Cheap, easy, portable: The future of cancer diagnosis?

One of the greatest fears among patients is that a serious condition such as cancer is not picked up until it's too late.

If life-threatening diseases could be tested simply, quickly and cheaply - without invasive procedures and weeks of waiting - the benefits for healthcare providers would be substantial. Plus patients would welcome the increased peace of mind an early diagnosis would bring.

The financial impact of missing an early diagnosis is also significant. Finding cancer early in the U.K. could save the country's National Health Service around £210 million ($336 million) a year in treatment costs, according to research published by Incisive Heath and Cancer Research UK in September.

One company aiming to solve this issue is Miroculus, a start-up which has created technology it says can detect multiple of cancers with a standard blood test that can be used in a GP's surgery – or even someone's home.

Miroculus's Miriam device
Miroculus
Miroculus's Miriam device

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"It will change the perception of what cancer means. Today it means very bad news, but if we start detecting cancer early, there will be a better chance of survival and less suffering for both patients and families," Miroculus co-founder and CTO Jorge Soto told CNBC at the Web Summit tech conference in Dublin.

Miroculus' platform works by detecting microRNAs - a type of molecule which can be used to identify illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and even Alzheimer's - from a blood sample using technology and biochemistry usually reserved for high-tech laboratories.

"At the moment this requires very specialised machines the size of my kitchen. They're very expensive and require highly-trained technicians to operate and to analyse the data," Soto added.

Miroculus' platform is designed to be portable, connect to a smartphone and be used outside of the hospital. The company insists the technology – which is undergoing clinical tests in hospitals at the moment - could be ready within five years. Emerging markets – with a severe lack of diagnosis labs – are a key target market for Miroculus.

 Biotech's wild ride
Biotech's wild ride   

'Different to a pregnancy test'

The company is not so keen to sell to the general public so they can test themselves at home, despite the platform's small size and cost (the device – called Miriam – is expected to be free, with each test costing between $100-$150).

"Getting diagnosed with cancer is very different to a pregnancy test," Soto said. "Your doctor needs to give you guidance. Instead, I see our platform as a key resource for doctors."

Not everyone is convinced that this simple form of diagnosis is so close, however. Brad Weinberg, investor and founding partner of heathtech accelerator Blueprint Health, admits he is "a bit skeptical" about the company.

"There are lots of buzzwords and not much substance right now," he told CNBC.

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Miroculus hasn't published details of its technology and biochemistry for IP and fundraising reasons, according to Soto. To date, it has been funded solely by the three founders and grants.

Dr Weinberg also highlighted some stumbling blocks in the road for start-ups like Miroculus looking to disrupt diagnosis

"This is a pretty entrenched industry - there's going to be a really long adopter curve," he said. "Plus, the major industry players make billions of dollars with the way the system is right now. They're not going to let it change that quickly."

But he added: "Then again, if there's a way to do tests at the same cost or cheaper, with less pain for stress for patients, there's a big opportunity there."

- By CNBC's Katrina Bishop in Dublin