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Why We Invested in Iterative Scopes (Computer Vision vs Cancer)

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Iterative Scopes is announcing shortly a large seed round and is one of the bets we are making through Tau Ventures, an AI-first seed fund in Silicon Valley. The company was incubated at MIT and impressed us with identifying (1) a strong need, (2) building an execution-focused team, and (3) creating a differentiated product. In our diligence we spoke to various experts including the Head of Gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins and the Chief Innovation Officer of Mount Sinai who is a GI, validating for us the need and the solution. This post is focused specifically on the company but also reflects how we think about investments broadly.

1) The Need

The American Cancer Society recommends all adults over 45 should get regular screening for colon cancer. Depending on age and risk level the screening can vary in terms of number of years but on average the recommendation is every 5 years. Per the CDC the direct medical cost of colorectal cancer in 2010 was $14B. An individual has about a 5% chance of developing colorectal cancer in his / her lifetime. Doctors today miss up to 25% of polyps which they need to detect ie they detect 75% of all polyps present.

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Photo credit: Mayo Clinic Network

2) The Team

CEO Jonathan Ng is a MD / MBA / MPH who trained at National University of Singapore, MIT and Harvard and crowd-funded and built a hospital in Cambodia. His years in medicine brought him into contact with higher incidence of colon cancer and the realization that analyzing the images could help with earlier and better diagnosis. Jonathan assembled a team of his classmates from MIT, engineers in the Boston area, and brought in Stan Norton, the CTO of Humedica, on board. We have seen thousands of companies at this stage and recognized the X-factor (hustle + heart + hard work) in the Iterative Scopes team.

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Photo credit: Forbes from the article they published on Iterative Scopes in Aug 2019.

3) The Product

Iterative Scopes analyzes video images from colonoscopies in real-time — it’s a classic application of computer vision. The company’s first product, called Skout, is around detecting lesions and is expected to be ready for primetime in early 2020. The second product, called GutCheck, is incredibly disruptive innovation. GutCheck will essentially provide treatment guidance using AI, thus saving on cost, time and suffering for insurance, doctors and patients respectively.

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Photo credit: Iterative Scopes

Iterative’s clinical trial, supported by non-clinical data, is testing for a 20% increase in polyp detection from current standards ie moving from 75% to 90%. Also, their model is detecting 98+% of all polyps which clinicians currently resect. It’s partly the reason they have been able to partner with 40 hospitals, both academic and private, large and small, with more coming.

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