Innovations and Impact of Digital Pathology

Frost & Sullivan found the global digital pathology market to be valued at $440 million. Revenue is expected to reach $709 million by 2021. The future of digital pathology will be built on technologies such as deep learning, machine learning and Big Data analytics. Read more about advances in this space.

Digital pathology refers to the image-based digital ecosystem that captures, manages and interprets pathology information. It is a convergence of medical imaging and digital technologies that digitize and interpret images with the help of advanced analytics. Exhibit 1 provides an overview of the workflow.

In a market outlook report published in November 2017, Frost & Sullivan found the global digital pathology market to be valued at $440 million, as shown in exhibit 2. Revenue is expected to reach $709 million by 2021.

Hardware components, such as scanners and displays, account for the lion’s share of market revenue: nearly 70%. However, as an indication of the increasing importance of software and advanced analytics in medical diagnosis, Frost & Sullivan estimates that software will contribute about 28% of market revenue by 2021, up from 24% in 2017. Considering software’s growing influence, the company profiles below explain the use of advanced analytics and algorithms in their service offerings to interpret medical images.

Grundium (Tampere, Finland)

Before artificial intelligence can work its magic and make sense of medical images, there is the task of first obtaining the images. While several microscopes and medical imaging systems have been retrofitted with a wireless component to communicate the images to a cloud-based server, this Finnish start-up has developed a portable microscope that automatically digitizes its images. Catering to researchers, pathologists and surgeons, the microscope can scan the entire slide containing the tissue biopsy at the point of care and immediately digitize it. The ultra-compact microscope (it can be carried in the palm of the hand, and weighs little more than a paperweight) has a built-in hard disk for storing digital images, and a direct uplink provision to create digital images. The 3-D autofocus lends to sharper images, and the microscope is intended as an easy-to-use scanner, without the need for skilled (and messy) sample preparation.

Philips Healthcare, Inc. (Andover, Mass.)

Philips is one of the leading medical imaging companies, having presence in both preclinical and clinical imaging. In 2016, Philips acquired PathXL (Belfast, Ireland) to boost its digital pathology suite, IntelliSite. PathXL was a pioneer in the field, and over 10 years had emerged as the foremost tissue pathology and image analysis software company in Europe. Today, PathXL’s machine learning algorithms power IntelliSite’s image analysis solutions. In 2017, Philips obtained U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance to use IntelliSite in primary diagnostics—the first such regulatory clearance in the country. Philips is focusing on using IntelliSite to analyze tissue images in the diagnosis of various types of cancer.

Roche Diagnostics (Risch-Rotkreuz, Switzerland)

Roche is a large pharmaceutical and diagnostics company with offices around the world. In order to introduce digitization into its considerable diagnostics portfolio, Roche acquired Ventana Medical Systems in 2008 and BioImagene in 2010. Today, Roche is among the top three digital pathology service providers, offering both hardware and software solutions for a variety of clinical and preclinical applications. Roche’s scanners—iScan HT and iScan Coreo—capture bright field microscopy pictures of samples and convert them into digital images. This is the first step in digitizing laboratory workflow. The Virtuoso suite is an online platform for image storage, sharing and analysis. Along with Virtuoso, Roche’s Companion Algorithm helps diagnosticians validate pathologies. The image analysis software is CE marked, and has FDA clearance for certain indications.

AstraZeneca (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

In 2014, AstraZeneca’s biologics division, MedImmune, completed the acquisition of Definiens AG, a maverick tissue analytics company based in Munich, Germany. Definiens marketed itself as a “tissue phenomics” company, proclaiming that tissue phenotype revealed a lot about the underlying disease condition, particularly cancer. Identifying distinct biomarkers on the tissue surface, tissue morphology and appearance, Definiens was able to obtain a wealth of information from a tissue biopsy. Today, Definiens is an independent subsidiary of AstraZeneca; besides helping the parent company develop drugs, Definiens also offers third-party histopathology services to other pharmaceutical companies. 

The Road Ahead

The future of digital pathology will be built on technologies such as deep learning, machine learning and Big Data analytics. Already, young companies such as Paige.AI (New York), Fimmic (Helsinki, Finland) and PathAI (Boston, Mass.) have developed state-of-the-art artificial intelligence platforms to analyze medical images. Considering the rich acquisition legacy of this industry, it can be expected that these companies will be on the radar of larger companies for acquisition.

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