Toronto’s Startup Oncoustics Simplifies Liver Disease Diagnostics

We have sat down with Ahmed El Kaffas, Co-Founder at Oncoustics, to talk about his Toronto’s startup. The company helps with early diagnosis when it comes to liver disease without invasive biopsies or expensive imaging.

Oncoustics is changing that with AI diagnostics for inexpensive, pocket-sized, point-of-care ultrasound, which is not ordinarily capable of high-resolution diagnostic imaging.

They do this by mining unique raw data streams for subtle signatures of disease, which is beyond perception with conventional methods.

Who started the company? Do you / team members have tech background?

The Founder: Dr. Ahmed El Kaffas is an Instructor at Stanford University in Radiology researching ultrasound tissue characterization. Dr. El Kaffas graduated from the University of Toronto’s prestigious Sunnybrook Research Institute where world-renowned ultrasound and medical imaging research is conducted.

CEO on founding team: Dr. Michael Weil is an MD in Radiation Oncology and has led several innovative technological developments from concept to market, including products that he has fully licensed to Siemens. He also founded Sirius Medical and has 15+ years in imaging technologies.

Business lead on founding team: Beth Rogozinski is a serial entrepreneur at the cross-bridge of tech and medicine.  She has served as CEO of Signal 2 Health and CPO of Pear Therapeutics. He work has produced >30 apps and > 12 for healthcare w/ 2 FDA approvals.

Oncoustics is a multi-disciplinary international team of radiologists, hepatologists, engineers, physicists, AI/ML and business experts, with international data collection and collaborations with Stanford and University of Toronto; total of ~13 employees.

How are you being financed?

Seed Angel Consortium through the Creative Destruction Lab (Toronto) and non-dilutive funds from Grand Challenges Canada, OCE and others. 

Building a start up is a lot of work, and as a founder, you are involved in everything from hiring, finding talent to tech dev, business pitches and strategies.

It’s a lot of fun, but it takes a lot of work and many don’t realize that still… failures happen, and one needs to move on after learning the lesson – things never run smoothly.

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What do you think will be / is a big obstacle to overcome?

Our initial obstacle was to set up a global network of clinics to acquire data to train on – this is because the data Oncoustics uses is unique and not conventionally stored on any ultrasound system or hospital repository (PACS). Oncoustics has spent the last year addressing this issue, and now have a steady stream of data flowing into our cloud system, and have started building AI on these.

The next major challenge will be a business one, that is to ensure that Oncoustics can have our product as part of the healthcare buying lifecycle – this is not a major challenge due to our software-based solution which taps on to already available hardware systems in the clinics. 

How do you go about finding good developers / IT guys for your company?

I tend to have a lot of faith in new grads that are passionate about tech and develop, and i’ve found that they are often deeply committed and have quick insight about the product once a training phase of 2-4 months passes; having them take ownership of the work and play a crucial role in the company also ensures that they are part of a founding team in start up like ours.

The GTA is full of excellent tech workers that have proven themselves over and over. I am also linked to Egypt, and often visit – Oncoustics has found an excellent network of developers there deeply passionate about the start up scene. As such, Oncoustics has been fortunate to run our business across several continents and to tap into an incredible network of talent in tech.

Who is your biggest competition?

Due to the nature of our business, Oncoustics does not have any direct completion. That said, Oncoustics has other players that are in parallel spaces; essentially other AI in medical imaging companies.

How are you intending on taking your company to millions / billions dollars in revenues? In what markets?

  • Introducing  low-cost liver disease surveillance and diagnostics with ultrasound; the alternative is i) invasive biopsies, or ii) imaging systems that cost > $150k-$1M.
  • Using a data-driven solution to enable low cost (< $5k) point-of-care ultrasound systems conventionally designed for guiding a procedure in the emergency room, now transformed to equivalent  systems to those in a radiology department.

As death and morbidity rates from liver disease rise around the world, there is a growing need for low cost and widely available surveillance and diagnostics.  Oncoustics provides just such a system that is an alternative to both invasive and expensive biopsies and high end imaging systems that cost > $150k-$1M. Our data-driven solution enables low cost (< $5k) point-of-care ultrasound systems to be used as diagnostic systems and accelerates the procedure from hours to minutes.  Via this system, more patients everywhere can have faster access to better diagnostics, surveillance and treatment than currently exists.

Revenue will come from:

  • Partnering with clinical centers,
  • Distribution through a Saas Model with PoC ultrasound OEMs
  • Partnerships with Pharmas to train our data for specific indications (i.e. companion device)

What is the big lesson you’ve learned (success or failure) with this project.

Building a start up is a lot of work, and as a founder, you are involved in everything from hiring, finding talent to tech dev, business pitches and strategies. It’s a lot of fun, but it takes a lot of work and many don’t realize that still… failures happen, and one needs to move on after learning the lesson – things never run smoothly.

As a company, Oncoustics had to do several pivots to iterate how Oncoustics introduce our tech and idea into the market, and that on it’s own took a significant amount of time and several years of development, talking to MDs, OEMs and understanding the real problems in the space Oncoustics is trying to tackle.

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