A major advance has been made in the battle to beat cancer after global insurer Aviva invested in a cancer breathalyser diagnostics company.

Diagnostics company Owlstone Medical is currently developing tests for lung and colorectal cancer, two of the most common cancer killers worldwide.

The breathalyser is able to detect cancer because each time a person breathes out, there are chemicals in the breath and the device uses these to pick up cancer in the early stages when it very treatable.

Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO of Owlstone Medical, said:

“Aviva has invested in a cancer breathalyzer device, which is like an electronic nose that can sniff out these signature chemicals of cancer on the breath at the earliest stage.”

The Aviva investment takes Owlstone Medical’s total funding to $23.5m since its spin-out from parent company Owlstone Inc in 2016 and will be used to drive test adoption and commercialisation of the company’s Breath Biopsy platform.

Traditionally, insurance has supported customers in the aftermath of a problem, but going forward, as Ben Luckett, managing director at Aviva Ventures, said prevention will be just as important as the cure.

Pro-actively preventing disease and helping consumers to stay healthy – rather than just paying claims – is very much on insurers’ minds now and this can be seen by the rise in digital healthcare companies, known as virtual GPs that are working with life and health insurers.

For example, private medical insurance provider, AXA PPP healthcare, recently extended its agreement with virtual GP Doctor Care Anywhere, which has also partnered with Aetna International.

The benefit of a virtual GP is that via video technology on mobile phones doctors can prescribe, treat, refer to a specialist and advise on every day medical concerns, reducing the need for patients to travel to a hospital or clinic.

For life and health insurers, the benefit of linking up with virtual GPs and medical diagnostics companies is that it enables them to build in value and engagement into life and health insurance that is usually perceived as a grudge purchase.