Tell me about yourself and the company.I’m an ophthalmologist specializing in retinal surgery. I also studied computer science, did a master’s, and then did a PhD in image analysis years ago. I worked for years in France in the software industry. I worked on neural networks 30 years ago. I’ve been trying to combine IT and medicine for the last 25 years. People have always said it’s a great combination, but it turns out that it’s pretty hard to do. Right now, I’m excited because we are very successful and it’s going somewhere.
The company was founded in 2010. I had been working on algorithms to diagnose disease before then. As you can hear from my accent, I came from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Iowa now 15 years ago. I had been doing research on these AI algorithms and was getting good results. By the time I founded IDx, I realized that productivity and loss of productivity in healthcare is key if we want to do something about the cost of healthcare.
If you want to make physicians more productive, AI needs to be autonomous, meaning it makes a clinical decision by itself or a therapeutic decision by itself rather than assisting a clinician, because then you don’t really do something about physician productivity. That’s the key.
Since then, we have been working on a number of products, but primarily on diabetic retinopathy, mostly because it’s the most important cause of blindness. It’s very obvious. We know exactly what to do with these patients if we catch them early. But they are not caught early. The patients are in primary care, but historically they needed to be referred to an ophthalmologist like me, an optometrist, or a retinal specialist to examine the retina for signs of disease. Then you can still prevent vision loss and blindness. But that’s not happening.
It’s the lower-hanging fruit in terms of using a well-defined task in analyzing these images and a well-defined task in terms of what happens to the patients. What the diagnosis should be and where it should happen. You take the diagnostic capability that is in me, as a retinal specialist, into primary care, where I’m clearly not. That’s what we set out to do with the clinical trial of the product.
It took seven years of conversations with the FDA to make sure they’re comfortable about how to validate autonomous AI, which makes a clinical decision without physician oversight. Make sure it’s safe — that’s primary. Make sure it’s efficient. That’s what we did with the clinical trial that led to approval last month.