Introducing and gaining uptake of new technology requires a global effort and Volpara’s artificial intelligence (AI) software for analysing breast x-rays is an example of what can be achieved.
Volpara, a health technologies company based in Wellington, develops software to improve the quality of mammographic screening for the early detection of breast cancer.
“Our AI-imaging algorithms enable breast imaging centres around the world to provide personalised, high-quality screening based on automated, objective measurements of breast density, positioning, radiation dose and compression,” says CEO Dr Ralph Highnam.
“Our mission is straight-forward: to dramatically cut the 500,000 deaths from breast cancer each year by making imaging higher quality, more comfortable, and safer.
Dr Highnam says published papers have shown we’re making progress.
“Some US sites are seeing a dramatic increase in cancer detection using our breast density software and associating additional imaging, and we know many are seeing dramatic improvements in comfort and image quality – all of which suggests earlier detection of cancer, less treatment required for the women, and reduced mortality”.
This cloud-based benchmarking and metrics technology is based on research in medical physics originally conducted at Oxford University. Today, it’s used by customers and/or research projects in 36 countries. Critically, Volpara also has FDA clearance which allows the company to sell into the world’s biggest medical imaging market, the USA.
“The early-adopters in the medical world are in the US, and it’s critical when you start a company to focus where those early-adopters are, so you design a product which will be used and paid for, especially when the market is also massive as in the US,” he says.
The company recently participated in the Technology Innovation and Knowledge Interchange (TIKI) Tour organised by CMDT in partnership with the Ministry of Health which showcased New Zealand medical technology companies to the Ministry and other government organisations. Dr Highnam says events such as these are always beneficial.
“We get introductions to other companies working in this space that might have shared problems such as selling from here into the US market, but we also met a range of ministry officials with different insights into how our software might end up being used to help New Zealand women across their screening programme.”
Volpara is installed in three private radiology clinics in Auckland and one in Palmerston North and Dr Highnam is confident they’re moving towards their first public screening contract. “It’s great that the technology developed here in New Zealand is finally being used here”.
By Prue Scott