Breast-screen software wins plaudits

ALISA YONG
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014
Volpara
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

EYES ABROAD: Matakina chief executive Ralph Highnam says the breast density assessment software company is participating in international trials that could result in lucrative foreign contracts.

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A Wellington company's innovative breast density screening software could land them a contract potentially worth €10 million (NZ$15.5m) a year.

The Volpara software developed by Matakina is being trialled by the Dutch Breast Screening Organisation. If successful, the trial could lead to a tender to provide software to screen about two million women every year in the Netherlands alone.

Chief executive Ralph Highnam said the software, which allows radiologists to better identify women who may need further testing, is being trialled in a number of countries.

"In the last three years we've done some huge trials with the breast-screening programmes around the world, and in the next few months the results will be coming out, and they're all very, very positive about our technology."

Volpara was also chosen for a new screening programme to be implemented across five University of California medical centres.

Founded by a group of four specialists at a conference in Chicago in 2009, the company has grown from a staff of three to a team of 15 full-time employees in Wellington. Matakina also took the top prize in the export section of the Wellington Gold Awards last month.

Initially self-funded, the company has been assisted by Grow Wellington to obtain significant government grants.

Callaghan Innovation provided about $1 million of the $5 million that has been invested. Matakina plans to keep investing in further development, Highnam said.

"You have those choices often, to stick with where you are, or to start developing new stuff, and they [Callaghan Innovation] want to see a bigger company here, a more impressive company, so they've been very positive around the funding.

"There was a choice about whether to break even or go for global dominance, and we're very much aiming for global dominance. We are going to be going out pretty soon and raising enough money to ramp up sales and marketing globally."

The company has 155 installations worldwide, including Wellington Hospital. Volpara costs upwards of $25,000 plus servicing, with pricing based on the number of X-ray machines using the software.

St Mark's Breast Centre had been using Volpara for two years with good results, radiologist Ken Judd said

"They do a fantastic job of it and the whole world has decided to choose them. Hardly anybody uses anything else.

"Most of the studies around the world use Volpara as the main tool for determining breast density."

CATCHING CANCER EARLIER

Women with high-density breasts are at higher risk of developing breast cancer, and are also more likely to go undiagnosed.

Matakina's software allows radiologists to identify breast density as a percentage, rather than just assessing the density visually.

This percentage can then be used to decide if a woman should undergo further checks, such as an ultrasound or 3D mammography.

Since Volpara was developed, it has been used in about three million mammograms, which could equate to up to 2400 extra cancers being identified.

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