Berlin-based startup Vara has raised €4.5 million as it scales up its mission to make data-driven breast cancer screening accessible to everyone, everywhere. The purpose-driven startup works with local clinics to give women access to life-saving treatment and makes screening more effective with its AI approach.
Breast cancer is currently the cause of over 700k deaths each year, with about 70% of these occurring in low and middle-income countries. It’s in part due to the inability to diagnose cancer early, which is the result of a lack of technology, investment in health and specialized screening radiologists. Even in Europe, where in most countries annual screening is standard practice, too many women aren’t being diagnosed early enough and early diagnosis is crucial to survival.
Vara, a Berlin-based startup, is on a mission to improve breast cancer screening, giving women around the world better access to it and making the screening process itself more efficient and optimized. The startup, founded in 2018, has now received new funding to help fuel this mission.
Today, Vara has announced the rise of an additional €4.5 million, bringing its total Series A funding to €11 million. The investment was led by VI Partners and included impact investor, EQT Foundation, as well as the family office behind one of Germany’s largest radiology provider groups, Med360, which particularly invested after seeing the impact Vara had on its own workflows.
Its latest investors join OMERS Ventures, Merantix, Think.Health, Soleria Capital and Plug and Play in backing the cancer screening company and the funding will be used to build on Vara’s momentum to improve breast cancer screening as well the completion of a wide-scale clinical trial.
It follows quite an impressive year for the impact-driven team, who we interviewed in the summer, as they expanded into international markets, published multiple peer-reviewed papers and launched the largest real-world clinical breast cancer screening trial of its kind.
Jonas Muff, co-founder of Vara: “Today’s funding announcement, in which we welcome such esteemed investors in the healthtech, radiology and impact-focused sectors to Vara, speaks to both the success we’ve seen in recent months, as well as to our ambition. We’re on a mission to make data-driven breast cancer screening accessible to everyone, everywhere and catch every deadly cancer early and this funding extension helps make this mission a reality.”
Enhancing access to breast cancer screening
The Berlin deep tech innovators take a community approach to enhancing screening -and it’s working. Vara partners with local screening clinics to give screenings to the estimated one billion women who don’t otherwise have access to Government screening programmes or expensive private screening.
By leveraging an AI software platform, Vara empowers its partners to screen more women, making more efficient use of the scanning technology. Its decision referral approach leverages the strengths of the radiologists with its AI to prevent as many as 42% of missed cancers and reduce as much as 73% of the work of radiologists.
Currently, more than 80,000 mammography examinations per month are assessed through Vara, and 30% of all screening centres in Germany work with Vara. Through this integration, Vara has access to more than 10 years of clinical and pathological follow-up data from 9 million+ mammograms.
This year alone, the startup has actually tripled the number of mammograms performed through the platform – reflecting just how much a product like this has been needed and the immense impact it is having.
Vara now also powers 5 screening centres across Mexico in partnership with Mamotest, a breast cancer screening provider with an innovative high-quality diagnosis and patient support digital solution. As well as having a partnership with MITERA, the largest Private Hospital in Greece, with the aim of increasing access to breast screening for women across the region. Large employers, such as the automobile company JAC or Latin American food company GAT are purchasing screenings offered by Mamotest and Vara, as are large NGO organizations such as ProMujer. During October, breast cancer awareness month, Mamotest and Vara are an important anchor of a nationwide breast cancer awareness campaign in Mexico.
Taking an international focus is at the core of Vara’s existence. It’s all about closing the gap in access to these crucial screenings and giving more women a fighting chance against breast cancer.
Madeleine Magnerius, Director within EQT Private Equity’s Advisory Team and Deal Partner for the Vara investment, said: “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to support the purpose-driven team at Vara through the EQT Foundation. Vara’s platform already has strong traction in Germany and proven ability to detect early signs of breast cancer more effectively. We believe Vara’s solution could be completely game-changing – especially for emerging countries where Vara wants to make screening more accessible and affordable. Vara fits perfectly with EQT’s thematic investment approach, and we look forward to the exciting journey ahead.”
This funding also aligns with the launch of a nationwide clinical study of AI and workflow software in breast cancer screening, with the expected recruitment of 400,000 screening-age women. Vara’s PRAIM Study (Prospective multicenter observational study of an integrated artificial intelligence (AI) system with live Monitoring) study, which is due to run until mid-2023 is the largest study to date and is only possible due to Vara’s strong partnerships with centres across Germany.
With this new investment, the startup will be able to push forward this study, advancing knowledge around breast cancer and helping more women in the long run.
Arnd Kaltofen-Ehmann, Managing partner at Vi Partners, said: “Vara continues to break ground in how AI and machine learning can transform the screening workflow. From its unique tech and AI approach to its deep integration with German centres, and its strong partnerships with international providers, Vara is an innovative startup with great purpose. It’s already underpinned by a growing body of peer-reviewed evidence and backed by clinical and health experts, and through its groundbreaking prospective study coupled with this latest investment, Vara is in a strong position to achieve its life-saving mission.”