The Successful Business Pivot

Local biotech company T-Ray Science pivots to partner with a cancer agency and tackle world's most common cancer.

Skin Cancer Technology | BCBusiness
Biotech company T-Ray Science switched partners to better position its product – a skin cancer detector.

Local biotech company T-Ray Science pivots to partner with a cancer agency and tackle world’s most common cancer.

When a smart company realizes its product development plan isn’t working, it will “pivot” to apply the same technology to a product more suited to what the market wants. Pivoting is common in the tech world, where a fledgling company can be focused on its technology, at the expense of its market applications. One Vancouver company successfully pivoted in the tough medical technology space, and now it’s ready with a product that will take on the world’s most common cancer.

The Problem

In 2006, a company called T-Ray Science Inc. formed to develop spectrometer platform technologies – similar to CAT scans or ultrasounds – to easily and quickly detect cancers. T-Ray’s plan was to make devices that could use high-wavelength imaging to detect skin cancers, the world’s most common cancer. At that point, skin-cancer detection involved a laborious and expensive testing process that could take months or years. But T-Ray didn’t have the resources to perform lengthy clinical trials to test the technology.

The Solution

Clinical trials are lengthy and convoluted. A company needs deep pockets and a connection to strong medical expertise to survive the process and bring a product to market. T-Ray founder Thomas Braun linked with a team at the University of Waterloo to develop the imaging technology; its focus, however, was on developing the technology, not taking it through clinical trials. 

Meanwhile, a team at the B.C. Cancer Agency was working on the same problem, but from a medical point of view, working on identifying skin cancer markers through rigorous imaging and analysis. 

Although the two groups were familiar with each other’s work, the agency was deep into clinical trials and wasn’t ready to partner with a private company to distribute its results. 

For three years, T-Ray developed its technology, filing seven patents along the way. Then the B.C. Cancer Agency felt it had proved its concept and began looking for a partner to commercialize it. Familiar with T-Ray, the agency agreed in 2010 to allow it to license its methodology. 

Braun had his pivot. Recognizing that the agency’s approach was better than his, he struck a deal with the agency, and changed his company’s name to Verisante Technology Inc. The Verisante Aura, an easy-to-use device that provides rapid analysis and identification of skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cancer, was born.

Braun knew the market and avoided the usual route of trying to get the Verisante Aura approved for use in the competitive U.S. market. Canada’s approval process is similar to those in Europe and Australia, which has the highest skin cancer rate in the world, so approval here would pave the route to approval in three markets. 

The Canadian approval came in October and approval in Europe followed in November. This “CE” mark gives it access to a market of over 21,000 dermatologists and 500 million people.


Address an unmet need.
When T-Ray and the Cancer Agency partnered, they filled a desperate need for an easier, cheaper way to detect cancers. 

Be ready to “divorce.”
Verisante quickly realized its future lay with the B.C. Cancer Agency’s technology, rather than with the University of Waterloo.

• Be a willing partner.
Pivoting might mean accepting that your own way may not be the right way.