Optellum goes global with breakthrough
Interviews are conducted by The Oxford Trust to give insight into the science and tech businesses they support in their innovation centres: the Oxford Centre for Innovation and the Wood Centre for Innovation.
Their AI-powered clinical decision support software, Virtual Nodule Clinic, gives clinicians support in identifying and tracking at-risk patients who present suspicious lung nodules which may ,or may not, be cancerous, and making optimal clinical decisions. It integrates a clinically-validated Lung Cancer Prediction (LCP) score based on imaging AI. This has the potential to improve clinical care coordination and decisions, with the aim to get patients treated before the disease has metastasised – crucially increasing lung cancer survival rates.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the UK, accounting for 21% of all cancer deaths in any one year. When diagnosed at an early stage, almost 57% of people in the UK with lung cancer will survive their disease for five years or more, compared with only 3% when the disease is diagnosed at the latest stage. Currently, around three-quarters of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage in the UK, although the survival rate for small tumours treated at Stage IA is up to 90%. A key opportunity to catching lung cancer sooner is in the hundreds of thousands of Computed Tomography (CT) scans NHS patients already have each year for other conditions, such as heart scans or chest trauma scans after accidents. These scans often detect nodules which could be cancerous. The challenge is that most of the suspicious nodules are harmless, but doctors cannot immediately diagnose those which are cancerous; patients undergo further tests such as multiple CT scans and invasive procedures. Many patients with benign nodules undergo unnecessary and dangerous procedures such as biopsies and surgical resections, before knowing their diagnosis.
Cancer Research UK recently revealed that, due to delays in care caused by COVID-19, the number of people urgently referred for suspected lung cancer fell by 34% between March 2020 and January 2021 and added the numbers were of concern as cancer is more treatable when spotted at an early stage. Waiting lists are a problem for the NHS even at the best of times and due to the pandemic, researchers have estimated between 1,235 and 1,372 additional deaths in lung cancer due to diagnostic delays.
Optellum’s researchers have been using wealth of clinical information including CT images to train a machine-learning neural network to recognise the signs of the deadly disease. The Optellum technology has been developed and clinically-validated in partnership with several NHS hospitals – including Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals – and brings British technology innovation to the forefront.
Based in the Oxford Centre for Innovation for the last 10 years, Optellum was founded by Václav Potěšil, Lyndsey Pickup, Timor Kadir, Professor Sir Michael Brady and Jérôme Declerck, who met at the University of Oxford’s world-renowned computer vision laboratory. The company raised initial funding and commenced operations in 2017. To date the company has secured over £9 million in seed and government funding, including early-stage investments from St John’s College (University of Oxford), and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood (founders of The Oxford Trust and Oxford Instruments Plc, the first University of Oxford spin-out), later followed by investments from Luminous Ventures, IQ Capital and a number of private investors from the UK, Switzerland, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
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