Neil, could you introduce yourself and share the story behind how you founded Skin Analytics?
Neil Daly: I am originally from Western Australia, a place well-known for its intense sun exposure and the health risks that accompany it.
You could say skin cancer is our national cancer in Australia.
From a very young age, I was taught the importance of diligent sun protection. I still remember not being allowed out to play at lunch in primary school because I didn’t have a hat.
Fast forward a few years and my professional path included extensive roles in mobile innovation and strategy consulting.
I also earned a BSc in Physics from the University of Western Australia and later pursued an Executive MBA from London Business School.
It was during that time that I was involved in a project looking at continuous diabetic monitoring. It was my first exposure to healthcare and I was hooked.
There were doctors, patients, medical device manufacturers, payers and regulatory bodies who all had a different view of what healthcare should look like.
In that chaos, it felt like there were so many limitations within the healthcare system and I was caught most by the delays in accessing medical care and the subsequent implications on patient outcomes.
With my background in physics and maths, I had the tools to see the emergence of AI technology (computer vision back then).
I immediately thought of skin cancer, how it was visually diagnosed and how this technology could revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment.
Driven by a belief that I could build something to be proud of, I founded Skin Analytics in 2012.
For those unfamiliar with Skin Analytics, could you describe the company’s core mission and how it aims to contribute to the healthcare sector?
Neil Daly: Skin Analytics is dedicated to early and accurate diagnosis of skin cancer, arguably the most common form of the disease globally.
Our core mission is to equip the healthcare system, particularly the NHS, with the tools they need to make timely diagnoses and referrals in a sustainable way.
That last part is important as healthcare costs are constantly rising and our mission is to improve care but also to reduce the cost burden of skin cancer so that money can be reinvested into care.
We’ve developed DERM, an AI as a Medical Device technology that analyses dermatoscopic images to identify potential skin cancers.
By integrating into existing patient pathways, we aim to speed up diagnoses and save lives, while also reducing the burden on healthcare resources.
Can you tell us about the current state of skin cancer rates in the UK and how they are projected to change in the next two decades?
Neil Daly: According to Cancer Research UK, skin cancer rates are expected to rise by 50 per cent over the next 20 years.
With 17,500 new diagnoses each year, this crisis isn’t going away.
The impact is particularly noticeable among the over 55s, largely fueled by the 1960s package holiday boom.
With an increase in package holidays, global temperatures, and an ageing population, we can expect to see a further surge in the cases of skin cancer.
Can you explain how the current healthcare system may be ill-equipped to deal with this looming crisis?
Neil Daly: The NHS is the cornerstone to UK public health but faces a severe workforce shortage, notably in dermatology, where 24 per cent of consultant roles are vacant, creating critical bottlenecks.
This then extends and impacts waiting times for urgent skin cancer diagnoses and treatments.
NHS data indicates that over 10 per cent of urgent skin cancer referrals wait more than four weeks for an initial assessment.
It’s these delays that significantly affect prognosis, potentially reducing the five-year survival rate by 20 per cent.
Given the rising incidences of skin cancer, the NHS is grappling with increasing demands on its already limited resources.
These prevailing conditions highlight the urgent necessity for innovative, effective solutions to alleviate the growing strain on the healthcare system, allowing for prompt, decisive interventions for those facing skin cancer risks.
Addressing these critical gaps and bolstering the NHS’s ability to meet escalating dermatological needs is paramount for ensuring early detection and treatment, ultimately improving patient outcomes.
What does the new Faster Diagnosis Standard (FDS) proposal by NHS England entail, and why might it fall short without additional interventions?
Neil Daly: The FDS aims to provide a diagnosis or all-clear to suspected skin cancer patients within four weeks.
It’s a great initiative as we know that generally, the earlier you find cancer, the better the outcome.
However, the FDS is ambitious as it doesn’t account for current staff shortages and rising skin cancer rates.
To be successful in meeting this important metric, we need transformative shifts in how cancer pathways are deployed to meet these targets effectively.
Your technology, DERM, has gained support from various NHS initiatives. Could you describe how DERM can alleviate some of the existing pressure on the NHS?
Neil Daly: DERM uses advanced AI technology to support clinicians in evaluating skin lesions for cancer.
The technology is currently used to triage urgent skin cancer referrals from GPs into specialists.
DERM helps to ensure patients with serious conditions are prioritised and expedited for face-to-face consultations with a dermatologist.
Put another way, DERM effectively makes the haystack smaller so clinicians can find the needle in it.
Along the way DERM reduces the number of appointments required to find a cancer which not only saves valuable time but also optimises the utilisation of medical resources, ensuring patients receive appropriate care promptly.
For example, one of our partners was able to reduce their average urgent referral wait from 14 down to 3 days.
By refining the initial stages of the diagnostic process, DERM ensures that patients with the most critical needs are identified and addressed promptly, optimising patient care pathways and outcomes in dermatology.
There’s a concern that AI technologies may replace human expertise. How do you see DERM fitting into the existing healthcare system?
Neil Daly: History has shown time and again that new technologies allow an expansion of focus on higher value tasks.
Dermatology is a significant component of healthcare and there is simply far more demand for dermatologists than we have of them.
Using DERM, we free up more time for clinicians to spend with cancer patients or with other patients who need their clinical expertise, such as psoriasis or eczema patients.
This latter group of patients often have long wait times for care because of the large demand for skin cancer assessments, many of which are for people who are completely healthy.
Using DERM not only maximises the utilisation of specialist knowledge but also enhances the overall efficiency and responsiveness of the healthcare system, enabling it to deliver more targeted and timely care to those who need it.
And finally, given the societal and climate factors driving an increase in skin cancer rates, what public health measures do you think should accompany technological solutions like DERM?
Neil Daly: Alongside technological solutions, we need robust public awareness campaigns about the risks of UV exposure and the importance of regular skin checks.
Sunbeds and increased sun exposure without the right protection is dangerous and potentially life threatening.
Schools, workplaces, and healthcare providers should play a proactive role in educating the public on preventive measures, like using sunscreen daily regardless of the season and avoiding excessive sun exposure, but also getting your moles checked if you suspect any significant changes.