(all views expressed in their article are solely the authors’ personal views)
Our investment in Morphle > integrating AI in workflow > hardware + software + AI > digitizing pathology, improving speed and accuracy of reporting.
Globally, the macro drivers in health continue to be interesting, driven by the troika of increasing disease burden, insurance penetration and health seeking behavior. And while there has been significant investment to fulfil this growing global demand, there is now a need to leverage technology to bring more efficiencies to existing businesses. Globally, technology integration into existing workflows has helped streamline a few functions in healthcare delivery, for e.g., teleconsultation, OPD, practice management software and artificial intelligence to assist clinical decision making have all helped utilize existing resources like doctors’ time better and made the process more efficient. They have also increased convenience for consumers.
Companies in this space also have relatively lower capital requirements and a huge potential to grow, hence have attracted significant investments. The global digital health sector saw ~$3bn in investments in the first quarter of 2020 itself and across multiple stages.
The global digital pathology market, however, has been a laggard in this regard – it is 1/6th the size of the global digital radiology market today.
There is no democratization of the market unlike radiology where digital images have formed the basis for large scale innovation. There are hundreds of companies building algorithms for disease detection using a radiology scan today with machines and radiologists being able to read these scans anywhere anytime.
Compare this to pathology - it still takes 3 – 4 days on an average to get a tissue biopsy report, and sometimes the wait can be as long as 7-8 days depending on the complexity of the case followed by additional time needed for a second opinion. Apart from this, there is the issue of inter-observer variability amongst pathologists that can only be solved by quantifying and marking observations – a use case impossible to solve for traditional microscopy but well solved by digitization. Automation can not only reduce time taken for diagnosis but also improve the quality of reporting at the same time.
However, despite the existence of Whole Slide Imaging (WSI) technology for more than a decade, digital scanning is largely limited to academic purposes currently. This is primarily due to the high cost of adoption of digital pathology. The digital scanner market currently has two kinds of companies – one end of the market is the large equipment companies whose scanners cost upwards of USD 200k, and are closed systems, the other end is the low cost scanners which are either very slow, have bad optics and/ or are unreliable (fragile product and/or bad servicing). Imagine a pathologist having to lose a slide because the scanner broke down midway or having to rush in to the lab to report on some urgent slides.
Morphle addresses all of these challenges – it has a low-cost robust scanner which can scan tissue slides and blood smears and create digital images which pathologists can view and report on anywhere, anytime. They can also share these images with the click of a button to get second opinions and have more meaningful discussion with doctors anywhere.
What is unique about Morphle is that it has eliminated the two most important barriers to adoption:
The founders' vision is exciting – their aim is to automate 80% of the current pathology market in the next 3-5 years. Digital images using their scanners form the base of the pyramid. They then aim to bring in computational algorithms and AI for disease detection, and for telepathology. They see themselves as enablers who will work with other companies wanting to develop and commercialize tools for automating pathology on the base they have created.
We, at Enzia Ventures, are really excited to partner with this team who are building globally competent products. With their IIT Kharagpur robotics experience, Morphle’s founders, Rohit and Anchit, bring a strong technology expertise and an ability to attract strong talent to the team. They tested their product with some of the most respected pathology labs in the country with just Rs. 1 crore of capital raised. In addition, their OCD for operational excellence has helped in ensuring they have the right systems & processes from the start.
We think there is a large play for Indian companies building for global markets in healthcare and we are keen to work with founders in this space.
To know more about Morphle Labs, go to: https://www.morphlelabs.com/