Startup mantra: Artificial intelligence in medical space
PUNE AI-enabled radiology platform DeepTek is playing an important role in precise diagnosis of diseases like TB and Covid-19.
The Pune-based startup has received strategic investment from a clutch of investors so far, and is eying another VC round in next six months.
Ajit Patil and Amit Kharat co-founded DeepTek in 2017. Patil completed his schooling from SSPMS school and engineering from COEP in 1992. He has a Master’s degree from IIT-Kharagpur in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. Amit Kharat, with a DNB and PhD in Radiology, has been engaged in the radiology space for the last 17 years.
Ajit Patil’s family hails from Sangli district and his father Surgonda Patil used to work with Kirloskar’s as an engineer. Patil’s father had started a manufacturing workshop which he ran after his office hours. Says Patil, “My father used to return around 6 pm from office and pick up his bag and go to the workshop. He was a role model for me to become an entrepreneur. I was a very shy person and wasn’t sure whether I was geared to be a good entrepreneur.”
“Most students from COEP at the time were planning to study or work in the US, but I wanted to do business in India. I worked for one year in Telco under the sandwich programme, but then I realised and decided that I am not going to do a job anymore. I appeared for the GATE exam and went to IIT Kharagpur in 1992. During one of the breaks, I had come to Pune and met a friend from COEP. He had done his mechanical engineering, but was working at a software company called Fujitsu. I was surprised. When I went back to IIT, I was doing an industrial management programme and was asked to analyse the opportunities for the software industry in India. That time, in 1994, I realised that the software industry is a huge wave coming and can transform India. So, I also joined Fujitsu to gain some experience in the software industry. One fine day I decided to stop and go back to India. I met my father and told him I want to do something in software. My father was in mechanical engineering, but he encouraged me. That gave me the confidence. I started the company Vertex Software, a Japan-focused software services firm which had strategic equity investment from Mitsui and exited to NTT DATA.
“We were one of the largest Indian companies working on the Japanese market, with over 700 employees, of which 200 spoke Japanese.”
What is radiology AI
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is very powerful on image analytics and radiology is all about images from MRI, CT scans and X-rays. Analysing these images and identifying the pathology or disease, to what extent it has infected or progressed, is radiology AI.
Each machine and its settings are different and the human body is also different. An AI solution which works across these machines and body types is not a trivial problem. Besides, there is a lack of radiologists in almost all countries. India has only 8,000 radiologists who do CT scans, MRIs and another 8,000 do sonography, due to some regulatory issues. Considering the population of India, these are small numbers. Similarly, UK, Japan, Singapore and Australia also have radiologists in few numbers.
How DeepTek was born
In 2013, Ajit Patil stepped out of Vertex and decided to something else as an entrepreneur. Patil recalled, “In 2017, I was talking to Tsyoshi Kitani, then CTO of NTT Data. He mentioned that they were interested in radiology AI. They had a product in the US which was used in 1,000 hospitals there. In AI, data is the oil and without data you cannot do AI. Kitani said they had the data and wanted to explore something in this space and if I could do something, they will look at it. I started researching. I met almost 30 to 40 people including industry experts, educational experts, AI experts, and radiologists.”
“I met Dr Amit Kharat and offered him co-founder of the start-up. Aniruddha Pant, who is a data scientist and also an alumnus of COEP, also came along with us at that time. We had gone to US to visit an exhibition related to radiology, organised by the Radiology Society of America. We were there for four-five days. We talked to lot of companies doing AI and tried to understand what they were doing. We learnt that none of the companies – including a few which were funded – had any commercial adoption. We were on the way back to Newark airport and almost decided that we will not pursue this idea. After a while, we realised that this idea would work only if we take radiology experts on board. We should not just depend on AI, but ask the experts to take ownership. This “expert in loop” model clicked and we all were energised. We thought this is where we can create and deliver value to the hospital,” Patil explained.
Says Patil, “In 2017, we started working on the model. We did a few things initially and then we approached NTT DATA again. NTT DATA took an immediate interest and decided to invest in our company in 2018. One of the earlier investors, Mitsui also expressed their interest and their group company Nobori, Japan’s largest Cloud PACS provider, came on board as a strategic investor. Aniruddha Pant helped us develop the data science experts’ team. We have a total team of 70 people, including 20 radiologists and 40 data science and technology experts, along with a strong leadership team. This combination is a unique thing we have created so far.”
Commercial adoption strategy
Elaborating on their strategy, Patil said, “Since radiology AI is a large opportunity, there are many start-ups in US, Israel and Japan working in this sector. Although in 2017 we were late, what we learned was that these start-ups were finding it difficult to commercially deploy their solutions in the market.”
“Commercial adoption of radiology AI workflow is not happening even now. First intervention in any hospital is an X-ray, but most of them go unreported. DeepTek’s solution is very powerful on X-rays as it can automatically identify 20 pathologies. DeepTek believes in augmenting the radiologists and not replacing them,” he stated.
Says Patil, “With the “expert in the loop model” we managed to get 120 hospitals and imaging centres as our paying customers. These are mostly small and medium establishments situated in Maharashtra. Amit Kharat’s teleradiology customers became our first customers. We migrated those customers on our AI platform and now we are adding 10 customers every month. Last year, due to Covid and the consequent lockdown, we explored the overseas opportunities and got customers in Japan. We are conducting pilots in Indonesia, Phillipines and Africa also. NTT DATA and Nobori helped us with relationships and connections in getting the international customers. Apart from NTT DATA and Nobori, Gurugram-based Indo-Japanese Venture Accelerator GHV and Pune-based Pentathlon Ventures has invested in DeepTek.”
TB screening solution
DeepTek has partnered with the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) to provide artificial intelligence-enabled solution for screening and triage of tuberculosis from digital chest X-rays. DeepTek has screened 100,000 people using its AI-first population screening platform, GENKI (Japanese word for healthy) since 2019. This ongoing partnership has now been extended to screen 1,50,000 patients by 2022.
Effective detection tool for Covid-19
A CT scan has evolved as a sensitive and effective tool for detecting the Covid-19 infection. Explaining about this solution, Patil said, “There are certain kind of patches in the CT scan images which are indicative of Covid infection. CT scan has become one of the primary techniques for segregation of Covid patients in the hospitals. A lot of research has been done globally in Japan, China, Singapore, regarding this. DeepTek has also conducted research in collaboration with Nanavati hospital and Ruby Hall Clinic (RHC). We have done a ‘proof of concept’ with Nanavati hospital and we are in the process of publishing papers related to the research conducted with RHC.”
“I am pleased to see the increasing maturity of AI technology and medical imaging services at DeepTek since the beginning of its business in 2018. The technology and service helps to solve society issues as we witness in the Chennai TB elimination project. NTT DATA Intellilink will continue working with DeepTek in developing emerging technology and contributing to society,” said Tsyoshi Kitani, president and CEO, NTT DATA INTELLILINK Corporation