When we invested in Aidence in 2017, we had a strong vision that advances in image recognition would accelerate change in a broad range of fields, particularly those where automation was still fairly basic. Medical imaging seemed to be a logical starting point: huge volumes of images are taken every day under highly-controlled circumstances, all interpreted and annotated (literally) by specialists. The value of these images is immense, and the cost of processing them is a serious limitation in taking more, putting a strain on our healthcare system.
Today’s announcement that Aidence, the AI imaging solution for oncology, got acquired by RadNet, the NASDAQ-listed global leader in diagnostic imaging, makes us reflect on the eventful journey we shared.
When we first crossed paths, a number of players were emerging in the AI imaging space. They were all tackling different areas, as you needed regulatory approval for each image modality (X-ray, PET, MRI etc), tissue (lung, breast, neck), disease area (cancer, COPD), and geography. The field was, and still is, very far from one-size-fits-all.
As we evaluated the different companies, one thing became very clear to us: having the best AI or Machine Learning is one thing, but a strong engine is useless without a steering wheel, gearbox, and appropriate tires. In order to penetrate the challenging environment of hospitals, a company had to have both the intelligent core and strong integration into hospitals’ existing workflow. It needed to provide practical output to radiologists, while also covering issues like privacy. Finding that killer combination was not an easy task.
The team at Aidence demonstrated mastery in all these areas. From the get-go, we were enamoured with their practical and proactive approach.
First, they made sure they had a solid scientific underpinning and the endorsement of leading lights in the industry. Second, they brilliantly capitalised on the field’s overall curiosity for the role of image recognition, and spread the word through research and presence at major conferences. Then, they honed in on the practical applicability in real-life settings, overcoming the challenges of working on-prem, such as thinly-staffed hospital IT departments and peculiarities of proprietary hospital systems, which secured the trust of the most important stakeholders: the radiologists themselves.
Another challenge that comes with selling in the medical field is figuring out which countries to target. Even if the Euro zone is bound by the same regulatory framework, the medical fieldwork dynamics vary from country to country — they have different protocols, payer systems and reimbursement codes, power dynamics, and even imbalances in supply and demand. We were very impressed with how Aidence managed to break into a number of major European markets from a start in the Netherlands.
In a field where product development is regulated, figuring out product expansion is another major effort, and one that doesn’t follow the normal rules of “the lean startup” and its MVP approach. The Aidence team was very strategic in identifying the monumental opportunity in lung cancer screening, where quickly excluding large volumes of images is essential to making it affordable, and how it applied to the development and monitoring of newly-developed medicine.
Aidence’s stellar combination of strategic savvy and operational tenacity and excellence has set the stage for the next chapter in their journey: teaming up with RadNet, the global leader in diagnostic imaging, will enable Aidence to scale their service much faster and more internationally, so they can touch the lives of many more people in need.
For a company whose first KPI was saving one life by finding a cancer that the doctor had missed, it’s great to see them realise their ambition of doing just that for thousands of people.
Today, we are not only proud of the Aidence team and happy to have been part of this successful journey, we’re also excited about the technology they are bringing to the world. We wish Mark-Jan, Jeroen and the team all the best — may the wind be always at their back in their new home!