Roche welcomes PathAI into its open digital pathology initiative

Roche digital pathology
The deal marks one of the first joint projects since Roche opened up its digital cancer pathology platforms to third-party AI tools last month. (Roche)

Roche has tapped PathAI for a collaboration that looks to merge artificial intelligence programs with its digital pathology work, with an eye on boosting the Big Pharma’s development of new drugs and companion diagnostic tests.

Under a joint distribution agreement, the two companies will work to develop an embedded image analysis program based on PathAI’s algorithms, which will run through Roche’s cloud-based uPath enterprise software.

The deal marks one of the first projects since Roche opened up its digital cancer pathology platforms to third-party AI tools last month, expanding their access to slide scanners and other patient information and making them available to users alongside Roche’s own AI-powered options.

“Expanded access to a menu of high medical value digital diagnostic tools will further ensure that patients are accurately diagnosed and receive the most effective treatment available,” Roche Diagnostics CEO Thomas Schinecker said in a statement.

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The coordinated effort will start with PathAI’s algorithms for research use only, spanning multiple types of cancer. 

“This collaboration brings together all of the components required to deliver and commercialize a differentiated AI-based digital pathology medical device including assay, scanner, image management system and algorithm,” said PathAI CEO Andy Beck. “We believe this partnership will unlock the potential for digital pathology in the companion diagnostics setting, offering a differentiated service to biopharma sponsors and ultimately new opportunities to improve patient outcomes.” 

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Workers on the project may also see some familiar faces: earlier this year PathAI appointed Eric Walk, the former chief medical and scientific officer of Roche Tissue Diagnostics, to be its new chief medical officer.

Walk previously spent more than 13 years at Roche, also serving as senior VP of medical and scientific affairs, before moving to the Boston-based PathAI in July. A pathologist by training, he will help develop machine learning tools for diagnosing cancer as well as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and other diseases. 

Recently buoyed by $165 million in venture capital funding, PathAI aims to expand its digital platform to support biopharma researchers at every stage of development, from target discovery through clinical trials and commercialization, in addition to aiding in clinical decision-making.