Guest blogging from a careful and experienced MoleMap investor, Mr. George Murphy
MoleMap in New Zealand, the joint venture partner of MoleSafe USA, first came to my attention in 2002. A colleague of mine and a limited partner in the Taraval Funds, Kenneth J. Kirkpatrick Ph.D., came across the MoleMap business plan, which had placed highly in a nationally promoted business plan contest in New Zealand. This is the story of how I came to be not only an investor, but also a user of MoleMap, ultimately fully exercising the process from screening to diagnosis to surgical excision of a suspicious lesion.
I made my first trip to New Zealand in 1969, and have been back many times since. When the first of the Taraval Funds was raised, we resolved to make an investment in New Zealand. One of our first initiatives in the US was to conceive of and start up, Overread Corporation, a company that transmitted the first digital medical images over the Internet for remote diagnosis. That venture failed, but gave us some useful insight into the MoleMap business when it came our way. In addition to understanding what the MoleMap founders were trying to achieve technically and appreciating beforehand the medical need that MoleMap could fill, we also had an appreciation for melanoma the disease.
Melanoma – A Problem Around the World
Some readers might ask why we feel so strongly about the MoleMap/MoleSafe opportunity in melanoma diagnostic screening – because skin cancer is a treatable disease if diagnosed early. Melanoma, in particular, is an aggressive and often fatal skin cancer with increasing incidence worldwide. The National Cancer Institute says skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and melanoma its most deadly form, accounting for 4% of all diagnosed skin cancers. Melanoma, which usually begins in cutaneous melanocytes – the cells that produce the pigment melanin – is more likely to spread to other body parts, i.e., metastatic melanoma. In 2008 in the United States, an estimated 68,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma and 8,420 of those died. The percentage of people in the United States who develop melanoma has more than doubled in the last 30 years. When detected early, melanoma can be successfully treated with surgery; however, more advanced disease has limited treatment options with a poor prognosis. Treatment of patients with melanoma in the United States costs about $1.5 billion annually, according to the NCI.
MoleMap Starts Down Under
While a big problem in the US, it is actually worse Down Under – the incidence of melanoma is highest in Australia and New Zealand. So, not surprisingly, a group of New Zealand dermatologists started MoleMap in 1997 to provide a cost-effective melanoma screening program using the latest imaging technology combined with the expertise of dermatologists. The founders were compelled to start the company after observing that, despite continuing educational programs promoting sun protection, the number of deaths from melanoma each year was increasing.
MoleMap is now screening tens of thousands of patients each year in Australia and New Zealand. MoleMap scans and archives images of suspected moles using high-resolution digital imaging, allowing dermatologists to compare moles over time and detect subtle changes that can suggest developing melanoma. It combines the expertise of dermatologists with the power of digital scanning technology and computers. MoleMap is generating revenue through multiple centers operating in New Zealand and Australia; and now began an aggressive expansion into the United States (under the trade name, MoleSafe).
MoleSafe is a joint venture between MoleMap New Zealand and CareStation, a New Jersey-based group practice. The first MoleSafe clinic is operating in Milburn New Jersey, on a train commuter line from New York City. In addition to seeing local and some patients from across the country, it is a laboratory in which procedures can be established, advertising and promotion tested, and standard protocols developed. A second clinic has been established in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Others are planned for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and elsewhere around the country. A special advisory relationship is being struck with the dermatology department at New York University on Manhattan, which is generally recognized as the leading US center of academic excellence in melanoma.
Investing in a Solution
Upon making our first investment in 2002, my former partner, Bob Balch, took a board seat on the MoleMap board of directors. The Taraval Funds have made additional investments since. In recent years, Ken Kirkpatrick has represented the Taraval Funds on the MoleMap board, because he is resident in New Zealand and can more closely monitor our investment. Bob, Ken and I are all clients of MoleMap. Early on, I had my MoleMaps during my annual trips to New Zealand, but in May of this year, I underwent my annual MoleMap at a special clinic held by MoleSafe for a week in conjunction with a California Presbyterian Medical Center-affiliated dermatologist in San Francisco. A melanographer from MoleSafe headquarters in New Jersey conducted my examination. We re-imaged a lesion that had been noted in the past, one that had become increasingly itchy over the past year or so. Copies of the report were delivered to me and my dermatologist, Dale Pearlman MD. The report flagged a suspicious lesion that turned out to be the itchy one! My dermatologist biopsied it; the pathologist diagnosed it as a Basal Cell Carcinoma that I will have surgically removed later this year. In a very personal way, I have now fully exercised the MoleMap process.
There is a history of skin cancer in my family. My father, a career seaman sailing long before sunscreen was invented, had numerous skin cancers throughout his life, especially in his later years. I’m sure that if he had not died of metastatic prostate cancer, one of his skin cancers would have taken him. I advise all my siblings and friends to undertake skin cancer screening when it is available to them.
Finally, I have submitted the paperwork to my health insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross, for reimbursement. While the screening is not generally reimbursable, I am pressing the matter with them. Perhaps I’ll make another entry to this blog with the outcome of my attempt to get my MoleSafe screen reimbursed.
George Murphy has extensive experience in the management of early-stage ventures and in technology transfer, both as a founder and manager of technology-driven companies and as a technology licensing professional. As the founding general manager of EndoTherapeutics and EP Technologies, he established a successful track record in commercialization of innovative medical devices. He has since helped start several biotechnology companies, including AviGenics, ProLinia, and Stem Cell Sciences Pty Ltd. (Melbourne, Australia), and other new ventures in the medical, environmental, and electronics industries. He is an investor for in Â Â MoleMap, the joint venture partner of MoleSafe.
Mr. Murphy has more than 30 years of technical and business experience. He holds a BSc in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from Stanford University.