News Article

Pitt startup leverages Pittsburgh's dominant role in new age of autonomy
Date: Sep 28, 2018
Author: Kris B. Mamula
Source: Pittsburg Post Gazette ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: Spintellx Inc of Pittsburgh, PA

A University of Pittsburgh spinout is taking a new tack in a market that's expected to reach nearly $1 billion in value.

South Side-based SpIntellx Inc., which recently raised $300,000 in seed funding, uses artificial intelligence-enabled software to identify abnormalities in human tissue slides, bringing a new technology to an old challenge.

While doctors have used microscopes for centuries to examine tissue samples mounted on glass slides, researchers have searched for ways to digitize images to improve the speed and accuracy of analysis.

The South Side-based company, which was founded in 2017, takes it name from "spatial intelligence," which is the technology used in its products.

Adding artificial intelligence to the pathologist's job means faster, more accurate disease diagnosis, said William Newlin, chairman, Sewickley-based Newlin Investment Co., and SpIntellx board director.

"Artificial intelligence is accelerating speed and accuracy at an incredible rate," said Mr. Newlin, whose firm raised the seed money for SpIntellx. "Artificial intelligence is enabling superior results for pathology."

Digitized pathology slides are standard at many hospitals, but the field continues to grow with innovations that aim to improve the accuracy of identifying tumors and other abnormalities. Not all companies have been successful.

Two years ago, digital pathology company Omnyx LLC was folded into GE Healthcare, which ended an eight-year partnership with UPMC to commercialize the digitization and archival of human tissue slides. Omnyx was formed in 2008 by UPMC and GE Healthcare with the promise of each investing $40 million.

But industry experts said the market, which was restrained by federal regulatory oversight, did not develop as quickly as once thought.

Now, SpIntellx is leveraging Pittsburgh's dominant role in machine learning to try to break into the market that's expected to reach $887.7 million by 2025, according to Dublin, Ireland-based market research firm Research and Markets Ltd.

A turning point in digital pathology came last year with Food and Drug Administration approval of the first whole slide imaging system, said SpIntellx co-founder D. Lansing Taylor, who is also director of Pitt's Drug Discovery Institute.

The Philips IntelliSite Pathology Solution allowed pathologists to review and interpret digital surgical slides prepared from biopsied tissue, opening the market to other developers and broader use of the technology.

The conventional way of spotting cancerous cells through a pathologist's review is inefficient and accuracy can suffer because of the strain of the work, Mr. Taylor said. Moreover, the market for digital pathology scanners has become crowded, with five or six companies making the devices.

SpIntellx's software is designed to be used on a variety of digital pathology scanners, he said. "We don't care what instrument is used," he said. "Our software is agnostic."

SpIntellx's co-founders are S. Chakra Chennubhotla, associate professor of computational and systems biology; and physicians Michael Becich, associate vice chancellor for Informatics in the Health Sciences; and Jeffrey Fine, assistant professor of pathology.

In addition to being a scientist, Mr. Taylor, who began his academic career as an assistant professor at Harvard University, is a serial entrepreneur. He founded Cellomics Inc. and Cellumen, and co-founded other startup companies during his work in Pittsburgh.

Kris B. Mamula: or 412-263-1699