In part 2 of our ‘neat start ups’ series, we look at DermEngine, a simple application of AI and cloud based technology that might transform how we assess and treat skin cancer


Shazam, the music app, is so old (20 years old believe it or not), some younger folk may not even recognise it. It is a machine learning, AI type app where you can point your mobile phone towards some music you love, but can’t recognise the artist and/or song title, and it will immediately tell you what you are actually listening to.

So ‘Shazam for Moles’ is, you might think, an app that you can point your mobile phone camera at and it will tell you what mole you are looking at?

Very nearly.

DermEngine is a workflow management and a AI driven knowledgebase of skin cancers for Doctors, from a Canadian founded, Australian funded startup called MetaOptima.

It’s foundation idea is simple.

Build an ever increasing database of diagnosed skin cancers globally in one place with a highly accessible and integratable system driven largely by mobile phone app and camera utility, to make the decisions around diagnosing skin cancers, particularly in a general practice setting, much faster, easier and cheaper via machine learning and AI.

The DermEngine database is cloud based and quickly accessible on any system, mobile or desktop. You can use an inexpensive dermatoscope attachment to your phone to photograph your patient’s moles (either one manufactured by MetaOptima called a MoleScope or a plethora of others on the market) to take your photos, store them, compare them now and at a later time, with the worlds largest database of images to help your newly informed decision.

When one doctor told local MetaOptima General Manager, Peter Birch, when it was demonstrated, “oh, I get it, it’s shazam for moles”, the phrase immediately stuck, for obvious reasons.

The system also integrates with major pathology systems, and with most of the patient management systems servicing doctors.

As a cloud-based system, DermEngine has been available world-wide for over 4 years, but in the past 12 months has established a quickly expanding local office to service the Australian and GP population, but you quickly get the sense that it’s coming to a practice near you in the not too distant future. There are strong indications that some of the bigger corporates might be picking up the technology and rolling it out en masse to many of their practices as one of the many newly emerging upstream services that they will be able to offer to add to their base revenue platforms.

And it’s already being picked up by some of the major skin clinics, as they migrate their more expensive older technology . Some of the more advanced older systems can cost from $150,000 to $300,000 whereas the accuracy of DermEngine is now available to most practices for a fraction of this cost.

Birch emphasises in his pitch that Dermengine is not for diagnosis, it is for clinical decision support.

“It’s a sort of fast evolving online encyclopaedia of skins cancers at your finger tips, or at the end of your mobile”, he told the Wild Health Summit in Sydney recently.

A couple of other reasons to think this business might be going places. If you think about its centralised database and AI model – MetaOptima’s IP resides in a few complex algorthms that are constantly being tweaked by MetaOptima’s scientists, to compare images – then you have a classic case of a “network effect” type business. That is, the more data that gets sent to the middle, the smarter the whole ecosystem of becomes, and the more valuable it becomes to every user, until it’s the biggest and only one you can really use.

The business is backed in Australia by one of our smartest local VCs, Airtree  Ventures, the principal of which is Daniel Petre, of ex Microsoft fame. Airtree Ventures other investments include the highly rated healthcare appointment engine business Hotdoc, and one of only two Australia software unicorns by valuation, the Adobe Design busting self serve cloud design business Canva.

And if you need any more intrigue to get you to check out this business, they are promising early next year the ability to generate a total body 3D map within two minutes, using a drone driven by the power of AI and the simple push of a button. Can’t wait for that one.