Oncoustics raises $5.5m for 'virtual biopsy' AI platform


Digital health startup Oncoustics has raised $5.5 million in seed funding to develop an artificial intelligence-powered technology that will be used to spot and diagnose liver diseases from ultrasound images.

The new company – based in Toronto and San Francisco – will use the new funding to accelerate the development of its lead software-as-a-medical device (SaMD) OnX, used to detect changes like scaring (fibrosis) and fatty build-up (steatosis) in chronic liver diseases.

The AI works on any ultrasound system, according to Oncoustics, so could be used to make diagnosis, surveillance and treatment monitoring for liver diseases more accessible at the point of care.

While other companies have developed AI-based algorithms to diagnose diseases from ultrasound and other medical images, Oncoustics approach has another dimension – analysing the acoustic data derived from the raw sound signals used to generate ultrasound images in order to differentiate tissue types.

"Every different type of tissue in the body bounces back a unique acoustic signature and Oncoustics mines these signals to differentiate healthy versus diseased tissues," according to the company.

The financing round was co-led by Creative Ventures and Saltagen Ventures, with backing from NorthSpring Capital Partners, Fraser Kearney Capital, Pallasite Ventures, and Dr Chen Fong, an eminent radiologist and entrepreneur.

Fong will join Oncoustics board n behalf of Saltagen, along with James Wang of Creative Ventures, who described the company's technology as "unique".

"They mine the raw data that is typically thrown away and can use this to go beyond what can be seen by the human eye," said Wang. "They're basically creating a 'virtual biopsy' that has vast applications in healthcare."

While ultrasound is widely used in medical diagnostics, CLD is a sensible place to start as it is very common, and rising in incidence worldwide, and so far attempts to develop drug therapies have been disappointing.

There are already more than 2 billion people with CLD globally, and numbers are rising dramatically, mainly due to escalating rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD), a condition that is largely associated with obesity and an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.

With no effective drug treatments, early diagnosis of NAFLD could help patients make lifestyle changes to limit the progression of the disease.

"There's a tsunami of need around detecting these types of liver diseases and our ultimate goal is to decrease or eliminate the need for high-end imaging or painful and invasive biopsies," said Beth Rogozinski, Oncoustics' chief executive.

"With this new round of funding, we will accelerate our liver solutions and enable low-cost diagnostics for earlier interventions and better patient care."

Oncoustics is also working diagnostic tools for  other liver diseases, as well as prostate, kidney, breast and thyroid diseases and cancers.