovation in the Greater Philadelphia region.”

The developers and researchers behind the device had many hurdles to overcome, from finding a market that would use the device to funding it. The sensor technology in the iBreastExam was what took it to the next level. The Drexel-Coulter Translational Research Partnership Program, which funds the development and commercialization of human health improvement projects, awarded the iBreastExam team $200,000. But more funding was needed to take the device to its zenith.

The technology was licensed by Philadelphia-based UE LifeSciences. Its CEO, Mihir Shah, won local and state grants totaling more than $900,000. The iBreastExam’s innovation and Shah’s business acumen led the company to raise $4.2 million in private equity funding for clinical trials in India and ramping up its public and private health care provider distribution networks.

“The work done by the iBreastExam team demonstrates the visionary work being done by our collaborative partners,” said Claire Marrazzo Greenwood, executive director and vice president of leadership engagement for the CEO Council for Growth, a council of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. “Philadelphia is a growing hub for health care innovations  and, as Drexel and UE LifeSciences show, we have the resources to properly support the groundbreaking health care advances.”

The CEO Council for Growth in December began releasing innovation case studies on a monthly basis. These include:

  • MedCrypt, a technology security company specializing in encrypting and securing medical device data, which received support and investment from Radnor-based Safeguard Scientifics, a growth-capital company. The case study can be found here.
  • Individualized Management for Patient-Centered Targets (IMPaCT), a University of Pennsylvania program sending health care workers into disadvantaged Philadelphia neighborhoods to improve residents’ health.
  • Facilitated Health Networks (FHN) framework, an Independence Blue Cross initiative to decrease health care costs without sacrificing quality, access and patient experience. FHN has signed on three key partners: Jefferson Health, Holy Redeemer Health System and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
  • Frontier Programs from Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP) provides extra funding and support for CHOP’s most promising enterprises. Seven programs have been funded since 2015, with strides made in the fights against leukemia, inflammatory bowel disease and mitochondrial disease.
  • Thomas Jefferson University is reshaping medical education with an infusion of design thinking. Collaborating across disciplines, students in medicine, design and engineering build skills for finding solutions in the health care landscape of the future.
  • Care Link, a robust information technology-enabled network of care coordination support services created by Christiana Health Services. It uses IT systems to access all available sources of a person’s health data so that health care professionals can work together to assist a patient.