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Founded by four scientists in Oxford, Optellum raises $14M for its AI-powered lung cancer diagnosis


Optellum, an Oxford-based medtech company that provides a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, raised $14M in a Series A funding round led by Mercia. 

Additional investors, including Intuitive Ventures, Black Opal Ventures, St John’s College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital, and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood, also participated in this round.

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. A report reveals that lung cancer accounts for 21% of all cancer deaths in the UK annually. 

According to various reports, the current five-year survival rate is 20%, primarily because most patients are diagnosed after symptoms have appeared and the disease has progressed to an advanced stage (Stage III or IV). 

However, when diagnosed at an early stage, almost 57% of people in the UK with lung cancer will survive their disease for five years or more, compared with only 3% when the condition is diagnosed at the latest stage.

Commenting on the funding, Jason Pesterfield, CEO at Optellum, says, “Following years of research and clinical trials that have shown the impact of our software on the diagnosis of at-risk lung nodules, we’re focused on expanding patient access to this crucial technology and identifying deadly lung cancer faster in more at-risk people. The funding will also boost our research and development with world-leading institutions and partners to progress further innovation.”

Ahead of this funding round, Optellum attained CE marking in the EU, UKCA in the UK, and FDA clearance in the USA for its lung cancer prediction AI software that enables clinicians to identify and track a patient’s lung nodules.

Mercia, a proactive, specialist asset manager focused on supporting regional businesses to achieve their growth aspirations, brings expertise in software technologies that significantly impact global health issues and an existing portfolio that includes AI and machine-learning technology.

Stephen Johnson, Investment Director at Mercia, says, “Optellum is the latest in a series of companies to channel research from the UK’s world-leading universities into commercially viable products which can make a difference to the provision of medical care. Having observed Optellum achieve great milestones over the years – we are now excited to become part of their success and apply our experience with scaling up the software and deep tech companies to help accelerate Optellum’s impact on patient lives worldwide.

As the Oxford medtech company raised a crucial $14M, we at Tech Funding News reached out to Jason Pesterfield, CEO of Opetellum. Here’s the Q&A under our special series – Startups in Spotlight – where Pesterfield explains his journey from the origin of Optellum to what he has planned for the company’s future. 

What was your professional background before founding Optellum? 

Jason Pesterfield started his career at Stryker Corporation, where he held several positions during my 18 years with the company, including Global Vice President of the Surgical Navigation Business. 

“In 2012, I joined Veran Medical Technologies as CEO, where we developed a ground-breaking electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy system to help thoracic specialists guide precision biopsy instruments deep into the lung to diagnose lung cancer earlier. In December of 2020, Veran Medical Technologies was acquired by Olympus Corporation and I Optellum in July of 2021,” he adds. 

Is there an interesting story behind the origin of the startup?

Optellum comprises four founders who met at Oxford’s world-renowned Computer Vision Laboratory.

“Optellum started when a group of awarded computer scientists joined forces which Professor Sir Michael Brady facilitated at the University of Oxford. Founder number one, Dr. Vaclav Potesil, first started working on analysing radiomics data associated with lung nodules almost 15 years ago before he formally founded the company in 2016.”

What is Optellum? How is it using AI for the early detection of lung cancer?

“Optellum, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), helps physicians identify and track at-risk patients and diagnose the signs of lung cancer early so that treatment can be started sooner for patients with minimally invasive procedures.

Our product is the Optellum Virtual Nodule Clinic which identifies, tracks, and manages patients incorporating Lung Cancer Prediction, which stratifies and supports the diagnosis, supporting clinical decision making.”

What’s the latest pitch story? How did you secure the investment from Mercia, the top European venture capital investor? 

“Optellum is the first company in the world to secure FDA and CE Mark approval for AI-based decision support software. In addition, the company has secured several world-leading hospital customers in the US and UK. Our Series A funding objective is focused on revolutionising the lung disease care pathway with our ground-breaking AI decision support platform.”

How will the latest funding be used?

“Our series A funding will enable Optellum to scale our base operations and commercial launches in the UK and USA, accelerate our research and development and expand our platform into personalised therapy decisions by integrating imaging with molecular data, robotics, and liquid biopsies.”

Who are your competitors? And how are you different from them?  

“While several companies have developed software for tracking and managing lung cancer patients, we are the first and only company in the world that has secured FDA and CE mark approval for AI-based decision support software.”

What can we expect to see from Optellum in the future? 

“You will see the company continue to expand on our B2B partnerships and direct resources to expand commercial resources, develop new AI applications in the lung and beyond, and expand our global footprint opportunistically.”

Currently, Optellum has strategic collaborations with GE Healthcare and the Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson to accelerate clinical deployments and continue the advancement of the platform. 

In the UK, Optellum’s solution is being used to predict at-risk lung nodules in a multi-center study with NHS Trusts as part of a major investment in AI for healthcare.

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