Aviva Ventures, the venture capital arm of Aviva, has invested in Owlstone Medical a diagnostics company that has developed a cancer breathalyzer to detect the disease at an early stage.

Owlstone Medical is currently developing tests for lung and colorectal cancer, two of the most common cancer killers worldwide, and for asthma stratification by therapeutic response.

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO of explained that Owlstone Medical said: “Every time you breathe out, there are chemicals in your breath and we use these to pick up cancer in the early stages when it very treatable. Aviva has invested in a cancer breathalyzer device, which is like an electronic nose that can sniff out these signature chemicals of cancer on the breath at the earliest stage.”

The investment takes Owlstone Medical’s total funding to $23.5m (£19.3m) since its spin-out from Owlstone Inc in 2016 and will be used to drive test adoption and commercialization of the company’s Breath Biopsy® platform.

Owlstone Medical is leveraging proprietary and proven Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS) technology in its disease breathalyzer product range.

FAIMS measures volatile organic compound (VOC) metabolites in patient’s breath or biospecimens which are specific to disease.

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More effective treatment

Measurement of VOC biomarkers allows non-invasive diagnosis of disease at a very early stage, to enable more effective treatment and better patient outcomes.

Aviva Ventures provides early stage investment to back entrepreneurs with high growth businesses and has identified Owlstone Medical’s breath biopsy platform as being strategically important to its business.

Aviva will actively promote Owlstone Medical in the healthcare space and build awareness of breath biopsy as a new standard in diagnostics.

Ben Luckett, managing director at Aviva Ventures, said: “Technology is evolving rapidly and so it is critical for large, global businesses like Aviva to collaborate with start-ups such as Owlstone Medical. Traditionally, insurance has supported customers in the aftermath of a problem, going forward prevention will be just as important as the cure.”

Boyle added: ““Investment from Aviva as one of the major global insurance brands further validates our FAIMS technology and breath biopsy as a new approach to medical diagnostics. We are very pleased that Aviva is supporting us in our mission to save 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs.”

Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva, has been appointed an observer to the Owlstone Medical Board.

Wright commented: “As we offer our customers increasing choices about their health provision in particular on prevention and early detection, innovations like this will become ever more relevant. We are proud to be involved in the development of an entirely new means of early disease detection, screening and treatment monitoring that could make a real difference to people’s health.”