[14/4/2020] In today’s world of high-tech medicine, it’s ironic that a product made of paper could play a leading role in improving global healthcare. The idea that an A6 piece of card might have a greater impact on global health than, say, a fleet of surgical robots seems ridiculous. However, the simplest ideas often pack the biggest punch.
We’re not talking about any old postcards here, of course. These cards – made by UK-based medtech start-up TestCard – are in many ways just as technically advanced as scalpel-wielding machine. They come embedded with urine-testing kits to diagnose myriad conditions – and it’s that ability to accurately and cheaply diagnose at home, rather than in a hospital or doctor’s surgery with a healthcare professional present, which holds so much potential.
TestCard co-founder Andrew Botham sets the scene:“When the NHS launched in 1948, there were 2.5bn people in the world. Now there are 8bn. Yet the model for healthcare delivery remains pretty much the same. A patient still has to go to their GP or emergency department and ask for help. That model’s not scalable. You can’t keep adding bodies and expecting it to work smoothly.
“Face-to-face appointments will always be right for some,” he continues, “but they aren’t right for everyone all the time. Take our first product, for example, which diagnoses UTIs [urinary tract infections]. If someone is prone to these infections, they know the symptoms. What they need is empirical evidence that they’ve got a UTI so they can get the right prescription. To do that, they currently have to take time off work to see their GP, which puts pressure on both patient and GP, and costs the NHS money – especially when UTIs account for 10.2 million appointments each year, at a cost of £30-40 per appointment.”
A healthier world
TestCard empowers people to test themselves at home, thereby freeing up GP and hospital time and saving money. Furthermore, it improves health by encouraging people who’d ordinarily find it hard to visit the doctor – the elderly and frail, men with a fear of doctors, people who work nightshifts for example – to test themselves at home.
“If you give someone the ability to self-diagnose at home, they are much more likely to address the issue,” says Andrew. “The earlier you engage with any condition, the shorter the route to recovery, and the better the outcomes.”
These benefits helped TestCard to win Pitch@Palace 2019 – a royal family-backed entrepreneurial competition with 80,000 applicants.
How it began
The business stems from a conversation over dinner in 2017. “Our daughters are at school together – that’s how Andrew and I met,” says co-founder Luke Heron. “At a family meal one evening, we started talking about technology and healthcare. We were both approaching 40, so we knew we’d soon be getting the standard NHS letter about PSA testing for prostate cancer, and we were chatting about the male tendency to avoid doctors. The conversation led to the idea of a simple method of home testing. That was TestCard’s genesis moment.”
It led to an unusual but highly productive partnership between a former NHS Blood Sciences Manager (Andrew) and a go-getting app entrepreneur (Luke). Combining their scientific and tech know-how, they dreamed up TestCard.
Three years later, the result is a simple, portable, postable product comprising two duplicate urine tests that work with a smartphone app. The customer scans their product’s unique QR code and follows the steps on their phone. In many ways, the app is just as important as the test. “The test and app work hand-in-hand,” says Andrew. “We realised early on that user experience is vital. It has to drive confidence – not only in the results but also in the user’s ability to produce the results. The phone app helps to achieve that, as does the familiar postcard format.”
A range of tests
TestCard’s first product – the UTI test – is scheduled to launch in June 2020 but more tests will quickly follow. Luke explains: “We’re planning to push out a new test every six to eight weeks, not just in the UK but overseas too, including India and the US. The UTI test comes first, followed by a diabetes test aimed at the Asia-Pacific region, and a drug-abuse testing kit. In the pipeline, we have tests for gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, ovulation, fertility and kidney disease. But we’re planning more – the sky is the limit.”
Indeed, Andrew and Luke are especially excited by a possible PSA test for prostate cancer and a malaria test, both of which are in development. Andrew says: “The potential is enormous. For example, we’re in early talks with people who deliver healthcare in the Amazon region. A malaria test that’s deliverable to remote areas and built on digital technology would allow us to track the disease’s epidemiology. That would be incredibly powerful.”
He adds: “Yes, we’re a commercial enterprise and we’re here to make money for our shareholders. However, the possibilities of what TestCard can deliver to global healthcare is extremely exciting. It would be a travesty if we as founders were not able to realise at least some of that potential. That’s why we’re determined to stay in control of the company.”
Since launch, Andrew and Luke have raised more than £2m of investment. They’ve opened a 1300sq-ft office in Houston, Texas, and a production facility in Scarborough, UK. Now, they’re gearing up to open a site in Mumbai. That’s all happened in just three years. The scale of what they could achieve in the long run is enormous, and we’ll be watching their progress closely.