Microsoft, Median team up to build IT-enabled early cancer detection system

Microsoft

Microsoft ($MSFT) and Median Technologies have teamed up to develop image analysis technology capable of detecting cancer early. The project combines Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing system with a data-driven approach to image processing that is in development at Median.

That approach to processing, Ibiopsy, is the latest attempt by Median to extract early, accurate biomarkers of disease from medical images. Median already possesses algorithms to automate the detection, quantification and tracking of lesions and other abnormalities in medical images. These existing tools form the basis of deals with companies including CRO Quintiles ($Q). Ibiopsy, a totally new offering, is designed to advance beyond these existing capabilities by extracting more insights from images.

“Ibiopsy is based on a novel paradigm that permits the non-invasive quantification of key properties of normal and diseased tissues through a Big Data approach to image processing, feature extraction and matching of target tissues to a repository of annotated "image fingerprints" or signatures correlated with histopathology data,” Median CEO Fredrik Brag told FierceBiotechIT. “It will offer a very effective and low-cost alternative in terms of diagnosis and treatment monitoring to traditional invasive and expensive biopsies.”

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Microsoft will provide the computing capabilities needed to power this process through its Azure cloud platform. By teaming up with a cloud provider, Median has ensured that medical facilities and physicians can access Ibiopsy without possessing powerful computing capabilities of their own. Azure will perform the heavy lifting, giving Median a model it thinks can facilitate the uptake of Ibiopsy in routine clinical practice centers around the world.

The ambition to establish Ibiopsy as the go-to option for early detection of cancer and monitoring of the effects of treatments puts Median up against a diverse range of rivals. IBM ($IBM) has invested heavily to equip Watson to analyze medical images, most notably by handing over $1 billion to acquire Merge Healthcare. Other companies, including Illumina ($ILMN), see blood tests as the future of early cancer detection, although that field is still in its infancy.

Median still has work to do on Ibiopsy, too, and as such it will be some time before anyone outside of the partners gets a chance to see if it can live up to Brag’s billing. An alpha version of Ibiopsy is currently being installed on Azure, but that is only for internal testing. Brag is aiming to have a beta version ready for testing by select customers in the first half of 2017.

If Median and Microsoft hit that timeline--and Ibiopsy comes through beta testing as expected--the product will become more widely available to customers in the U.S., Europe and Asia sometime in 2018. Parallel to this work, Median and Microsoft will collaborate on the development of predictive analytics methods and encryption capabilities designed to run on Azure.

While this suggests a close, ongoing working relationship between the companies, Median isn’t wedded to Microsoft. “Other cloud platforms are being evaluated [for Ibiopsy], especially in Asia,” Brag said.

- read the release

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