Malmö University is investing in medical device patches set to be used in the diagnosis of inflammatory skin diseases and, potentially, in the future, skin cancer. It is being developed by Sensach AB and is currently being tested for contact allergies in a hospital environment.

The investment was made by the University’s holding company, Mau Holding; this is the second investment it has made.

We have taken a big step from pure research to creating something that will be of real benefit to patients and society.

Professor Johan Engblom

Inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis, are leading causes of human suffering today. Substances in our environment can negatively affect the skin and cause contact dermatitis. The construction industry has major problems with contact dermatitis, but there are also challenges in healthcare and in the hairdressing industry which can involve being exposed to many chemicals. The links between inflammation and cancer are also becoming increasingly clear and it is now understood that persistent inflammation can contribute to and lead to the disease.

Difficult to diagnose

Skin diseases can be difficult to diagnose; a patch test, also known as an epicutaneous test, is often used in healthcare to test for contact allergies. With this method, it takes several days before doctors can read how a patient's skin reacts to the substance. It can also be difficult to visually determine whether the eczema is irritant or allergic.

Suspected skin cancer is mainly diagnosed using biopsies, but the decision to take a biopsy test is usually postponed until visual inspection shows a high probability of the disease. The costs of taking biopsies often cannot be justified because skin inflammation and cancer affect a huge number of people. The incidence of skin cancer is increasing rapidly and today one in three cancer diagnoses is skin cancer.

Quick and easy double-acting patch

Professor Johan Engblom and his research colleagues at Malmö University have developed the medical device patch for non-invasive molecular diagnostics of inflammatory skin diseases. The patch can also easily be used to monitor disease progression and healing. The invention is based on technology that enables the patch to absorb any substance, both water- and fat-soluble molecules.

“We have developed a cost-effective, patient-friendly, and fast tool that does not require the first step in diagnosis to be a biopsy. This will increase the possibility of early diagnosis of inflammatory skin diseases, and hopefully improve the survival rate of patients with incipient skin cancer," says Engblom, one of seven founders of the newly formed company, Sensach AB.

There is a patent application now in the national phase, capital coming in and a prototype of a patch for allergy testing. It is currently being tested on patients at Skåne University Hospital in Malmö.

Long road from research to finished product

To help commercialise the research, the Innovation Office at Malmö University has provided funding for several years.

“Mau Holding sees a potential in improving the patient's situation while making the diagnosis both time and cost effective for the healthcare system. We would like to be involved in helping this product reach the market," says Charlotte Ahlgren Moritz, Chair of the Board of Mau Holding.

The investment by Mau Holding is a significant boost to the start-up:
"We have taken a big step from pure research to creating something that will be of real benefit to patients and society. In addition, we see a unique product that has the potential for a global market impact," says Engblom.