Meet Kāhu, the Kiwi AI cancer-detection startup that just secured $3 million

New Zealand startup Kāhu has secured $3 million in funding to continue development of its AI tech for detecting skin cancers.

SmartCompany caught up with managing director Stuart Dalrymple to talk R&D, regulation and disrupting dermatology.

What does Kāhu do?

Initially spun out of MoleMap, a chain of dermatology clinics across Australia and New Zealand, Kāhu was established to bring tech into this sector, with Dalrymple appointed to spearhead the new enterprise.

The software was developed through collaboration with IBM and Monash University, and uses AI to analyse images of a patient’s skin and detect signs of melanoma.

It’s designed to make quick diagnoses, improving efficiency for doctors and reducing unnecessary waiting time — and stress — for patients.

Who are the investors?

The funding comes from Kiwi private equity group Pioneer Capital and Precision Driven Health, a New Zealand government-funded initiative established to invest in the data science industry.

For Dalrymple, that’s the dream combo. Pioneer brings a commercial lens, he explains, which will “make sure we spend the money wisely”, and help out with testing and developing the business model.

PDH is more focused on research, he explains.

“We can tap into different experts in our field … to really make sure we’re bleeding edge in terms of what we’re doing with AI,” he says.

“It’s a pretty cool one-two punch in terms of the support we’re going to get.”

What’s the gap in the market?

Many doctors are not 100% comfortable with their ability to diagnose melanomas, Dalrymple suggests, and there is a shortage of dermatologists around the world.

At the same time, Kāhu is designed to make a diagnosis within minutes, not hours or days. For the patients, that’s less stress and anxiety.

Currently, the model is literally for pieces of a patient’s skin to be couriered around a city for testing. Kāhu has set out to disrupt that.

It means if a patient does need to start treatment, that can happen as quickly as possible.

“Time is of the essence in this kind of stuff.”

With the increased awareness of things like telehealth and AI, people are also increasingly open to “having technology augment their patient journey”.

Why now? Why you?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made medtech a particularly topical sector at the moment, and Dalrymple says it’s an exciting and niche space to play in, despite the challenges of research and regulation.

“Tech has been long ahead of the regulatory curve,” he explains.

But with more and more apps and software products emerging, things are starting to change.

According to Dalrymple, over the past six months there have been rumblings about changing medical device legislation in Europe, the US and Australia, to allow software products to be considered medical devices.

And this is where Dalrymple’s expertise lies. His background is in commercialising medical software, and sees MoleMap founder Adrian Bowling as something of a mentors.

“Your average clinic doesn’t have much experience in commercialising and building out AI,” he explains.

“So, we built out a new team from the ground up to run this.”

What’s next?

“We’ve got a really small and strong team,” Dalrymple says.

He’s hoping to have Kāhu’s first limited edition cameras with doctors in New Zealand by September.

That rollout will set the team up for the next phase of building and development, based on feedback from early users. Then, production will ramp up.

Dalrymple plans to be sending Kāhu cameras overseas in about two years.

And beyond?

Dalrymple sees this being a “future billion-dollar market”, he says. And it’s something he wants Kāhu to be a leader in.

The startup already has patents pending for hardware products to couple AI with higher-quality cameras, to ensure ultimate accuracy. The idea is also to reduce the barrier for doctors all over the world, making this tech accessible to as many people as possible.

“We want to live in a world where all skin cancers are diagnosed and treated,” Dalrymple says.

“We believe if we can get an accurate AI hand-held device in the hands of every GP to help them see more and diagnose better, we’ll save lives.”

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