In 2014, two young Sydney-based doctors – Nikhil Pooviah and Raghav Murali-Ganesh – were struck by an idea that could benefit cancer patients both having first-hand experiences in dealing with the same as oncologists. The idea of developing an app for cancer patients became a hobby, which in turn became a passion, as they saw that those who had the best information systems and support networks had better outcomes. As luck would have it, in 2016 they secured a $1.25 million in funding from a group of high net worth business leaders. “The $1.25 million capital raise at a $4.25 million valuation was orchestrated by Clinton Capital Partners, who the company appointed as advisers,” the Financial Review reported. So the two successfully launched the CancerAid app in 2016 in a basic form on iOS and within weeks was downloaded more than 1000 times with 10 per cent of its users coming from the US and another 10 per cent from Britain.
Last year, the duo made news for securing a 500-000 dollar deal inked straight off the bat when reality TV show for entrepreneurs Shark tank kicked off season three. The team entered the tank with the goal of landing an investment of $500,000 in return for a 10 per cent equity stake, with the business valued at around $5 million. “It was great validation for our product and our business to have all the sharks wanting to be part of our journey. It was really reaffirming of our mission and our values, and it was exciting to see such faith in our business model,” Murali-Ganesh was quoted as saying by SmartCompany, adding, “We also wanted what the sharks offer in terms of mentorship, and to get them on board to help us grow.”
Today, CancerAid is the number 1 Cancer App in Australia, the US and the UK with over 20,000 users. Murali-Ganesh devotes full time into the company which is based at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a cancer hospital and clinical trial centre in Sydney, and in the US. It is a free app for cancer patients and provides clinical value with the ability for patients to track symptoms and emotional well-being. It has also won several awards since its launch with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak terming it the best global startup in any field in 2017, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson naming it the best global social impact startup. In conversation with co-founder Dr Raghav Murali-Ganesh.
Firstly, how did CancerAid app come about?
Both Nikhil and I are medical doctors specialising in radiation oncology. The idea developed from our experience of working in the hospital. Nikhil saw that patients who came to treatment could use better tools and he shared his idea with me. We have been working on this for the last three years.
How does the app work?
The app has four main functions. Firstly, we provide cancer and treatment information to patients and caregivers so that they can better understand their illness, treatment options and potential side effects.
The second aspect of the app is our organiser, which allows patients to record their personal experiences in the form of a journal. This has been shown to reduce anxiety and psycho-social distress in patients with cancer, leading to reduced risk of admitting to hospital or emergency room. The most important aspect of our app is the symptom journal, patients are able to log their treatment of cancer related symptoms or side effects, they can keep this journal on their phone or share this with the clinical care team (doctors or nurses). This action has been shown in randomised clinical trials to have a significant benefit to patients, including improving patient quality of life, reducing the risk of admission to hospital and also shown to improve the survival of cancer patients.
The third aspect, called Champions, allows patients to nominate friends or family of their choice (‘champions’) to receive a ‘view only’ version of CancerAid, thus allowing friends or family to be able to know how their loved ones are doing. It can increase the motivation for patients who are journaling their symptoms or personal experiences.
The last aspect of the app is ‘Our Community’. This is a newsfeed for patients to hear about other patients who have had similar experiences. We have patients and caregivers who contribute their stories of being affected by cancer. Patients who read these stories feel less isolated. We welcome any readers who might wish to contribute to this section to reach out to us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tell us about your appearance on TV show Shark Tank and what led to the project from there?
Being on Shark Tank was fantastic exposure at a national stage for us. Having the opportunity to showcase our invention to a wider audience has helped with adoption of this novel technology. Thousands of patients have reached out to us and given us great feedback and positive comments. It helps us to continually improve the app and create a resource that is invaluable to patients and their families.
Since you developed the app in 2016, how successful has it been?
CancerAid is the number 1 Cancer App in Australia, the US and the UK with over 20000 users. We offer a free app for patients and provide clinical value with the ability for patients to track symptoms and emotional well-being (randomised evidence has revealed these activities to improve survival, reduce risk of hospital admission and improve patient satisfaction) as well as access great resources within the app. We have won prestigious awards from AusBiotech, J&J, Steve Wozniak and Sir Richard Branson as well as thousands of positive reviews from our patients and caregivers.
Are you improving the app and introducing new features?
CancerAid has a team including medical doctors, marketing specialists and software engineers who are continually working on improving the app and making the technology better for patients and caregivers. We have a product pipeline of many features and are excited with what we are hoping to achieve this year.
What types of cancers does CancerAid cover?
CancerAid is a resource that can be used by a patient with any cancer type, we have information on 120 cancer subtypes, making the resource applicable to all most all patients. There are occasions where a cancer subtype is not listed and we try to find a source of information for those patients as well if they reach out to us. The Symptom journal and Personal journal are not specific to a cancer subtype and this can be used by any patient who wishes to keep track of their symptoms/experiences.
Is it available only on IPhone or also on Android phones now?
CancerAid is available on both iOS and Android phones.
Do you have any other future projects?
At present we are focussed on improving the experience for cancer patients and caregivers. There is still a lot more work we can do in this space. However, in the future we hope to expand to other chronic diseases.
(As told to the Indian Weekly)