ending cancer

AI-optimized health startup with HQ in Houston takes its tech to the next level with new partner

Optellum, based in the TMC Innovation Institute, has entered into a partnership with Johnson & Johnson. Photo via Getty Images

Optellum, a startup whose technology helps doctors detect and treat lung cancer, has teamed up with one of the world's health care giants to broaden the software's reach.

On August 18, Optellum — whose U.S. headquarters is at Houston's TMC Innovation Institute — unveiled its new collaboration with the Lung Care Initiative at Johnson & Johnson, which racked up global sales of $82.6 billion last year. Optellum's key contribution to the partnership is its AI-powered software that aids medical professionals in detecting and treating patients with lung cancer.

With Optellum's AI-powered lung cancer diagnostics now being included in J&J's Lung Cancer Initiative, medical teams soon will enjoy access to an array of complementary technologies designed to improve diagnosis and treatment of early stage cancer. The Lung Cancer Initiative, launched in 2018 by J&J and Boston University, aims to prevent, detect, and cure lung cancer.

Lung cancer ranks as the world's most common type of cancer and leading cause of cancer deaths. About 1.8 million people around the world die from lung cancer each year. The current five-year survival rate is just 20 percent, primarily due to most patients being diagnosed after the disease has reached an advanced stage.

Optellum's Virtual Nodule Clinic software received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March. Hospitals in the U.S. are rolling out the technology, with Asia-Pacific and European hospitals on track to eventually adopt the software.

The Optellum platform identifies and tracks at-risk patients, and assigns a "lung cancer prediction" score to lung nodules — small lesions, frequently detected in chest CT scans, that may or may not be cancerous.

"Optellum's vision is to redefine the early intervention of lung cancer by enabling every patient to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest possible stage, when the chances of cure are highest," the United Kingdom-based company says in a news release.

The startup — a 2019 graduate of the Texas Medical Center's accelerator — hopes to apply the technology to other lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Optellum recently was named one of the 101 best medical device startups in the United Kingdom. In June, the startup was among 38 AI projects chosen by the UK Department of Health and Social Care to participate in a roughly $50 million health care initiative.

Václav Potěšil, founder and CEO of Optellum, says the Johnson & Johnson collaboration represents a "significant milestone" for his company.

The J&J partnership "brings us one step closer to Optellum's vision of redefining early lung cancer treatment by helping every clinician in every hospital to make the right decisions and provide their patients the best chance to fight back," Potěšil says.

Of the 35 people employed by Optellum, three are based in the U.S. and the rest in the United Kingdom. The company's team also includes several part-time consultants, most of whom are based in the U.S. By the end of this year, Optellum plans to expand its U.S. team with several full-time hires, including a senior executive located in Houston.

Beginning next year in Houston, Optellum expects its technology to be available for patients in clinical settings.

For Potěšil, Optellum's mission is personal. He lost an aunt to lung cancer within a year of her Stage 4 diagnosis.

"I've seen firsthand how very healthy people can be killed, and it's still the most common and deadliest cancer worldwide," Potěšil is quoted as saying by the Texas Medical Center. "We are really focused on enabling cancer patients to be diagnosed at the earliest possible stage and be cured. It's not just the modeled data on the computer. It's addressing the right clinical problems to add value to doctors."

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