Nov 22, 2017

Mercury News

How one local company is Taking an ‘On-Demand’ Stand Against Cancer

The statistics speak for themselves: Cancer is killing more than half a million Americans each year, and there were 1.6 million new cases of the disease in 2016 alone.

The financial ramifications are just as staggering. The total cost of cancer care in 2014 was almost $100 billion for outpatient hospital visits, doctor appointments, in-patient hospital care, prescription drugs and more.

 

These eye-opening numbers don’t speak to the emotional draining aspect of the disease either. When cancer is first diagnosed, patients experience a huge sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Moreover, because no two cancers are alike, it’s nearly impossible to select the best treatment for each patient, and due to the subjective nature of the disease, no two doctors will furnish the same answers or prognosis 100 percent of the time. But after 10 years of medical device manufacturers in the “digital pathology” space working toward adoption of their whole slide scanners and image analysis systems by the pathology community, Philips has finally been granted Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for review and interpretation of digital surgical pathology slides prepared from biopsied tissue.

Why is this FDA approval so important and what does it mean for patients and their families? The FDA allowing Philips to market and sell their devices means that for the first time in the United States, pathologists will be allowed to digitize images (as radiologists have been doing for over a decade) and review them with computer-assisted algorithms to reduce subjectivity of interpretations. Computational pathology or algorithms that analyze cancer tissue specimens can aid the pathologist in improving diagnosis and assist oncologists with improved patient treatments.

The FDA approval also opens the door for the digital pathology market to grow and help create healthy competition from other vendors with different business models and other solutions that aid the pathologists in making accurate diagnoses and improving the outcomes for all cancer patients and their families.

 

One such company is OptraSCAN On-Demand Digital Pathology, which is based in Sunnyvale. One of the many goals of OptraSCAN is to not only replace antiquated microscopes, but to also enable precision medicine outcomes in cancer research by greatly reducing the cost of the tools to help promote global adoption. “Other companies in the market focus on sales of their devices from $100,000 and up,” said founder and CEO Abhi Gholap, making the cost, “highly impossible for pathologists” who are used to purchasing conventional microscopes for $5,000 a piece. The “on-demand” business model is similar to that of an Uber or any other user-centric model, where the end user (pathologists) can access and pay for the services he wants, when he needs them — on demand.

 

OptraSCAN On-Demand Digital Pathology seeks to provide a 360-degree perspective with a complete solution for pathologists to integrate into their existing workflows, and allowing for progressive mobility and cloud-based functionality. The whole slide scanner will provide 2-D and 3-D identification of specific cells to provide the comprehensive information needed to diagnosis cancer and strategize initial immunotherapy treatments. To think of it more simply: In the same way documents can be scanned, the digital microscope will scan tissues, cells and then convert them into an image. The software will then analyze those images with the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI), to help doctors arrive at a more objective, accurate and standardized analysis of each individual patient’s cancer conditions.

Currently, when a patient goes into surgery for a biopsy, the surgeon is waiting on the availability of a pathologist to travel to the hospital and review the accessioned tissue sample under a microscope. This is a timely and costly process that is dependent on the pathologist being able to travel, plus the wait times associated with coordinating and traveling to each and every surgical biopsy in a region. OptraSCAN plans to help improve patient wait times and lower costs for hospitals by enabling remote interpretations with their scanning devices. This will allow surgeons and pathologists to communicate instantly about a surgical biopsy, allowing the pathologist to be remote without the need for travel, in real time. The company also has plans to expand globally to aid pathologists in resource-limited countries in Asia and South America where cancer rates are increasing and physicians are dwindling compared to the growing populations.

Health-care cost sensitivities are quite high in countries like the United States, India, China and Brazil. By attempting to lower the cost of health care with products such as OptraSCAN and accelerate precision medicine research, we can expect to see more affordable cancer- and disease-fighting treatments become available sooner, to a greater swath of the population.

 

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