News In Context

Next Gen AI Powered Diagnostics Could Help Usher In Precision Medicine

Credit: Owkin

France this week announced a plan to help it become a global leader in artificial intelligence-powered precision medicine through a new €33 million consortium project led by French AI biotech company Owkin and funded by Bpifrance, the French public investment bank..

Born of a collaboration between Owkin and Gustave Roussy, Europe’s leading cancer hospital, PortrAlt will see research hospitals and pathology labs across France working with French technology leaders to develop and deploy new digital pathology AI tools to improve cancer treatment. The project aims to build at least 15 AI-based tools to improve the diagnosis of cancer, the discovery of new treatment biomarkers and the prediction of patient outcomes in hospitals across France. If it reaches its potential the project could advance precision medicine, the matching of the right drugs or treatments to the right people based on a genetic or molecular understanding of their disease.

Globally, despite significant advancements in medical technology, reaching a definitive diagnosis for many diseases still requires the microscopic evaluation of clinical tissue samples by surgical pathologists. In 2019, the European Union approved the usage of whole slide scans for such primary diagnoses, allowing routine glass histopathology slides to be digitized and presented to pathologists for review on computer monitors.

The French project will train machine learning models to spot minutely different patterns in patients’ diseases in digital pathology slides. (Slides of patients’ tissue samples at University Hospital Erlangen are pictured here). By adopting digital pathology and AI, pathologists can begin screening patients much earlier and more cost-effectively than comprehensive genomic profiling or other techniques, improving overall diagnostic yield and increasing the number of patients who can benefit from precision medicine.

We want to create a culture of collaboration between data scientists, pathologists, oncologists and get access to data in the hospital network, for the benefit of all patients,” Professor Jean-Yves Blay, General Director of the Centre Léon Bérard and President of Unicancer, a hospital federation dedicated to cancer care in France, said in a statement.

PortrAIt will build a platform that will allow consortium partners to collaborate on the development of AI diagnostic tools. These will then be tested and deployed in cancer centers and pathology labs across France. The five-year project aims to establish its platform within one year and deploy new AI-based patient diagnostics in hospitals within four years.

In Europe, national programs for sharing of collected data will be crucial for the development, testing, and validation of machine learning–enabled tools supporting clinical decision-making.  Switzerland’s Digital Pathology Consortium is developing a unified national digital pathology network to that end. Opening its national infrastructure and data to international researchers in a sequential rollout phase is expected to enable the large-scale integration of health data and pooling of resources for research purposes and clinical trials.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.