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Cancer charity Macmillan launches impact fund

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Published: 10 February 2023

UK-based Macmillan Cancer Support’s new fund will invest in startups developing cancer care products and technology. 52North, developer of at-home testing kit for neutropenic sepsis, is the fund’s first investment

Macmillan plans to make a minimum of seven investments in 2023 of up to £300,000 each | Photo of Macmillan Mighty Hike by Macmillan Cancer Support/James McCauley

UK-based charity Macmillan Cancer Support has made its first ever venture investment after launching its £3.5m (€3.96m) Innovative Impact Investment Portfolio, which will invest over the next two years in startup businesses developing cancer care products and technology. 

The institution is investing £100,000 in Cambridge-based 52North, the developer of Neutrocheck, an at-home testing kit for neutropenic sepsis, a potentially fatal reaction to infection that can occur in people undergoing chemotherapy as part of cancer treatment.  

“At Macmillan, we know we can and should have an important role in responding to anticipated advances in cancer care. Through impact investment, we can use over a century of experience in improving the lives of people with cancer to drive innovation in this space,” Tanya Humphreys, head of innovation partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support, said.   

Macmillan plans to make a minimum of seven investments in 2023 of up to £300,000 each. The charity says it expects its investment to be returned in most cases, and that any returned money will be recycled back into the portfolio or into Macmillan’s wider funding. The £3.5m underpinning the portfolio comes from internal funds.  

The charity is currently in the process of identifying its next investments in consultation with the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), NHS England’s network of innovation agencies. A Macmillan spokesperson said it planned to invest in innovative ideas backed up by a strong strategy for turning that idea into a solution. 

“These solutions, directly or indirectly, will have a positive impact on the lives of people with cancer, as well as generating a financial return. They will show clear indicators of success at an early stage, for example, with a strong product prototype or robust research,” the spokesperson said. 

“Some investments will fail but the learnings can help with other developments and potentially lead to more successful investments next time. However, we are balancing the risk and financial return across the whole portfolio,” she added. 

Reduced fatality rate 

The 52North kit is currently undergoing clinical testing, with further input coming from Macmillan’s Innovation Community of people with experience of cancer, as well as doctors, nurses, other health professionals, patients and carers. The device is expected to be available to people with cancer via their healthcare providers in 2024, following a clinical validation study in UK NHS hospitals. 

Macmillan says that even mild illness with neutropenic sepsis can become fatal, citing a  study suggesting that chances of survival can reduce by more than 7% for every hour a person has the reaction before starting treatment.  

At present most people with cancer who report symptoms of neutropenic sepsis are sent to a hospital emergency department to receive antibiotics and a range of blood tests. But, as some symptoms are similar to those of flu, such as a fever or low temperature, not everyone immediately realises they have it. On the other hand, not all those going to hospital for a precautionary check turn out to have it – around 40%, according to another study. 

The fingerprick testing kit and associated app should ensure those in danger seek urgent treatment which will ameliorate the impact, while saving those that don’t have neutropenic sepsis a stressful trip to hospital. As well as being positive for those with cancer, both outcomes can potentially help to lower the workload for hard-pressed hospital staff. 

Macmillan says it hopes that, by investing in this way, it can play a critical role in developing new ways to transform the lives of people with cancer and inspire other organisations and investors to support innovation in cancer care. 

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