According to the World Health Organisation, there were over a million new cancer cases tracked in Southeast Asia in 2020. This isn’t new and sadly, it is likely we all know someone impacted by this disease.

As we continue to innovate and disrupt industries, maybe it is time to look at the healthtech industry for a solution or at least a better way of dealing with the increasing cancer rates around the world. One such startup that is looking to improve how cancer diagnosis is done is Qritive.

To find out more about their solutions, we spoke to Aneesh Sathe, CEO and Co-Founder of Qritive. We wanted to see how he envisions the growth of his business and the true impact of what he is doing.

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Last year, Qritive was selected as one of the six promising startups to join GE Healthcare’s India Edison Accelerator Programme as part of their third cohort. Qritive has also collaborated with key partners such as Singapore General Hospital, National University Hospital (NUH), Philips and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HP).

In 2022, the company hopes to further expand its team by making strategic hires to further its mission of helping to alleviate the cancer burden in Southeast Asia, and to strengthen the region’s healthcare systems.

Could you explain what your technology does for cancer diagnosis?

Our main mission at Qritive is to make diagnosis fast, accurate and affordable for pathologists and physicians across Asia Pacific; we hope to help them to deliver the best health outcomes for their patients with debilitating diseases such as cancer.

Given that Asia Pacific has one of the fastest-growing numbers of cancer cases globally, due to rapidly changing lifestyles and an ageing population – a burden that continues to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 and Omicron variant outbreaks – we believe that Qritive will play an increasingly defining role in helping to alleviate this burden.

Specifically, we aim to leverage our technological capabilities and high-performance AI algorithms to create an interconnected digital ecosystem that can assist pathology labs and pathologists in the study of cancer. Overall, we are striving to enhance the efficiency of cancer diagnosis, as delays in diagnosis remain one of the key drivers of the regional burden. 

While pathology has always been central to our healthcare systems, with up to 70% of clinical decisions involving pathology, the industry battles its own set of challenges. For example, with the severe shortage of trained pathologists, the industry struggles to keep up with the surge in demand for cancer diagnosis.

To help alleviate the workload of pathologists, we have innovated a holistic range of solutions that eliminates the need for multiple vendors at a pathology lab, thereby improving efficiency in terms of workflow. For example, one of our flagship products Pantheon digitizes the entire pathology lab workflow and provides a platform for automated AI analysis through a single click. We also specialize in AI modules for a variety of cancer types, including, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, immunohistochemistry, and blood smears. For instance, working with Singapore General Hospital in Singapore, our immunohistochemistry AI module has reportedly helped to reduce pathologists’ errors by 9.4%.

Pantheon is also vendor agnostic, which gives hospitals and labs, especially out of Asia, the freedom to mix and match microscopy devices. This becomes critical as labs move towards the hub and spoke model, where remote locations may not be able to afford the same level of investment. In such a case the lab may choose to purchase lower-cost digital pathology scanners. With Pantheon, the user experience of the pathologists is seamless. 

The role of AI, especially in histopathology, is to provide instant upskilling to junior pathologists, without sacrificing quality all while improving turnaround time. Each cancer is different and so are the steps in diagnosis. Qritive’s AI modules are built to support specific workflows giving the pathologists input on tasks that are tedious (say counting millions of cells) or too time-consuming. 

How do you balance the role of technology and the human touch when it comes to healthcare?

COVID-19 has shown us that digitalization is inevitable, and it will continue to transform many industries for years to come. Even in healthcare, technological adoption will not slow down at any moment. Radiologists and pathologists for instance, will certainly be presented with more digitally-driven solutions, where AI and Machine Learning will be increasingly introduced into their clinical workflow to enable more confident analysis and diagnosis.

New technologies no doubt serve as useful tools to improve workflow efficiency, helping radiologists and pathologists to focus on delivering the best outcomes for their patients. However, it is important to note that they should complement, but not replace, human touch. With that in mind, healthcare professionals should still continue to upskill themselves and adapt to the ever-changing climate, so they can effectively work hand-in-hand with these tools and technologies to improve outcomes.

AI assistance opens up is the ability for doctors to do a deeper analysis. Just like spreadsheets changed how we calculate, AI will change how we diagnose. However, there are problems that AI can’t solve, such as having an understanding of the patient’s emotional needs. AI has the potential to free up the time of busy doctors so that they can better attend to patients. 

With an increasing amount of funding going to the industry, how do you balance the need for an accessible and effective solution and your fiduciary duty to investors?

In the world of start-ups, funding is synonymous with growth. With fresh capital injected from investors, companies can quickly expand their capabilities and accelerate their business to the next level.

However, while receiving funding is often good news – especially for technology start-ups who aspire to become unicorns eventually – being in the healthcare industry in the current climate means that there is also an urgency for us to remain focused on our main priority to assist healthcare professionals in creating better outcomes for their patients, strengthening the overall efficiency of the healthcare industry to prepare everyone for current and future challenges. This remains our core mission at Qritive – to use our technological capabilities and solutions to help pathologists deliver confident diagnosis for their patients.

Moreover, while investors consider different factors before deciding on investing in a company, there are several key traits that they look out for, and this includes product-market fit and having a strong management team. Hence, staying focused on creating an accessible and effective product to serve current market needs is also part of how we fulfil our duty to investors and ensure that their investments generate fruitful returns.

What does the future of healthtech in Southeast Asia look like to you in 2022 and beyond?

Healthtech has been a booming vertical for the past two years, its growth undoubtedly accelerated by the COVID-19 outbreak as it continues to push the boundaries of how healthcare is being delivered in today’s new normal. It was reported that investor appetite in the sector is also increasingly bullish, with a record high US$1.1 billion invested in H1 2021 alone, as compared to US$800 million in H1 2020.

In the pathology landscape specifically, we also see a lot of potential for the global digital pathology market that is estimated to reach US$17 billion by 2030, from US$5 billion in 2019. Asia Pacific will also continue to grow at a face pace in the global digital pathology market due to the rapid adoption of AI and ML. Considering this, we are confident of capturing a meaningful market share and we will continue to collaborate with different industry stakeholders, and leverage trends to implement intelligent tech solutions in the pathology labs.

What’s next for Qritive?

In the next two to three years, our goal is to onboard 4,000 pathologists on our Pathology Analytics Network (PAN), where we democratize digital pathology to enable community participation and access to high-quality tools and services. PAN also enables pathologists to leverage Qritive’s tools for easy collaboration, without the need to physically share slides. 

On top of this, we are also constantly working to improve our tech capabilities and to establish a strong regional presence by expanding our leadership team with strategic hires. As part of our commitment to improving pathology diagnosis for cancer, we are also looking to collaborate with key stakeholders in the industry including hospitals, pathology labs and pharmaceutical companies to improve pathology research.