Q&A with Dr Hugh Cormican of Cirdan Labs

Kehlan Kirwan talks with Dr Hugh Cormican of Cirdan Labs. The Lisburn-based firm recently secured £3.5m (€4.51m) in investment from the Kernel Capital Venture Fund for its revolutionary imaging technology.    

So Hugh, tell us what Cirdan does.

We develop tools for pathologists to speed up and enhance their diagnosis.

We do that with a mixture of products.

Some are imaging products, but the majority of them involve better informatics or software to capture or manipulate results from various lab instruments.

It allows them to see information from different areas so they can collate information from different types of tests.

It also allows them to use new and developing techniques.

Pathology at the moment is going through quite a radical change, with a heavy focus now on imaging.

In the past, that imaging relied upon people looking down a microscope or looking at a tissue sample and describing in words what they saw.

That was then taken and put into a report. Now they can take what they’ve seen, capture that imagery and then describe in much greater detail what it is they’re seeing.

The bonus now is that they take the imagery and use that to show how they came to their conclusion.

There are also new tests coming along which are part of the personal medical agenda, that is now beginning to impinge on the tests that need to be carried out.

So again our imaging service brings the pathologist into a position where they can see all aspects of a person’s health and bring that into their analysis, recommendations, or aid in diagnosis.

It also helps them to build up a portfolio of historical data which will help in future when we mine that data and find more interesting results, from which we can correlate information.

We will be able to see trends or connections to certain things which may not have been noticed or even seen before.

They may help in being able to spot patterns and things which help in the very early diagnosis of diseases.

So this would be geared towards your clinical labs that you find in, say, hospitals.

So when your doctor takes a blood sample and sends those tests off to a lab, we’re on that end of the market.

Give us a little a history of Cirdan Labs.

Well, the company started in 2010 in Northern Ireland.

The people who started the company had previously worked at another imaging company.

That company was very much focussed on new research and development of high-end cameras to the research market.

So we saw a lot of imaging technology that was going into spectroscopy, astronomy, and university research.

When we started we were very keen to see how we could take the emerging technology and put it into the hands of clinicians to improve the work that they do.

That was the genesis of the company and that’s how we started.

What is the new €4.51m investment going to bring to Cirdan?

Primarily the enhancement of the product.

As I mentioned, we’re going through these exciting times within the marketplace and we need to gear up and bring in additional resources to help accelerate that growth and what we’re doing.

As a small, agile company, we can turn around what we’re doing and get to clinicians much quicker than other companies.

So as soon as we can get this into the clinician’s hands, the better it is for them and the better it is for patients. We have a pipeline of research and development that is ongoing.

Some of those are more demanding and will take more time to bring to the marketplace. Naturally, because we support hospitals in what we do, we need to offer 24/7, 365-days-a-year support to them.

To allow us to do that we brought offices to Melbourne in Australia and Toronto, Canada.

That allows us, even as a small company, to follow the sun and to ensure that ourcustomers have support, no matter what time is where they are in that part of the world.

So we want to grow the market regionally in those areas as well.

The money that we’ve raised will help us to do that — grow organically and at our own pace.

You said you want to grow at your own pace but very often, VC funding comes with the caveat of quite the opposite of that.

Well, when we talked to Kernel we were very clear about what our growth plans were.

They bought into that and so have invested upon what we’ve done already, but more importantly, on what we’re going to do in the future.

So we told them this is what we want to see, and this is what we’re going to do.

We’re quite happy about what we told them and what they wanted from us in terms of growth and return on investment.

We now have the opportunity to capitalise on the market and open bigger and better opportunities with the finances they’ve brought.

Certainly there is no pressure on us in terms of growth.

I think that if we grew 10% slower than what we said we would, they would still be happy.

We’re placing ourselves in the right place within the market, that is key, and that is where we see our advantage is.

Is the challenge now to get into the more consumer-orientated markets?

Unfortunately, with a lot of the healthcare organisations, the procurement cycles and the timing of technology, they would tend to be on a longer period away from the latest technologies.

It takes longer for them to adapt to them.

We’re trying to speed up that process by making it much more accessible and much more cost-effective for them to use. That’s a key driver for the company.

Why does it take so long for that technology adoption?

Obviously, with some of that technology you have to prove the efficacy for the patient within it.

Does it add value to the patient?

And then you add in clinical trials on top of that as well. But quite often movement in the market tends to come from very large corporations.

Those corporations are just slower, like the big oil tankers, they take longer to change direction and adopt new technologies. Unfortunately, the small to medium-size companies are the ones with great innovation but they have great difficulty penetrating the healthcare market.

We’re keen to redress that balance where smaller, more agile companies can bring their technology to the market much quicker.

That’s the reason we started here in a relatively small company. We wanted to build and keep an agile sense of what we do.

We employ outside consultants rather than doing some things in-house.

That allows us not to grow too big too fast, and that way we can be very responsive to what’s happening in the market.


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