The aMoon fund and Roche Diagnostics have announce the selection of the first two companies for their Starfinder Lab program, in which they cooperate in identifying and cultivating young companies or early-stage projects in digital health. The original aim was to choose three companies, in digital pathology, lung cancer diagnosis, and new antibiotics, but it was decided that there was at present no suitable company in antibiotics. The two companies chosen are in the other two fields.
The company chosen in digital pathology is called Sentient. Its product is interesting and different. Most digital health companies in this field have built AI systems that help pathologists to pay attention more quickly to suspect areas and identify signs of disease that would probably not be identified by human eye only. Sentient, on the basis of pictures gathered from real biopsies, produces synthetic pictures that are similar but not identical to the original ones, and do not actually belong to any particular patient. The aim is to give the AI system a larger pool of pictures on which to train. Obtaining data with which to train AI systems is one of the challenges facing companies developing AI tools.
The company was founded in the Technion by Dr. Yonatan Savir, together with researchers Tanya Wasserman and Nati Daniel.
In lung cancer, the chosen company is Causalis, which uses AI to produce a model of factors affecting lung cancer and thus to predict the best drug treatment for each patient. The company was founded by Shimon Sheiba (VP Data Sciences), Orel Hashmatia (CEO), and Yaron Goldstein (Senior Software Engineer).
Initially, the companies will operate for nine months in a kind of accelerator, until the prototype stage. Each company will receive $250,000 in finance from Roche and aMoon, which will also provide them with access to medical databases and other resources.
Adi Zamir, aMoon-Roche Partnership Leader, says that the partnership is currently in the process of identifying the most interesting fields and mapping the challenges for 2022. "This process brings together managers and experts from the two companies at a very high level of seniority," she says. "After this process, which takes about three months, we present our questions and the needs we have identified to the Israeli ecosystem (hospitals, health funds, insurance companies, government agencies, and so forth), make sure that they see a need, and, importantly, make sure that it is possible to obtain information that will enable the companies to develop their technologies. If there are no available data, it's difficult to build a business in digital health. We offer information both from our partners and from Roche itself.
"If the need and the information exist, it's worth writing a call for proposals in that area. From there, we start to look for the projects or companies that are just starting out but that have everything they need to carry on, from the point of view of the idea and the team. We don’t necessarily require that they should already have a stable business management, because that's exactly where we can help."
In the current round, 51 companies reached the submission stage, Zamir says. Of them, thirteen were chosen to present at a "pitch day". "Each company that didn’t make it to the next stage received a detailed explanation of why it wasn't suitable. We worked with every company that made it through to the pitch day so that each one would present itself as clearly as possible. After that, the partners reviewed the materials, held an internal discussion, and went back to talk to the companies, mainly those on which there was no agreement. We agreed that in antibiotics no company would be chosen, because there wasn't an exact match. It's still a very academic field."
The intention is to choose nine companies over three years, and so next year four calls for proposals will be published, one of them in place of the one that was not precisely met this year. "The aim is to create companies that have the potential to become global, from day one," says Zamir.
Zamir is especially proud of the fact that Causalis was formed around the call for proposals. "This is a classic group of entrepreneurs, with a business element and a technological element, that had a model that assists personalization, but that wasn't certain in which field to apply it, and when the opportunity arose, they decided to apply it to the need that we had defined after examining the market."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 1, 2021
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