Picomole of Moncton won the $65,000 first prize at the BioInnovation Challenge on Thursday, the money will help the company conduct clinical trials on its device that detects cancer through breath samples.

Held during the BioPort Atlantic conference, the BioInnovation Challenge is the region’s main pitching competition for life sciences companies. This year, the winner of the competition organized by BioNova receives a $25,000 cash prize as well as in-kind services that raise the total value to $65,000.

The winner, Picomole, is developing a portable breath analyzer that patients breathe into to be tested for early signs of lung cancer – a disease that kills 154,000 people each year in the U.S. alone. The product can be used for a fast, inexpensive test when patients visit their doctor to flag patients who need immediate attention.

“We are targeting the high-risk lung cancer population as a start,” said CEO Stephen Graham in his presentation. “We are going to target them business-to-business, through health care professionals and insurance providers.”

The medical community now tests for lung cancer through such expensive processes as CT scans, which are faulty because 95% of their positive results are inaccurate, said Graham. Picomole is working on a system in which people at clinics or pharmacies can provide breath samples, which are then analyzed at a central location. Patients or their doctors could receive the results within two days.

Graham said that by detecting lung cancer early, people with the disease improve their chances of living more then five years from 18 percent to 55 percent.

“Probably the most exciting part of it is our ability to apply our device to other diseases,” said Graham. By changing the algorithms in the analyzing system, it could detect breast cancer, or other lung diseases, he said.

Picomole is now testing its product for proof of concept at hospitals in Saint John and Moncton. It has raised $2.5 million in equity funding and is seeking $12 million more to take the device through regulatory approvals.

The other finalists in the BioInnovation Challenge were:

ColourSmith Labs


Chemist and entrepreneur Gabrielle Masone started ColourSmith to develop soft contact lenses that can help colourblind people see the full spectrum of colour. She is preparing to file a patent for her technology, which applies a “notch filter” to a contact lens, so that it can screen out the types of light that cause colour blindness. The solution is more discreet than competitors’ products, such as sunglasses that perform similar functions.  Masone is now looking to hire a business development executive and intends to begin to raise her first equity funding round in the next month.

Talem Health Analytics


Founded two years ago by physiotherapists Paul Travis and Matthew Kay, Talem has developed software that can help auto insurers understand the time and costs involved for an individual recovering from a car accident. These accidents cause $240 billion in economic damage each year in North America. Drawing on data from physiotherapy clinics, the software uses machine learning and data analysis to predict how someone who has been in an accident will recover. Kay told the BioPort audience that the system can cut the cost of claims by 10 percent, which can help to improve the efficiency of the industry and treatment for patients. The company is hoping to raise $750,000 in its next round.