Roche's Walk strolls over to PathAI as the pathology startup's new chief medical officer

To ensure it’s not merely talking the talk about developing artificial intelligence software for pathology, PathAI is also walking the Walk—the Eric Walk, M.D., that is.

The Boston-based startup appointed Walk, a pathologist with nearly two decades of experience working in diagnostics and drug discovery, to serve as its chief medical officer.

In his new role, Walk will take charge of PathAI’s clinical development work and help lead the company’s clinical, regulatory, medical affairs and pathology teams, offering up his experience as both a clinician and longtime biotech and pharma vet in its development of in vitro and companion diagnostics.

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That experience includes about a decade and a half at Roche Tissue Diagnostics. Walk had been Ventana Medical Systems’ senior vice president of medical and scientific affairs when the devicemaker was purchased by Roche for $3.4 billion in 2008.

Under the Roche umbrella, Walk spent more than 13 years as CMO and senior VP of medical and scientific affairs, tacking on the title of chief scientific officer in late 2017. During that time, he was also part of Roche’s medical leadership team, where he helped map out the Big Pharma’s global diagnostics strategy.

Walk first made the leap from clinical pathology to the commercial side in the early 2000s, with about three and a half years in Novartis’ oncology department working as an associate director of the translational medicine and early clinical development teams before ultimately setting his sights on diagnostics development at Ventana.

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At PathAI, he'll help develop AI-based pathology tools for both the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and more. That includes machine learning and deep learning programs to identify disease-specific biomarkers that can be used to develop new drugs, then predict how individual patients will respond to those potential treatments.

“As a pathologist myself, and through my work at Roche, I’m deeply familiar with the challenges facing pathologists as diagnostic criteria become more complex in the era of biomarker-driven and immunotherapeutic indications,” Walk said. “The technology that PathAI has developed to accurately and reproducibly quantify pathology samples will help ensure patients receive the correct diagnosis and treatments.”

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Walk joins PathAI at a time of rapid expansion. Not only does the startup have its eye on stretching its AI platform to support biopharma R&D teams at every stage—from drug target discovery all the way through clinical trials and commercialization of those drugs—but it has also received a deluge of funding to make those dreams come true.

The latest influx came in May, when PathAI closed its series C round with a hefty $165 million from Bristol Myers Squibb, Labcorp, Merck’s Global Health Innovation Fund and a handful of other investors.