Cancer treatment is about to be revolutionised on a global scale by five Sydney doctors who hope to make the lives of those living with cancer a little easier via a personalised smartphone app, known as CancerAid.
Founded by CEO Dr. Nikhil Pooviah of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer hospital and co-founded by Dr. Raghav Murali-Ganesh, Dr. Akshat Saxena, Dr. Martin Seneviratne and Dr. Rahul Gokarn, CancerAid is designed to organise a patient’s cancer journey, while managing their expectations along the way.
What originally started out as a hobby has blossomed into a full time enterprise for Nikhil, with the app receiving a large seed investment prior to hitting the Apple store very recently.
Having worked in radiation oncology for a number of years and dealing firsthand with patients undergoing treatment as well as their caregivers, Nikhil said he saw a visible gap in the market for a product like CancerAid.
“When a patient is diagnosed with cancer and they have that initial conversation with their doctor, they’re completely bombarded with information, much of which they won’t register as this can be a very worrying time,” he said.
“During this initial consultation, the patient may receive leaflets or brochures but this information, or that available on Google, isn’t actually tailored to that particular patient, it’s in no way personal.”
What exactly does CancerAid do?
One of the world’s first personalised cancer apps, CancerAid has been created to individualise the information provided to patients and to work in conjunction with their clinicians. This means the information a patient receives is specifically tailored to their diagnosis and treatment path.
“For example, with breast cancer radiotherapy, a right-sided breast cancer patient won’t usually have the same heart risk a left-sided breast cancer patient has,” Nikhil explained.
“With the CancerAid app the clinician can easily take out this side effect on the information provided, as it’s not applicable to them; this assists in managing their expectations, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do – manage the patient’s expectations about what’s going on.”
Not only does the CancerAid app help patients and their caregivers by providing personalised cancer and treatment information, it also includes a journey organiser. This feature allows patients to take control of their medical records, manage symptoms, keep a journal of their events and connect with others who are experiencing their own journey.
The app will also include a unique feature known as Telemedicine, allowing specialists to monitor progress and offer on-call cancer support at any time of the day, no matter a patient’s location.
Something that also sets CancerAid apart from other apps in the medical field is that it will be completely free for patients.
“Most cancer apps in the market charge patients, but our unique business model allows CancerAid to be free to all patients and caregivers, as this is how we think healthcare should be,” Nikhil added.
“Before we started designing the app we surveyed patients in the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse hospital to find out their exact needs. Then after we built our MVP prototype in January, we tested it among 100 patients, fine-tuning the end product prior to our upcoming launch.”
“It’s been really well received within the Australian medical field; every kind of cancer specialist we’ve approached and collaborated with has jumped on board with our initiative. We’ve already signed 17 customers, including our first international customer, the Hong Kong Integrated Oncology Center,” he summed up.
Although other apps exist in the oncology and cancer sector, Nikhil said CancerAid is one of the only apps to be designed by clinicians and patients, along with input from over 200 cancer specialists.
“A lot of the apps that come out fail as they target the wrong end user. An elderly cancer patient in all likelihood isn’t going to use an app. He’s probably not going to be organising his journey, it will more than likely be a family member, so CancerAid is not only targeted to the patient, but just as importantly the caregiver.”
How have these doctors built an app?
Nikhil, who now works on CancerAid full time, said the app really started to make ground last December when it was selected as part of Slingshot’s HCF Catalyst accelerator; a program focused on innovation in the health tech sector.
When asked why he made the transition from doctor to start-up entrepreneur, Nikhil said it all comes back to the amount of people he can help.
“Working on the app isn’t clinical medicine, but it’s certainly a different kind of medicine. Instead of helping one patient sitting across the table from me, I have the opportunity to help millions. It’s one of the reasons why each of us on the team became doctors in the first place, to help as many patients as we can,” he revealed.
Now in talks with other international customers, the main source of investment funds are to be allocated towards the development of the premium products in order to scale it internationally.
Some of the first Australian customers to get behind the app include the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse hospital, the MetroRehab Hospital and Sydney Gastroenterology.
“The MetroRehab Hospital is a smaller institution managing cancer patients. What we’re doing with them is quite unique as we’re implementing a cancer rehab program into the app, which will be a world first program,” said Nikhil.
Developed by leading digital product development studio Papercloud, CancerAid will be built and released in three stages, with the first iPhone version now available in the Apple store.