How a Romanian MedTech startup helped US doctors treat refugee Ukrainian cancer patients

An innovative new medical startup in Romania helped doctors from three countries collaborate to treat Ukrainian cancer patients made refugees after Russia’s brutal invasion.

The “Tumor Board” project was initiated by doctors from the US, Romania and Moldova to provide life saving treatments for displaced Ukrainians with cancer.

A collaboration of Heal 21 Association and Blue Heron Foundation, the Board used a platform provided by Romanian startup Medicai to connect doctors, share medical files, and provide a platform to discuss treatment plans, as well as allow the patients to track their own progress.

Starting in April, imaging of the cancer patients from Ukraine was uploaded (those who had it) and the new imaging from Moldava were translated from Ukrainian to Romanian/English, and reports were prepared for each patient.

Medicai, which has raised €1.2M in venture funding to date, says its web based HIPAA-compliant platform hopes to become a sort of “Miro for health”, allowing healthcare professionals to collaborate over patient documents and records.

The problem Medicai is solving sounds familiar. For example, to this day, patients go into a $1 million MRI machine and – generally speaking – walk out with a CD disk with an image of their knee or some other part of their body. It’s just one example of how data can be siloed and how patients are usually locked into large, centralized systems. This means medical professionals can’t easily collaborate with specialists outside of their hospitals.

Established corporates selling these centralized systems include BoxDICOM, Ambra Health and amongst the startups there is EnvoyAI and Collective Minds Radiology (raised $6.7M), among others.

Medicai founder Mircea Popa’s journey in healthcare started in 2011 when, with a friend of his, he co-founded a company that is now called SkinVision, a skin cancer screening app that detects melanoma (skin cancer) through ML algorithms applied on images taken with smartphones. SkinVision reached 1.2 million downloads and raised a total of $15 million in total. Medicai Co-founder Alexandru Artimon (CTO) previously co-founded software company Atta Systems.

Popa told me via email: “One lesson we’ve learned lately about healthcare is that we desperately need flexibility. With the Tumor Board project we’ve shown that Medicai can set up infrastructure in a matter of days to provide access to expertise across 2 continents: US & Canada to Romania and Moldavia – and this was done in less than ideal conditions.”

“Through the Tumor Board project we were able to touch the lives of oncological patients that would have had no other option in seeking treatment and we’re really proud to be a part of that,” he added.

So far Medicai says it has reached 29 paying clinics/hospitals, with 2,434 doctors accounts and 1400 patients accounts. It’s also claimed a strategic partnership with Microsoft and pharmaceutical companies.

Investors to date include D Moonshots, Cleverage Venture Capital, Roca X and Gapminder VC.

Meanwhile the Tumor Board project continues. If there are the predicted four million Ukrainian refugees arriving in the coming months, there could be between 13,000 and 16,000 new patients with cancer per month arriving in countries bordering Ukraine.

Does early-stage health tech need more ‘patient’ capital?

Crista Galli Ventures, a new early-stage health tech fund in Europe, officially launched last week. The firm offers “patient capital” — with only a single LP (the Danish family office IPQ Capital) — and promises to provide portfolio companies with deep healthcare expertise and the extra runway needed to get over regulatory and efficacy hurdles and to the next stage.

The firm has an initial $65 million to deploy and is led by consultant radiologist Dr. Fiona Pathiraja. With offices in London and Copenhagen, it operates as an “evergreen” fund, meaning it doesn’t follow traditional five-year VC fundraising cycles.

In fact, Crista Galli Ventures’ pitch is that traditional venture isn’t well-suited to early-stage health tech where it can take significantly longer to find product-market fit with healthcare practitioners and systems and then become licensed by local regulators.

To dig deeper into this and CGV’s investment remit more generally, I interviewed Pathiraja about what she looks for in health tech founders and startups. We also discussed Crista Galli LABS, which operates alongside the main fund and backs founders from underrepresented backgrounds at the pre-seed stage.

TechCrunch: You describe Crista Galli Ventures (CGV) as an early-stage health tech fund that offers patient capital and backs companies in Europe. In particular, you cite deep tech, digital health and personalised healthcare. Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Dr. Fiona Pathiraja: We like founders with bold ideas and international ambitions. We look for mission-driven founders who believe their companies can make a real and positive impact on the lives of people and patients the world over.

We will look for founders who deeply understand the problem they are trying to tackle from all angles — especially the patient’s perspective, but also that of the clinician and relevant regulators — and we want to see that they are building their solutions to solve this. This means they will make an effort to understand the complex and nuanced healthcare landscape and all the stakeholders in it.

In terms of founder characteristics, in my opinion, the best founders will be mission driven, able to tell a compelling story, and motivate others to join them. Grit and resilience are important and several of our portfolio companies were founded around 6-8 years ago and they are doggedly continuing to build.

Paige details first AI pathology tech with clinical-grade accuracy in new research paper

Medical tech and computational pathology startup Paige has published a new article in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nature Medicine, detailing its artificial intelligence-based detection system for identifying prostate cancer, skin cancer and breast cancer, which the company says achieves “near-perfect accuracy.” Paige’s tech, which employs deep learning trained on a dataset of almost 45,000 slide images taken from over 15,000 patients spanning 44 countries, is novel in that it can eschew the need to curate data sets for training first, which greatly decreases cost and time required to build accurate AI-based diagnostic tools.

Last February, Paige announced $25 million in Series A funding, and a partnership with Memorial Sloan Kettering Center (MSK) to gain access to one of the largest single repositories of pathology slides in the world. MSK is also home to the lab of Dr. Thomas Fuchs, Paige’s co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, and possibly the world’s foremost authority in computational pathology.

Paige’s approach uses much larger data sets than are typically employed in AI-based diagnostics, but without the tight curation that focuses other efforts much more narrowly on specific types of cancer diagnostics. The result, according to the company, is not only better performance, but also a resulting system that its much more generally applicable.

Next up for Paige is to commercialize its technology, which is something it’s already pursuing. The work described in the article published in Nature Medicine has already been employed in technology currently under review by the FDA, albeit for a different final application than the ones described in the study published by the magazine.