Macmillan launches new £3.5million Innovation Impact Investment Portfolio by investing in pioneering at-home neutropenic sepsis test, Neutrocheck®.

Macmillan Cancer Support, the leading UK cancer charity, has invested in Neutrocheck® – a portable device and accompanying app in development from 52 North Health – with the aim to help people with cancer test their risk of life-threatening neutropenic sepsis at home rather than having to be tested in an emergency at hospital. This could save time and reduce stress for cancer patients as well as reduce pressure on the NHS.

  • Neutrocheck® is being developed to check a cancer patient’s risk of the life-threatening condition neutropenic sepsis through an at-home blood fingerpick test.
  • If the device is found to be effective, those at risk can know when to seek urgent medical attention
  • Those not at risk may be able to avoid unnecessary visits to A&E – research suggests two in five of these visits could be ‘false alarms’ for sepsis[i].
  • It may also reduce the strain on the NHS – analysis commissioned by Neutrocheck® suggests it could save the NHS tens of millions of pounds.
  • The investment is the first in Macmillan’s history – the new portfolio will invest over the next two years in start-up businesses developing ground-breaking cancer care products and technology.

Neutropenic sepsis is a serious reaction to an infection that affects the whole body, with possible signs including flu-like symptoms, such as a fever or low temperature, which are easy to dismiss. However, even a mild illness can become fatal, with one study suggesting that, for every hour a person has neutropenic sepsis before starting treatment, chances of survival can reduce by more than 7%[ii]. It can occur in people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy who may have suppressed immune systems and, due to the risks, the vast majority of those who feel unwell are currently sent directly to A&E. 

Once a person arrives at A&E, they are given appropriate antibiotics as a precaution and undergo a full blood test. However, one study suggests that two in five of these visits could be ‘false alarms’ when it comes to sepsis[iii]. This can be:

  • Stressful, unsettling and disruptive for people with cancer
  • Financially costly if a person has to skip work, arrange childcare or incur unexpected costs to get to and from hospital, which could have a greater impact on people from less-privileged socio-economic backgrounds
  • Time and resource consuming for healthcare professionals, who work tirelessly to provide vital care but are already stretched to breaking point due to chronic staff shortages and an enormous backlog of patients.

Having on-the-go access to Neutrocheck® could mean people with cancer could take informed and immediate steps to seek care and be prioritised in hospital by healthcare professionals. Those not at risk could potentially avoid unnecessary travel and hospital visits and have better peace of mind. It could also free up much-needed time and resource in the NHS.

Macmillan’s £100,000 investment in Neutrocheck® is the first for the charity’s new Innovation Impact Investment Portfolio. By investing in this way, Macmillan hopes to play a critical role in developing new ways to transform the lives of people with cancer, and inspire other organisations and investors to support innovation in cancer care.

Neutrocheck® is being developed by 52 North Health, a transformative health technology company based in Cambridge. It is currently going through rigorous clinical testing as well as being shaped with insight from Macmillan’s Innovation Community – a diverse group of people with lived experience of cancer – as well as doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, patients and carers. Following a clinical validation study to be conducted in NHS hospitals, the device is expected to be available in 2024 to people with cancer through their healthcare providers.

Jenni Elbourne, 37 from London, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in 2019. She has been a Macmillan Innovation Community member since 2022. She said: “Neutrocheck® would have made a huge difference to me during my cancer treatment and recovery. Catching an infection was a constant worry as this could be life-threatening if I was neutropenic; any sign of a fever would mean a trip to A&E. I had multiple infections during my chemotherapy which required urgent treatment. A device like this would have saved me a lot of anxiety as well as precious NHS time and resources that were used when I ended up having IV antibiotics that were later shown to be unnecessary.

“So much of the patient experience is about waiting for test results. To have a device that you can use at home which instantly tells you information about what’s going on in your body, so you know when to seek medical help, feels fantastically empowering.”

Dr Richard Simcock, Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support said: “Infection during chemotherapy is one of the most feared complications of the treatment. It needs to be managed quickly. Rapid access to blood results should mean safer care for people with compromised immunity and less distress for people with normal results. If proven, the Neutrocheck® technology would help give confidence to people living with cancer and should hopefully reduce workload for busy emergency departments.”

Tanya Humphreys, Head of Innovation Partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support said: “At Macmillan, we know we can and should have an important role in responding to anticipated advances in cancer care. Through impact investment, we can use over a century of experience in improving the lives of people with cancer to drive innovation in this space. We are really excited to have 52 North Health as our first investee in the Innovation Impact Investment Portfolio and are looking forward to seeing what difference we can make to the lives of people with cancer through our work together.”

Umaima Ahmad, CEO of 52 North Health, said: “Macmillan’s organisational values strongly resonate with us at 52 North, and we’ve been working together for over a year, ensuring that people living with cancer are directly involved in product development for Neutrocheck®. We are delighted to be Macmillan’s first ever venture investment in its 112-year history. Neutrocheck® is a game-changer and has the potential to significantly improve both safety and quality of life for people living with cancer, and we are delighted to receive this recognition from one of the UK’s largest charities, in order to drive better cancer care together.”

Dr Fiona Pathiraja, Managing Partner of Crista Galli Ventures and investor in 52 North Health, said: “Funding and innovation in oncology often focuses at the level of the cell. 52 North are disrupting cancer technology by innovating at the level of the patient. 52 North’s Neutrocheck® device aims to reduce the number of patients admitted to hospital with life-threatening neutropenic sepsis. As a physician investor, I see the far reaching, real-life value of their technology. We at Crista Galli Ventures are proud to support 52 North and are thrilled that Macmillan Cancer Support are coming on board as an investor.”

[i] Morelli-Batters M, Mohammed S, Brown S et al. Neutrophil level alongside other clinical features can help predict clinical outcome in cancer patients presenting with suspected neutropenic sepsis. Peer-reviewed data presented at the Society for Acute Medicine Conference, November 2022. A study of around 630 patients presenting to Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found that 39% of patients with suspected neutropenic sepsis were either not admitted or discharged within 24 hours from the hospital, signifying a potential ‘false alarm’ when it comes to sepsis. Indeed only 25% of patients presenting to the hospital had low levels of neutrophils consistent with neutropenia (<1 million cells/ml). According to personal correspondence from representatives of the research team, the findings are likely to be applicable to other hospitals trusts 

[ii] Kumar A, Roberts D, Wood KE, et al. Duration of hypotension before initiation of effective antimicrobial therapy is the critical determinant of survival in human septic shock. Crit Care Med. 2006;34:1589–1596. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

[iii] As per ref i

Published by Lucy Dentice

Deputy Programme Manager for the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme.