New at-home test kit could help you detect cancer earlier

Conception X
3 min readMar 25, 2024


It looks just like the lateral flow tests that rose to ubiquity during the Covid-19 pandemic, and you might soon be able to buy it online and from your local pharmacy.

Instructions may sound familiar to most: after collecting your saliva sample and mixing it in a buffer solution, you squeeze the liquid on a testing strip and wait up to 30 minutes as the control lines first, then the test lines, appear, and an app helps you figure out your next steps.

The screening kit was ideated back in 2020 by a team of oncology researchers at the University of Oxford, who were inspired by the widespread adoption of Covid-19 lateral flow tests and the growing hype around at-home genetic testing to monitor blood sugar levels in real time, get personalised health reports, and more.

“There’s an unmet need in the market — a lack of early detection and screening tools that are direct to consumer — to help people monitor their health regularly, just as often as they would go to the dentist, and face the disease that seems the scariest before they get symptoms,” GambitBio cofounder and CEO Tiffany Ma says.

“As cancer biologists, we know one third of cancers that are currently leading to deaths can be cured by detecting them earlier and treating them with drugs and therapies that already exist.”

On the back of a series of recent breakthroughs in molecular cell biology, the Conception X-backed startup began paying more attention to saliva as a less intrusive alternative to blood, focusing on specific proteins and their modifications to identify biomarkers that can help detect the most common types of cancer earlier.

From left to right: Tiffany Ma, Susan Kilgas, Cristiano Peron, Shilin Chen

The team plans to target prostate cancer first, leveraging some of the larger publicly available datasets and comparing accuracy rates against the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. It has also launched a pilot study in Chengdu, China, to validate its proprietary set of 20 biomarkers.

One of the biggest challenges faced by GambitBio is producing a highly sensitive self-test kit that delivers on the team’s promise without causing unnecessary anxiety and overwhelming healthcare systems with false positives.

“That’s a trade-off we’ll have to make empirically as we develop the prostate cancer test strip,” Ma says.

While on the Conception X programme, the startup has developed its business model and research & development pipeline, learnt how to raise, how to structure deals and strategise, and the basics of running a business.

“It’s not just a week or two or a competition,” Ma says. “You hold our hand, teach us, give us mentorship and access to these incredible networks — and a sense of community. It’s a lot less scary when you do it with people who are around the same stage as you.”



Conception X

Venture builders creating deeptech startups from leading research labs and PhD programmes around the UK.