A Conversation with David Murray, COO of Matakina Technology Limited

Matakina Technology Limited is an innovative technology startup company focussing on women’s healthcare. What follows is an excerpt from an insightful interview I had the fortune to have with Matakina’s COO, David Murray.


          R C Bean
So to begin with, what does the name signify? 
David Murray
Well, the actual name of the company is “Matakina Technologies”. Matakina is a Maori word, that means “insight”   “Volpara” is the name we use to market our products, and we are rebranding more and more to that. I’m not sure what it means (or if it means anything). Doing a quick bit of research now…


         R C Bean
I see… my next question was going to be about the meaning of Matakina…
For Volpara, I guessed it must be to do with volumetric quantification?


David Murray
Nice guess! Ah, I remember! It’s a contraction of “Volume parameters” Boring I know, but the fact that our software is volume based is very important. Also sounds nice, and is a place in Italy. Seems to be a kind of wine too. Maybe we will have a European Users Group meeting there one day!


R C Bean
Wow, I didn’t know the Italian connection… 
It’s apparent that what you are all doing with the Volpara suite of products is highly important to the world of women’s medical care… how did the idea come about?
David Murray
Our CEO, Ralph Highnam, did some of this work during his PhD at Oxford about a decade ago. Then, it was an idea ahead of its time – people had begun to suspect the importance of breast density, but there were no tools to do anything different in women with dense breasts. Now everything has changed, and there is more and more awareness, and solutions for high-risk women.


R C Bean
I see… medical innovations almost always seem to begin with facing a bit of resistance…
probably because people are hesitant to break away from conventionality
maybe also because, at a sub-conscious level, people are afraid of knowing bitter truths, and so resist any levels of diagnoses…
 
David Murray
WE still have resistance. Many radiologists see automated tools to assess breast density as a threat. But this attitude has change, and is changing, quite quickly, especially in the US. In medical startups, this kind of challenge is quite common. But as a young company you just have to believe in what you are doing and have faith that the market will come around to your way of thinking. Often people think of startups as aggressive, thrusting individuals trying to make quick money, but patience is a virtue a lot of the time.


R C Bean
I can’t agree more… patience, conviction in what you’re doing and a lot of perseverance I’d say… 
But what is your take on why there is still so much resistance?  I read a recent report that in the last decade, people have been spending millions on cosmetics, fairness products and skin creams…  Medical diagnosis should definitely get a bigger nod, don’t you think?
David Murray
Well, for a long time the evidence wasn’t there. But now there are a number of large scientific studies that show that women with large amounts of dense breast tissue are at significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer, and at much higher risk of having that cancer missed in a conventional mammogram. Also, there are important breast density advocacy groups such as areyoudense.org that are raising awareness.
Also important are the breast density notification laws in the US. These require hospitals to disclose breast density to women. Breast density is very hard to assess visually, and an automated tool takes uncertainty and objectivity away from the physician. This is part of the reason our product is being adopted more and more. The big goal is really to move towards personalised care. For women with low density breasts, a conventional mammogram is a fantastic tool to screen for breast cancer. For most women in the middle, it is still a very good tool. For women with very dense breasts, another screening tool, such as ultrasound or MRI, is really required.


R C Bean
I see… what personally motivated you to be part of this? 
David Murray
I was involved in a startup in Madison Wisconsin called TomoTherapy incorporated, that made a new kind of radiation therapy treatment device. This startup was a very difficult challenge – it required a lot of funding to build prototype devices, which were very expensive. But it was very rewarding, and we succeeded. When we moved back to NZ I made contact with Ralph, and I knew this was a project where my experience would be useful, and where we had a decent chance of success. What we are trying to do is also inspiring to myself and the other staff – there are people’s lives at play and we know we are helping.


R C Bean
That sounds superb, really… the self-motivation that’s needed for such a venture should be really high, I presume, given that it takes a lot to convince others to believe in what you’re all doing…? thankfully, the situation seems to be changing for the better now… 
David Murray
I think the first time you get involved in a startup, you are too stupid to realise how hard it is. The second time, you realise it will be hard, but you are much better equipped to make it a success. This is Ralph’s second startup, and the second I have been involved in also. I have got involved only in the last few years – there were others before me who struggled alongside Ralph at the early stages.
Changing for the better, perhaps. I think there is much more appreciation now from the investment community about solid ideas that will really help, as opposed to the dotcom style of success.


R C Bean
Do you think the awards are helping too? It’s amazing – the awards you’ve been getting year after year… You all deserve to be really proud of what you’re doing…
David Murray
They help, for sure. Our recent Frost & Sullivan award is very helpful to us in the US market, where we have the majority of our market activity. But also, it is very important to our staff to get some recognition for what we do. It is sometimes difficult for us as a small startup with essentially all of our markets being overseas, to maintain a local profile that is helpful to hiring, retention, and morale. The awards are part of the solution to this. We are very proud of what we do, but we still get “you do what?” when we are talking with people at parties!


R C Bean
Ha ha ha! I can imagine… 
Although harmless, ignorance sometimes is hard to deal with… 
You did mention how radiologists see this as a threat… but how does the reception from the medical industry differ from that of the general public? Do you get more understanding nods?
David Murray
It’s not their fault – there is little awareness about breast density, and little awareness of our small company that keeps a low profile. But we get more and more “I’ve heard of you”, or “I think what you people are doing os great”. This is very rewarding, to me anyway, and to the others as well I am sure. The medical industry has challenges. The industry is really coming around. But it is hard to say to a woman “you have dense breasts, so you are at high risk and there is a higher chance I may miss a cancer” unless you have a proposal for them – another type of scan, or a different screening regime, or even a place you can refer them to where they can pay themselves to have an MRI. So this is why personalised medicine if key – the information can then be used to real effect.


R C Bean
I see what you mean… and agree with you as well… Is there anything that people can do to get involved?
David Murray
Visit areyoudense.org. Read Dr Nancy Cappello’s story. Ask your physician about your breast density and the options you have if you have dense breasts. Make sure you follow up on the options, it may save you life. If you do all that, you will make the people at Volpara Solutions happy, even though we don’t know you personally.


R C Bean
Well, considering it’s more of a personal commitment for each woman to keep herself healthy, i think that makes a lot of sense…
well this has been a very interesting and insightful chat… thanks for being part of this chat over a cuppa virtual coffee!
David Murray
You’re most welcome RCB. Take care!
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