Julián Ríos
Co-Founder and CEO
Higia Technologies

Approaching Early Cancer Diagnosis

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 09:25

Breast cancer mortality is on the rise in Mexico and early detection can be a strong tool to combat the disease. Selfexamination has traditionally been the first line of defense but it is far from ideal. After watching his mother survive two battles with the cancer, 17-year old entrepreneur Julián Ríos thought Artificial Intelligence (AI) could provide a better approach and the result of his work is attracting serious attention both in the public and private spheres.

Ríos’ company, Higia Technologies, produces Eva, a bra Ríos says can detect breast cancer through the use of bio-sensory patches. He believes the detection methods currently available are more for diagnosis, mammography and biopsy, while there are few effective early detection processes. Ríos hopes to meet this need with Eva. 

 The high-tech bra’s bio-patches capture temperature data that is sent to a mobile app, which keeps a record of the information received. “Cancer increases blood flow due to the abnormal production of cells that could produce a tumor. This leads to an uncommon temperature in the affected area.” The app’s algorithms analyze the collected temperature data to produce a thermal conductivity curve that is compared with a database of 2,000-3,000 curves of data from women from different parts of the world who have been diagnosed with cancer. “Different tumors have different thermic fluids. If there is a curve similar to a case from the file, the probabilities of having breast cancer are between 93 and 94 percent,” says Ríos. 

Eva will be available early in 2018 in Mexico and Latin America through online platforms and convenience stores. The project is awaiting approval from COFEPRIS and the team recently signed an agreement with IMSS to carry out trials. 

According to the Ministry of Health, in 2015, 6,252 women died in Mexico due to breast cancer, almost 5 percent more than the previous year, figures that Ríos wants to reduce. According to Ríos, a woman with cancer in phase III costs IMSS MX$5 million (US$277,000) every year and MX$250,000 (US$13,888) if she is in phase I. That is a high expenditure for the government and a main concern given the lack of an effective early diagnosis test. “The government will be one of our main buyers because this product will help rural clinics, associations, universities, insurance companies and hospitals reduce costs.” Eva will initially sell for MX$2,000 (US$111) without government support, but Ríos says its business model will enable the company to reduce the price. 

Higia Technologies works with a team of 10 people made up of engineers and oncologists and the company has received an invitation to work at investor Y Combinator in Silicon Valley. “It will help us formalize the business part. It receives 7 percent of the company for a very small investment. However, the real value of this opportunity is to be part of an ecosystem in which we can gather important contacts that could lead us to higher investment,” says Ríos. 

Ríos began researching breast cancer when he was 13 and locked onto the idea that changes in temperature could lead to a correct diagnosis. He then gathered his high-school friends to create Higia Technologies with an investment of less than US$250. By 2017, the company had raised US$75,000 from awards and donations, US$33,000 from investors and it is about to close a round for US$300,000 from an investment fund. Ríos believes the Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystem is talented but lacks support. “Many projects are changing the world but not in Mexico. The industry of risk analysis is very small, which restricts investment.” He also thinks many entrepreneurs in the country have good ideas but poor execution. “We have often seen how in Mexico ideas are adjudicated without evaluating whether they can be executed,” he says.

Higia Technologies is in the process of developing new products, including a device to detect testicular cancer through men’s underwear. Ríos says information is the key component of his company. “Higia Techonologies is moving from a company that develops medical devices to an information company. Our value is in the amount of information we have.”