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Startup Stories: ReCore Medical Creates a Cheaper Biopsy

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In this series, we talk to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.

Venture: ReCore Medical was created to address the growing need for cancer diagnosis around the world by creating reusable biopsy devices that reduce cost and increase global access to procedures that are the gateway to timely cancer treatment. ReCore Medical won the Rothberg Catalyzer Prize at Startup Yale 2021.

Team: David Dupee ’21, a joint-degree graduate of the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Medicine; Marley Windham-Herman ’21, a joint-degree graduate of the Yale SOM and the Yale School of Medicine; Lina Kacyem ’21; and Walter Bircher, a PhD student in engineering and applied science.

What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?

In 2018, Marley was working with Road2IR, a group of physicians, nurses, and volunteers between Yale and Muhimbili Hospital, Tanzania. The group was successful in starting an interventional radiology (IR) residency training program in Tanzania, the first of its kind in the country. IR is a field of minimally invasive surgeries, guided by X-ray or ultrasound, where a physician can take biopsies, insert drains, place stents, remove clots, and more, all without making any large incisions. It is an essential service in developed healthcare systems, but in East Africa, many of these procedures were performed for the first time ever by Road2IR physicians. Marley saw the difficulty they had in sourcing specialty equipment such as medical devices, due to high costs but also due to logistics and lack of supply lines. As interventional radiology continues to develop around the world, these access barriers will only become more impactful. Working with the Tanzanian physicians to identify biopsies as the fundamental procedure most directly impacted by lack of access, the value of a reusable, low-cost biopsy device became evident. As the idea began to come together to make this new biopsy device, physicians from around the world, including in the U.S. and Canada, began to express their interest as well. This broad appeal, as well as the potential to increase access to cancer diagnosis in a sustainable way, is what motivated the ReCore founding team.

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?

From a big-picture perspective, there is a lack of access to medical devices, a major reason being that devices have been manufactured for developed markets to be sold at premium prices, with little pressure on innovation to increase affordability or accessibility. At ReCore, we are using the practice of frugal innovation to deliver novel medical devices that are simpler, more locally manufacturable, and of higher value. Our first program is creating a low-cost, reusable biopsy system, with the goal of increasing access for millions of people without access to cancer diagnosis.

Globally, 10 million people will get solid tumor cancers next year. However, 34% will not have the opportunity for treatment because they can’t get an initial diagnosis. This is especially tragic because an early diagnosis is the number-one predictor of survival. Over the next two decades, cancer rates will more than double in some regions. Unfortunately, these are the same regions with the least access to cancer diagnosis tools. For the three to four million people per year without access to biopsy, we have designed a reusable biopsy system that is both affordable and appropriate for populations around the world.

Historically, surgery was done to sample only the most suspicious tumors, but that is highly invasive and risky. Nowadays, core-needle biopsy is the preferred method for solid tumor diagnosis, but current devices are inadequate for emerging needs. Current devices come in two styles: single-use disposable and reusable. Disposable devices are significantly more costly over time, about $70 per biopsy. Meanwhile, metal reusables have prohibitive upfront costs, up to $2,500, and complex warranty and repair logistics that require infrastructure often absent in resource-constrained regions. Unlike incumbents, ReCore is focused on innovations that increase access and grow overall market size. Our reusable system has low upfront costs, eliminates the need for servicing and repairs, and has the lowest per-procedure prices on the market.

What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?

SOM has been an instrumental resource for ReCore. Beyond connecting us with prizes and awards (specifically the Fuad El-Hibri '82 Entrepreneurial Award and the Henry F. McCance Entrepreneurial Award) that were essential in funding our early work, the most significant thing that SOM contributed was our founding team! Three of us are SOM students, and our fourth founder got connected to us through another SOM classmate, so our team really was born out of the SOM ecosystem. Individually, we have also engaged in opportunities around SOM, such as positions at Tsai CITY and in various student clubs, which have helped prepare us for entrepreneurship.

What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit since graduation?

The biggest milestone was probably winning the BioScience Pipeline grant, funded by Connecticut Innovations. Previous winners of this grant include a number of amazing companies that went on to do great things, as we believe ReCore will. This $30,000 award was a major milestone for us because it represented the culmination of numerous parallel development milestones coming together. We had taken ReCore from concept into reality, raising funds from numerous other grants, creating a fully functional prototype that showed a proof of concept, and assembling an amazing team of students to execute on our vision.