If you were looking for some major milestone events indicating the level of interest in digital pathology, you could focus on last week when Philips acquired tumor analysis business PathXL, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A couple of years ago, AstraZeneca’s global biologics research and development arm, MedImmune, acquired tissue phenomics company Definiens in a $150 million deal.
It’s the kind of consolidation that’s beginning to take place in the sector. Large medtech and pharma companies are embracing digital pathology.
In a phone interview with David West, CEO and co-founder of Proscia, he talked about how his business plans to allocate the $1 million seed round it raised and offered up a broader perspective of digital pathology and the forces spurring its growth.
West said the funding would be used to add staff across software development and sales and marketing, including a director of sales position. He said the team built Proscia’s storage and distribution infrastructure to house its image analysis products. This fall, it plans to launch a new suite of image analysis tools that are geared to helping the labs and cancer researchers using its products “do great things” with scanned biopsy images.
West, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, studied biomedical engineering with a focus on computational biology at Johns Hopkins University. He co-founded the company with Coleman Stavish, the CTO and a childhood friend with a computer science degree from University of Pittsburgh. The two other co-founders include Nathan Buchbinder and Hunter Jackson.
West’s description of digital pathology sounds a bit like what’s happened in radiology with the digitization, sharing and storage of X-rays and other medical images. “We compare ourselves to radiology a lot,” says West. “The digitization of pathology is 15-20 years behind radiology. We are sort of at the inflection point right now.”
He emphasizes that its technology is not intended to replace pathologists but to reduce error through the use of machine learning.
The sector is divided between the hardware producers behind the scanners that convert biopsy slides into digital images and the software developers that create the image analysis. It’s also split between companies that target pharma, cancer researchers and those that focus on medical education and clinical settings.
“The [digital pathology] market is so new, it is hard to say who is a partner and who a competitor,” West observes.
A market research report by Grand View Research this week noted that digital pathology is “likely to experience exponential growth by the end of the decade.” It calls attention to factors behind the growth including the acceptance of cloud-based technology providing the means to store and share scanned biopsy slides within institutions and between institutions, the push for precision medicine and the need to find ways to reduce the cost of cancer treatment.
One of the big questions in digital pathology, according to West, is “when you scan a biopsy, is it the same thing as looking at it under a microscope?” Supporters of digital pathology say yes and have had some success making that argument through the Digital Pathology Association’s lobbying of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to permit companies producing whole slide imaging devices for primary diagnosis in the U.S. to be classified as Class II medical devices, rather than Class III devices.