Owlstone Medical‘s website has an ambitious mission statement right at the top of the home page: “To save 100,000 lives and $1.5B in healthcare costs.” It takes confidence to put hard numbers like that in a mission statement, but the company backs it up with their vision statement: “Become the global leader in non-invasive diagnostics for cancer, infectious disease, & inflammatory disease.” Lofty goals indeed, but the Owlstone has the technology to back it up.

We’ve written about breath analysis for diagnosing diabetes, lung cancer, and a range of other diseases in the past. The basic concept is that sensors can be designed to detect specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can serve as biomarkers for certain diseases and conditions. Owlstone’s scientists have developed their own FAIMS (Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry) technology that is incorporated in a tiny semiconductor chip. The system is able to detect low-levels of VOCs in a sample — as little as parts per trillion levels — and is able to do so without time-consuming processing using expensive lab equipment. It is well-suited for ignoring other chemicals in the sample, and detecting the desired biomarkers with low incidence of false positives.

The company’s FAIMS technology is already in clinical trials, including one in England for the detection of lung disease. The study is scheduled to complete the data collection phase within two years, and plans to gather samples from 600 patients who have been referred for a lung cancer screening. The goal is to refine chemical profiles that can be used to identify patients with lung cancer. Eventually, this could become part of a normal health-screening process. By identifying lung cancer sooner, patients have a much better chance for a cure.