Color is launching a high-capacity COVID-19 testing lab and will open-source its design and protocols

Genomics health technology startup Color is doing its part to address the global COVID-19 pandemic, and has detailed the steps it’s taking to support expansion of testing efforts in a new blog post and letter from CEO Othman Laraki on Tuesday. The efforts include development of a high-throughput lab that can process as many as 10,000 tests per day, with a turnaround time of within 24 hours for reporting results to physicians. In order to provide the most benefit possible from the effort of standing this lab up, Color will also make the design, protocols and specifics of this lab available open-source to anyone else looking to establish high-capacity lab testing.

Color’s lab is also already nearly ready to begin processing samples — it’s going live “in the coming week,” according to Laraki. The Color team worked in tandem with MIT’s Broad Institute, as well as Harvard and Weill Cornell Medicine to develop its process and testing techniques that can allow for higher bandwidth results output versus standard, in-use methods.

The focus of Color’s efforts in making this happen have been on using automation wherever possible, and seeking techniques that source parts and components, including reagents, that can come from different supply chains. That’s actually a crucial ingredient to being able to ramp efforts at scale nationally and globally, because if everyone is using the same lab processing methods, you’re going to run up against a bottleneck pretty quickly in terms of supplies. Being able to process tens of thousands of tests per day is great on paper, but it means nothing if one ingredient you need to make that happen is also required by every other testing lab in the country.

Color has also made efforts to address COVID-19 response in two other key areas: testing for front-line and essential workers, and post-test follow-up and processing. To address the need for testing for those workers who continue to operate in public-facing roles despite the risks, Color has redirected its enterprise employee base to providing, in tandem with governments and employers, onsite clinical test administration, lab transportation and results reporting with patient physicians.

For its post-test workflow, Color is working to address the challenges reported by other clinicians and health officials around how difficult it is to be consistent and effective in following up on the results of tests, as well as next steps. So the company is opening up their own platform for doing so, which they’ve re-tooled in response to their experience to date, and making that available to any other COVID-19 testing labs for free use. These resources include test result reporting, guidelines and instructions for patients, follow-up questionnaires around contact tracing and support for how to reach out to potentially exposed individuals tied to a patient who tests positive.

To date, Color says that it has been able to operate at cost, in part backed by support by philanthropic public and private donations. The company is encouraging direct outreach via its [email protected] email in case anyone thinks they can contribute to or benefit from the project and the resources being made available.

Leading VCs discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the world of digital health

In December 2019, Extra Crunch spoke to a group of investors leading the charge in health tech to discuss where they saw the most opportunity in the space leading into 2020.

At the time, respondents highlighted startups in digital therapeutics, telehealth and mental health that were improving medical practitioner efficiency or streamlining the distribution of care, amongst a variety of other digital health markets that were garnering the most attention.

In the months since, the COVID-19 crisis has debilitated national healthcare systems and the global economy. Weaknesses in healthcare systems have become clearer than ever, while startups and capital providers have struggled to operate while wide swaths of the market effectively shut down.

Given significant volatility and the rapid changes seen in the worlds of healthcare, venture and startups broadly, we wanted to understand which inefficiencies might have been brought to light, what new opportunities might exist for founders looking to reduce friction in healthcare systems, how digital health startups have been impacted and how health tech investing as a whole has changed.

We asked several of the VCs who participated in our last digital health survey to update us on how COVID-19 is impacting digital health startups and broader healthcare systems around the world:

Annie Case, Kleiner Perkins

Our current unprecedented global crisis has put a spotlight on digital health. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen what feels like a decade’s worth of societal and regulatory changes that require digital health companies to step up and embrace new challenges and opportunities.

Medtronic is sharing its portable ventilator design specifications and code for free to all

Healthcare and biomedical engineering company Medtronic, which was in the news recently because Tesla CEO Elon Musk had discussions with the company about the automaker’s potential plans to build ventilator hardware in order to , but today it’s doing something potentially far more impactful. Medtronic is making the full design specifications, produce manuals, design documents, and in the future, software code for its Puritan Bennett (PB) 560 portable ventilator hardware available to anyone.

The PB 560 ventilator has a number of advantages, being a relatively compact and lightweight piece of equipment that can be easily moved around in installed for use in a range of different healthcare environments and settings. And it’s a design that was originally introduced in 2010, so it has a decade of qualified, safe medical use in treating patients under its belt.

There are plenty of efforts underway to produce ventilators, design new ventilators that manufacturers of other devices, like Dyson, can put into production, and others are trying to modify existing hardware to serve more patients. But this move by Medtronic makes freely available everything needed to spin up new production lines at existing manufacturers around the world – without any costs or fees owed to Medtronic.

It’s still obviously true that retooling a production line to build a different product is going to be an undertaking no matter what kind of design specifications you’re starting with, but this initiative by Medtronic is also intended to provide the resources necessary for anyone looking at what they can build today with a blueprint to spawn new and innovative ideas. Manufacturers might be able to look at Medtronic’s proven design and engineer something they can build at scale relatively quickly that offers the same or similar performance characteristics.

Medtronic says the design is particularly well-suited for “inventors, startups, and academic institutions” looking to spin up production in short order and create their own adapted designs.

“We are sharing the design specifications for the [PB 560] to enable participants across industries to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing to help doctors and patients dealing with COVID-19,” said John Jordan, External Communications Director at the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group at Medtronic.

He pointed out that while Medtronic produces other, more complex ventilator hardware, including the PB 980 and PB 840, these require “more than 1,500 components” that Medtronic sources from a variety of specialized producers, and that relies on “a skilled and specialized workforce” and “an interconnected global supply chain.” While those things remain true even for the PB 560 to some extent, its smaller, simplified design makes it the best candidate for companies newer to the field looking to pivot to ventilator manufacture with limited or no prior experience.

It’s worth noting that Medtronic isn’t open-sourcing the PB 560’s design exactly: it’s issuing a special “permissive license” specifically for the purposes of address this global coronavirus pandemic, and its term ends either when the World Health Organization’s official Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is declared over, or on October 1, 2024 – whichever comes first.

Still, it’s a sign of the extent and seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis that for-profit corporations like Medtronic would even consider doing something like making a code technology they’ve developed free for broad public use, even if only for a fixed timeframe.

Any startup or hardware maker interested in checking out the plans for the PB 560 and potentially using them to build their own equipment can register here to agree to the license and get access to the files.

A new FDA-authorized COVID-19 test doesn’t need a lab and can produce results in just 5 minutes

There’s a new COVID-19 test from healthcare technology maker Abbott that looks to be the fastest yet in terms of producing results, and that can do so on the spot right at point-of-care, without requiring a round trip to a lab. This test for the novel coronavirus causing the current global pandemic has received emergency clearance for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and will begin production next week, with output of 50,000 per day possible starting next week.

The new Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test uses the Abbott ID NOW diagnostics platform, which is essentially a lab-in-a-box that is roughly the size of a small kitchen appliance. It’s size, and the fact that it can produce either a positive result in just five minutes, or a negative one in under 15, mean that it could be a very useful means to extend coronavirus testing beyond its current availability to more places including clinics and doctor’s offices, and cut down on wait times both in terms of getting tested and receiving a diagnosis.

Unlike the rapid tests that have been used in other countries, and that received a new type of authorization under an FDA guideline that doesn’t confirm the accuracy fo the results, this rapid testing solution uses the molecular testing method, which works with saliva and mucus samples swabbed from a patient. This means that it works by identifying a portion of the virus’ DNA in a patient, which means it’s much better at detecting the actual presence of the virus during infection, whereas other tests that search the blood for antibodies that are used in point-of-care settings can only detect antibodies, which might be present in recovered patients who don’t actively have the virus.

The good news for availability of this test is that ID NOW, the hardware from Abbott that it runs on, already “holds the largest molecular point-of-care footprint in the U.S.,” and is “widely available” across doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics, emergency rooms and other medical facilities.

In total, Abbott now says that it believes it will produce 5 million tests in April, split between these new rapid tests and the lab tests that it received emergency use authorization for by the FDA on March 18.

Testing has been one of the early problems faced by the U.S. in terms of getting a handle on the coronavirus pandemic: The country has lagged behind other nations globally in terms of per capita tests conducted, which experts say has hampered its ability to properly track and trace the spread of the virus and its resulting respiratory disease. Patients have reported having to go to extreme lengths to receive a test, and endure long waits for results, even in cases where exposure was likely and their symptoms match the COVID-19 profile.

Frontiers launches a portal to help connect coronavirus and COVID-19 research with funding

Open science platform and publisher Frontiers wants to make sure that efforts by researchers to pursue science-based solutions to the global coronavirus pandemic, and learn more about the virus and the COVID-19 disease it causes, find the funding they need. They launched a new portal to do just that, which is updated daily, and lists open funding calls, including the grant type, deadline, organization behind it, and specific area it supports.

Sources include governments, non-profits, and commercial companies, and the listings link directly to the calls for easy application. This dashboard presents one fo the best organized ways for anyone with a research project related to COVID-19 to find an appropriate funding source, with all relevant top-line information presented up front.

For anyone looking to supplement their existing knowledge of ongoing coronavirus and COVID-19 research, Frontiers is also offering a portal called the ‘Coronavirus Knowledge Hub,’ which includes links to the top research on SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 symptoms, treatments, transmission and much more.

It’s crucial right now that research not go unfunded, since there’s a global urgency around the investigation into, and development of, potential solutions and treatments around COVID-19. There’s still a lot we just don’t know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, even leaving aside the many potential treatments under development – basic research about its genetic makeup, mutation patterns and durability are still pictures we need filled in to develop lasting and effective methods of prevention and protection.

A resource like this, which connects the dots between this work and available sources of funding, is incredibly valuable. Potential funders should get in touch with Frontiers via their submission form if they have a way to get much-needed resources to scientists working on this problem.

How one company is fast-tracking development of potential plasma-based treatments for the coronavirus

Medical biotech company Emergent BioSolutions is one of the many health industry players turning its efforts toward addressing the current global coronavirus pandemic. Their work includes a two-pronged effort to pursue plasma-based treatments that could help lessen the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems, with a fast-tracked development timeline that could see human clinical trials start as soon as this summer.

The company is simultaneously working on two different therapeutic approaches, including one that uses plasma (a liquid that is the majority component of blood) sourced from humans, and one that sources it from horses. Both involve development of antibodies consisting of different immune cells that all target the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which work by boosting the body’s existing immune response in patients to fight off infection. The treatment based on human plasma would be suitable for use for patients who are hospitalized and showing severe symptoms, and also potentially for providing some measure of protection for at-risk people, including front-line healthcare workers, while the horse-derived version would be aimed specifically at addressing those severe hospitalized cases.

Plasma-based treatments (which involve purifying out the antibodies and concentrating the dose) are not new, and both of these therapies in development will leverage technologies, manufacturing processes and other infrastructure that Emergent BioSolutions has used in developing other FDA-approved plasma-based treatments for different diseases. That’s what’s helping it fast-track its work on solutions to address COVID-19, which could bridge the gap between where we are now and the year or more it will take to develop an effective vaccine.

“We looked at where we are in our platforms, and our ability to take some of our proven technologies and apply it to COVID-19,” explained Dr. Laura Saward, head of Emergent BioSolution’s Therapeutics Business Unit. “On the therapeutic side, there were two areas we were really focused on. I think the opportunity to provide a therapy that would be a rescue therapy for patients in hospital, who are suffering from severe disease is definitely a need today, as well as the ability to go in and prevent people at risk from developing more severe disease.”

The goal, with both approaches, Dr. Saward said, is to attempt to reduce the burden suffered by the healthcare system, freeing up its resources to better address the coronavirus crisis. That’s a similar end to the strategy of encouraging individuals to distance themselves physically from one another — health officials are hoping that, if these rules are properly observed, individuals can avoid being infected all at once and overwhelming the hospital system.

Therapeutics used in treatment of cases could be another key ingredient in a larger plan designed to mitigate the most dire projected effects of a global coronavirus pandemic. Especially when, as is the case with the treatments that Emergent BioSolutions is developing, there is already infrastructure in place that can help speed the development of these therapeutics.

“We have two platforms that we looked at, within the antibody therapeutics space, really looking at our existing infrastructure, and the manufacturing processes that we have as part of our overall platform for this approach,” Dr. Saward said. “You know, in the, in this situation, when we looked at these two platforms, they supported several FDA-licensed drugs, which, while it doesn’t give us the benefit of having some sense of dosing safety, we can certainly use that manufacturing process in a way where we’ve got our our common elements for manufacturing and controls and would help to support an FDA application.”

There has been plenty said about efforts by the FDA and other global health agencies to cut through red tape and speed the approval process around COVID-19. That includes everything from tests to treatments and vaccines. I asked Dr. Saward what’s actually involved in fast-tracking something as sensitive and safety focused as approval for new therapeutics.

“We’ve always worked very closely with the regulators in understanding sort of what parts of those packages are common to our process,” she said. “As we bring a new drug through, we’re often able to leverage many of the same elements around the safety profile, the PK profile [basically how fast a drug is absorbed, metabolized, excreted, etc.] for the products, the manufacturing controls and assays that are validated — that’s all common. What we’re changing, really, is just at the front end: The plasma that’s going into that process will be specific to the COVID antibodies in this case.”

This ensures that while they can still ensure safety, they don’t need to do re-work that would otherwise be time-consuming for processes into which the FDA already has full visibility. Time and effort can focus on the stages of the drug development that are new, instead of on what’s repeated.

Thanks to its ability to leverage past work, Emergent BioSolutions is now working with a time frame that includes entering manufacturing by this summer, and then having products available in test clinics by end of summer. If all goes to plan, that means kicking off Phase Two testing in human patients by around late summer or early fall.

That may seem a long way off, but it’s actually a speedy timeline by therapeutics development standards. Saward says that she’s seen the FDA evolve their thinking on data collection and dynamism in light of technological advancement, which has helped their collaboration with industry in getting needed treatments to market. In the meantime, that still means individuals need to do their part to provide Emergent and others working on these solutions the time they need for proper development and testing, through actions like physical distancing and self-isolation.

UK researchers develop new low-cost, rapid COVID-19 test that could even be used at home

A new type of test developed by UK researchers from the Brunel University London, Lancaster University and the University of Surrey can provide COVID-19 detection in as little as 30 minutes, using hand-held hardware that costs as little as £100 (around $120 USD) with individual swab sample kits that cost around $5 per person. The test is based on existing technology that has been used in the Philippines for testing viral spread in chickens, but it’s been adapted by researchers for use with COVID-19 in humans, and the team is now working on ramping mass production.

This test would obviously need approval by local health regulatory bodies like the FDA before it goes into active use in any specific geography, but the researchers behind the project are “confident it will respond well,” and say they could even make it available for use “within a few weeks.” The hardware itself is battery-operated and connects to a smartphone application to display diagnostic results and works with nasal or throat swabs, without requiring that samples be round-tripped to a lab.

There are other tests already approved for use that use similar methods for on-site testing, including kits and machines from Cepheid and Mesa Biotech. These require expensive dedicated table-top micro-labs, however, which is installed in dedicated healthcare facilities including hospitals. This test from UK scientists has the advantage of running on inexpensive hardware, with testing capabilities for up to six people at once, which can be deployed in doctor’s offices, hospitals and even potentially workplaces and homes for truly widespread, accessible testing.

Some frontline, rapid results tests are already in use in the EU and China, but these are generally serological tests that rely on the presence of antibodies, whereas this group’s diagnostics are molecular, so it can detect the presence of viral DNA even before antibodies are present. This equipment could even potentially be used to detect the virus in asymptomatic individuals who are self-isolating at home, the group notes, which would go a long way to scoping out the portion of the population that’s not currently a priority for other testing methods, but that could provide valuable insight into the true extend of silent, community-based transmission of the coronavirus.

YC startup Felix wants to replace antibiotics with programmable viruses

Right now the world is at war. But this is no ordinary war. It’s a fight with an organism so small we can only detect it through use of a microscope — and if we don’t stop it, it could kill millions of us in the next several decades. No, I’m not talking about COVID-19, though that organism is the one on everyone’s mind right now. I’m talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

You see, more than 700,000 people died globally from bacterial infections last year — 35,000 of them in the U.S. If we do nothing, that number could grow to 10 million annually by 2050, according to a United Nations report.

The problem? Antibiotic overuse at the doctor’s office or in livestock and farming practices. We used a lot of drugs over time to kill off all the bad bacteria — but it only killed off most, not all, of the bad bacteria. And, as the famous line from Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park goes, “life finds a way.”

Enter Felix, a biotech startup in the latest Y Combinator batch that thinks it has a novel approach to keeping bacterial infections at bay – viruses.

Phage killing bacteria in a petri dish

It seems weird in a time of widespread concern over the corona virus to be looking at any virus in a good light but as co-founder Robert McBride explains it, Felix’s key technology allows him to target his virus to specific sites on bacteria. This not only kills off the bad bacteria but can also halt its ability to evolve and once more become resistant.

But the idea to use a virus to kill off bacteria is not necessarily new. Bacteriophages, or viruses that can “infect” bacteria, were first discovered by an English researcher in 1915 and commercialized phage therapy began in the U.S. in the 1940’s through Eli Lilly and Company. Right about then antibiotics came along and Western scientists just never seemed to explore the therapy further.

However, with too few new solutions being offered and the standard drug model not working effectively to combat the situation, McBride believes his company can put phage therapy back at the forefront.

Already Felix has tested its solution on an initial group of 10 people to demonstrate its approach.

Felix researcher helping cystic fibrosis patient Ella Balasa through phage therapy

“We can develop therapies in less time and for less money than traditional antibiotics because we are targeting orphan indications and we already know our therapy can work in humans,” McBride told TechCrunch . “We argue that our approach, which re-sensitizes bacteria to traditional antibiotics could be a first line therapy.”

Felix plans to deploy its treatment in those suffering from cystic fibrosis first as there is no cure for this disease, which tends to require a near constant stream of antibiotics to combat lung infections.

The next step will be to conduct a small clinical trial involving 30 people, then, as the scientific research and development model tends to go, a larger human trial before seeking FDA approval. But McBride hopes his viral solution will prove itself out in time to help the coming onslaught of antibiotic resistance.

“We know the antibiotic resistant challenge is large now and is only going to get worse,” McBride said. “We have an elegant technological solution to this challenge and we know our treatment can work. We want to contribute to a future in which these infections do not kill more than 10 million people a year, a future we can get excited about.”

Ancestry.com rejected a police warrant to access user DNA records on a technicality

DNA profiling company Ancestry.com has narrowly avoided complying with a search warrant in Pennsylvania after a search warrant was rejected on technical grounds, a move that is likely to help law enforcement refine their efforts to obtain user information despite the company’s efforts to keep the data private.

Little is known about the demands of the search warrant, only that a court in Pennsylvania approved law enforcement to “seek access” to Utah-based Ancestry.com’s database of more than 15 million DNA profiles.

TechCrunch was not able to identify the search warrant or its associated court case, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News on Monday. But it’s not uncommon for criminal cases still in the early stages of gathering evidence to remain under seal and hidden from public records until a suspect is apprehended.

DNA profiling companies like Ancestry.com are increasingly popular with customers hoping to build up family trees by discovering new family members and better understanding their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. But these companies are also ripe for picking by law enforcement, which want access to genetic databases to try to solve crimes from DNA left at crime scenes.

In an email to TechCrunch, the company confirmed that the warrant was “improperly served” on the company and was flatly rejected.

“We did not provide any access or customer data in response,” said spokesperson Gina Spatafore. “Ancestry has not received any follow-up from law enforcement on this matter.”

Ancestry.com, the largest of the DNA profiling companies, would not go into specifics, but the company’s transparency report said it rejected the warrant on “jurisdictional grounds.”

“I would guess it was just an out of state warrant that has no legal effect on Ancestry.com in its home state,” said Orin S. Kerr, law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in an email to TechCrunch. “Warrants normally are only binding within the state in which they are issued, so a warrant for Ancestry.com issued in a different state has no legal effect,” he added.

But the rejection is likely to only stir tensions between police and the DNA profiling services over access to the data they store.

Ancestry.com’s Spatafore said it would “always advocate for our customers’ privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure, or even eliminate it entirely.” It’s a sentiment shared by 23andMe, another DNA profiling company, which last year said that it had “successfully challenged” all of its seven legal demands, and as a result has “never turned over any customer data to law enforcement.”

The statements were in response to criticism that rival GEDmatch had controversially allowed law enforcement to search its database of more than a million records. The decision to allow in law enforcement was later revealed as crucial in helping to catch the notorious Golden Gate Killer, one of the most prolific murderers in U.S. history.

But the move was widely panned by privacy advocates for accepting a warrant to search its database without exhausting its legal options.

It’s not uncommon for companies to receive law enforcement demands for user data. Most tech giants, like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, publish transparency reports detailing the number of legal demands and orders they receive for user data each year or half-year.

Although both Ancestry.com and 23andMe provide transparency reports, detailing the amount of law enforcement demands for user data they receive, not all are as forthcoming. GEDmatch still does not publish its data demand figures, nor does MyHeritage, which said it “does not cooperate” with law enforcement. FamilyTreeDNA said it was “working” on publishing a transparency report.

But as police continue to demand data from DNA profiling and genealogy companies, they risk turning customers away — a lose-lose for both police and the companies.

Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said it would be “alarming” if law enforcement were able to get access to these databases containing millions of people’s information.

“Ancestry did the right thing in pushing back against the government request, and other companies should follow suit,” said Eidelman.

Paige raises $45M more to map the pathology of cancer using AI

One of the more notable startups using artificial intelligence to understand and fight cancer has raised $45 million more in funding to continue building out its operations and inch closer to commercialising its work.

Paige — which applies AI-based methods such as machine learning to better map the pathology of cancer, an essential component of understanding the origins and progress of a disease with seemingly infinite mutations (its name is an acronym of Pathology AI Guidance Engine) — says it will be use the funding to inch closer to FDA approvals for products it is developing in areas such as biomarkers and prognostic capabilities.

It also plans to use the funding to continue developing better ways of diagnosing and ultimately fighting the disease, as well as exploring further commercial opportunities for its work, specifically within the bio-pharmaceutical industry.

This round is being led by Healthcare Venture Partners, with previous investor Breyer Capital, Kenan Turnacioglu and other funds participating. The company is not disclosing its valuation, but PitchBook noted that a first close of this round (when it raised $33 million) put the valuation at $208 million. That would value Paige now at about $220 million with the $45 million close, more than three times its valuation in its previous round.

Paige first emerged from stealth back in 2018 — with a bang.

Paige.AI — as it was known at the time — was hatched inside the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the world’s foremost institutions both for working on cancer therapies and treating cancer patients, and along with a $25 million investment led by Jim Breyer, Paige had secured exclusive access to MSK’s 25 million pathology slides as well as its intellectual property related to the AI-based computational pathology that underpinned its work. These slides make up one of the biggest repositories of its kind in the world, and as all solutions and services built on machine learning are only as good as the data that’s fed into them, they were critical to the startup’s beginnings.

The startup also launched with some serious talent behind it.

Much of the computational pathology being used by Paige had been developed by Dr Thomas Fuchs, who is known as the “father of computational pathology” and is the director of Computational Pathology in The Warren Alpert Center for Digital and Computational Pathology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, as well as a professor of machine learning at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

Fuchs co-founded Paige with Dr David Klimstra, chairman of the department of pathology at MSK, and Fuchs had originally started out as the CEO of Paige, but was replaced earlier this year by Leo Grady, who joined from another bio-startup, Heartflow (another company backed by Healthcare Venture Partners). Fuchs is still supporting the company, but no longer in an executive role.

In the nearly two years since it launched, there have been some milestones reached. The company, which has around 30 employees today, has been the first to get an FDA breakthrough designation (which helps expedite the long process of drug approvals in urgent areas where there are few or no other options for patients) for using AI in oncology pathology. It’s also the first to get a CE mark in the same category, which opens the door to working in Europe, too. Paige has so far ingested 1.2 million images into its slide database and is using them — in algorithms that also take in genomic data, drug response data and outcome data — to work on developing diagnostic solutions.

But as with all new medical products, progress is not measured in quarters as it might be with a more typical tech startup. Moving fast and breaking things is something to be avoided. So even with all of the above advances, there has yet to be any commercial products launched, nor is Grady giving any specific time frames for when they will. And when the company came out of stealth in 2018, it said it would be focusing on breast, prostate and other major cancers, although today it’s not as quick to specify what its targets will be when it does launch commercial products.

Similarly, it’s also expanding its remit from primarily clinical environments to pharmaceutical ones.

“The clinical side is still our focus, but this is an expansion and realisation that this has a broader impact, and that includes pharmaceutical customers,” Grady said. 

And the dropping of the .AI in its name was also intentional, in part a reaction it seems to how much AI gets thrown around today.

“There is a fundamental misconception, which is thinking of AI as a product and not a technology,” said Grady. “It’s a technology set that can allow you to do many things that could not have been done in the past, but you need to apply it in a meaningful way. Developing a good AI and putting that on the market will not cut it in terms of clinical adoption.”

The funding round, Grady said, saw a lot of interest from strategic investors, although the company intentionally has stayed away from these.

“We were approached by all of the scanner vendors and some of the biopharmaceutical companies,” he said. “But we made the decision to not take a strategic investment with this round because we wanted to be neutral with hardware vendors and not be too tied with any one.”

He also pointed to the challenges of talking to investors when you are working in a cutting-edge area (a challenge that has foxed many an investor also into backing the wrong horses, too, such as Theranos).

“We’re at the intersection of three areas: tech, medical devices and clinical medicine, and life sciences and biotech,” he said. “Many investors sit squarely in one and don’t feel comfortable in others. That makes the conversations challenging and short. But there has been an increasing blend between those three sectors.”

That’s where Healthcare Venture Partners fits into the mix. “Paige exemplifies the benefits of digital pathology and represents the bright future of AI-driven medical diagnosis,” said Jeff Lightcap of Healthcare Venture Partners, in a statement. “As hospitals embark on digital transformations, they will face challenges associated with these transitions. We believe Paige addresses many of these issues by enhancing the ability of clinical teams and pathologists to collaborate. We’re confident in Paige’s future and believe they will continue to develop cutting-edge technologies that enable pathology departments to transform their practices, which have changed little in the last century.”

“We applaud Paige’s commitment to building clinical AI products that will improve the diagnostic process and patient care,” added Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital, in a statement. “This is a critical time for Pathology, as pathologists are carrying a heavier workload than ever before. Paige understands their needs and the team has built cutting-edge technologies to address them. Paige represents the future of computational pathology and we look forward to their continued growth and success.”