Justin Wiseman, CEO of MS Pen, has a long history with VisionTech Angels. While CEO and president of Prosolia, a Purdue startup that developed molecular imaging tools, he pitched the company to StepStone Partners, our group’s previous brand. Though we didn’t invest, he led Prosolia to a successful exit to Waters Corporation in 2018. Elevate Ventures suggested VisionTech take a look at his new venture, MS Pen, which seeks to diagnose tumors intraoperatively—in real time, during surgery. If successful, this technology has the potential to improve cancer survival rates and reduce healthcare costs. I liked MS Pen’s vision and pedigree, so I invited Justin to a VisionTech Angels Screening Committee. The group was impressed with the company’s vision to radically transform tissue diagnostics starting with lung cancer and invited him to present at our September 6 pitch events. Here’s a preview.
BP: Tell me a little about yourself.
JW: I was born and raised in Indianapolis, went to Southport High School, worked at Lilly, before earning a PhD in Analytical Chemistry at Purdue University. During graduate school, I developed some technology that was spun out as a startup company, Prosolia. After seven years as president and CEO, the company had a positive exit to Waters, a tech company and leading provider of lab equipment, supplies, and software for scientists across the world.
In 2022, I was approached by the founders of MS Pen to help them scale the company. What’s interesting is the inventor of the mass spectrometry pen technology, which is the basis of MS Pen, is Dr. Livia Eberlin, who was a graduate student at Purdue. We had the same academic advisor and worked with some of the same people while in graduate school at Purdue. After meeting the team and reviewing the technology and vision to make molecular data on tissue samples available in real time during surgery to optimize treatment options for patients and improve survival rates, I was in.
BP: Explain the problem you are solving.
JW: This will sound crazy, but modern cancer surgery still relies on a legacy, 117-year-old method to assess tumor margins during surgery. Here’s how it works. Surgeons remove suspected tissue from the patient, with the goal of complete removal of the tumor while preserving the surrounding margin of healthy tissue. A sample of the margin is sent to the laboratory where it’s frozen, cut, stained, and looked at under a microscope by a pathologist. At a minimum, it takes 30 to 45 minutes for the lab to process the sample while the patient is still in surgery. After that long wait, the results are still somewhat inconclusive. The extra time that the patient is in the operating room is unnecessary and increases the risk of post-operative complications. The biggest reason we need a precision medicine approach is locoregional cancer recurrence can be as high as 40%. This is not comforting for patients.
BP: Explain your offering and how it works.
JW: MS Pen is developing a platform for tissue detection and diagnosis that combines the simplicity of our proprietary MasSpec Pen technology, the performance of mass spectrometry, and the power of AI/ML software. Our solution exploits the fundamentals of tumor biology to detect cancer on a molecular level in vivo to guide surgical decision making in real-time. Our initial focus is lung cancer, a deadly disease that claims more lives in the US and TX than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, and where curative resection is highly dependent on intraoperative decision making. Using a hand-held device called the MasSpec Pen, a droplet of biocompatible solution is delivered to the tissue site. Diagnostic molecules are extracted from the tissue into the droplet. The droplet with the diagnostic molecules is delivered to the mass spectrometer for real-time analysis. The surgeon gets the results in seconds rather than hours or days. This allows the surgeon to make decisions based on the molecular patterns driving the disease rather than relying on what they see or feel in a patient and without waiting on the lab to get results back.
There are three main components of our solution: the MasSpec™ Pen, which can be handheld or robotic; the transportable medical mass spectrometry system console we call Ultiss™ that the pen is connected to; and the software powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms interpreting the data from the sample. The platform is easy to use, and is a faster, less intrusive and more accurate process.
BP: Why did you choose lung cancer as your first indication?
JW: The platform is tissue agnostic, so we could have chosen any number of cancers including breast or pancreatic but decided on lung cancer as our first indication. Looking at the numbers, more Americans die of lung cancer each year—127,070—which is three times that of the second deadliest cancer, colorectal. Another factor is surgery is the number one treatment for lung cancer and there’s a more than 50% recurrence rate. We believe there’s lots of room for improvement in the first surgery if using the MS Pen platform when margins can be checked and validated with a high degree of accuracy.
Globally, the intraoperative lung cancer detection serviceable market is $2.1 billion, total addressable market is $6 billion.
BP: What are your competitive advantages?
JW: Our fundamental competitive advantages are these. First, traditional methods involve taking a tissue sample and sending it to the lab during or post-surgery and don’t permit in vivo analysis of tissue prior to or during resection—taking a tissue sample while the patient is still undergoing surgery. MS Pen does not require a tissue sample and results are available at the point of care immediately.
The analysis done by MS pen is non-destructive to the tissue of interest or any surrounding tissue. No injectable products are required for our test. Finally, using the MS Pen platform during surgery does not disrupt traditional surgical workflows. The device is wheeled in and out of the operating room. The pen is handed to the surgeon just like any other instrument. It’s disposable so once used, you’re done.
BP: What is your path to commercialization?
JW: The good news is that the MS Pen and platform are already being used in research by the Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. To date, more than 20 surgeons have used the system with more than 200 patients. We’ve had more than 250 inquiries from around the world over the last 15 months. This includes Stanford Medical, the Mayo Clinic, Yale School of Medicine, Kings College London, and University of Bern in Switzerland to name a few.
To leverage this early traction, we’re launching a plug-and-play interface platform called Uniss™ for direct molecular analysis targeting clinical research in early 2024. The follow up is under development, an advanced data analytic and machine learning software to convert the complex metabolic data into actionable results. By 2006, we plan to launch the Ultiss™, an integrated platform that combines our MasSpec pen, a compact mass spectrometer and machine learning decision support software.
BP: Do you have IP protection?
JW: Our IP protection is very broad on the device and how it works. We currently have six patents with more than 50 patents pending. Six or seven of those should be issued by the end of August.
BP: Any competitors?
JW: Obviously, we aren’t the only ones who realize traditional pathology isn’t cutting it for surgeons and patients. We have at least four competitors trying to solve this issue, but none have the breadth of feature sets than MS Pen does. With our growing presence in clinical research with top medical and cancer centers, we believe we are ahead of the competition.
BP: What round is this?
JW: This is a seed round. Our goal is to raise up to $5 million in non-dilutive capital over the next 12 to 18 months.
BP: What is your planned use of funds?
JW: We’ve proven the tech in research, and now it’s time to develop the platform that will scale. We’ve allocated 50% of the raise to platform development. This also includes supporting our channel partners. Then, 20% will go to talent and operations; 15% to quality and regulatory, which includes finalizing our regulatory plans for our first indication and reimbursement strategy; and another 15% to marketing and other expenses.
BP: This is a platform technology. What other applications do you foresee?
JW: There are a number of uses beyond cancer for our MasSpec pen system: agriculture, food authentication, forensics, clinical toxicology, and manufacturing QA/QC are just a few. The platform applies to industries needing rapid identification of a substance at the molecular level to inform real-time decision making.
BP: Give me three reasons why VisionTech Angels members should invest.
JW: First, this is a disruptive technology change for surgical oncology that will solve a large problem in healthcare: reducing cancer recurrence with in vivo tissue diagnostic and thus improve patient outcomes. Second, we have a path to market that is non-regulatory, selling the technology for research purposes. Finally, MS Pen has an outstanding leadership team and board that knows how to bring technology to market. This includes known innovation and commercialization-minded physicians and PhDs. I point to my co-founder, creator of our platform and now CTO of MS Pen, Livia Eberlin, a MacArthur fellow, Genius grant recipient and Forbes 30 under 30 in Medicine; and to board member Thomas Milner, a prolific innovator who has founded two medtech companies and licensed technology to six others.
BP: Looking forward to your pitch on Wednesday, September 6!
VisionTech Angels’ Pitch Events will be held Wednesday, September 6. The Noon Session is virtual. The Evening Session at 5:30 pm ET is your choice of in-person with dinner at KSM at 800 E 96th St #500, Indianapolis, or virtual, which starts at 6 pm ET. Pitch events are open to our members and accredited investors interested in joining our group. To register, check your email for an invitation, go to our Events page where you’ll find the RSVP links. You can also email Ben Pidgeon at firstname.lastname@example.org.