Neuroimaging trailblazer awarded greatest innovator

A neuroimaging provider’s pioneering use of deep learning for brain segmentation in clinical trials has seen it awarded with the Greatest Innovation accolade in Dun & Bradstreet’s Accelerate50


Trailblazer

Although the D&B Accelerate50 ranks companies according to their compound annual growth rate, driving all recipients is outstanding innovation, which has fuelled their business success. Technology is a tremendously powerful force that can simplify and enhance all manner of processes, tasks and activities. And it is constantly evolving, which is why innovation is a major consideration for most organisations.

Put simply, innovation is the beating heart of both a prosperous economy and a healthy, thriving society. It is right, therefore, that Dun & Bradstreet doesn’t only recognise the financial results of high-growth tech firms, but the innovation they have brought to market too. This inspires the Greatest Innovation Award in the Accelerate50.

During a year of global pandemic, it is perhaps apt that the Greatest Innovation would fall within the healthcare science industry, with the award going to IXICO, a neuroimaging provider that helps biopharmaceutical companies optimise their drug development pipelines for patients suffering from disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, by transforming data into clinically meaningful insights.

The importance of clinical trials has been brought to the attention of everyone in the last 12 months. When it comes to central nervous system (CNS) clinical trials, neuroimaging is a powerful tool due to its unique ability to visualise extraordinary information about the structural, functional and biochemical characteristics of the human brain. 

We can now quantify and measure things at a speed that was unthinkable

IXICO provides analysis of medical image data generated from the MRI and PET/SPECT brain scans required in trial study protocols. The output of the image analyses is used to support clinical trial inclusion criteria, monitor patient safety and assess the clinical efficacy of the drug.

The company was founded in 2004 by professors in imaging science from a trio of leading London universities: Imperial College, King’s College and University College. Their mission was to translate advances in imaging analytics from an academic environment into healthcare settings and transition to a central point of analysis in CNS clinical trials.

At that time, compute power was increasing, the internet was becoming available at scale and there were new developments in both MRI methodologies and machine learning to analyse the data. Clinical development was already beginning to move into neurology and IXICO’s founders were keen to bring all these advancements together.

“If you think back 15 years, all of these things were done completely manually. Some still are, but we’ve seen more and more automation,” says Robin Wolz, chief scientific officer at IXICO. 

“We pioneered segmentation technologies, which enable volumes in the brain to be automatically measured and quantified, eliminating the intensive time traditionally required of an expert radiologist. We’ve continued to do that over the years when new technology has allowed MRIs to measure new things, as well as from a machine-learning standpoint, to interpret the images in a better, more automated way.”

Breakthrough AI

Around five years ago, IXICO became one of the first companies working with deep-learning innovation to train neural networks and automate neuroimage analysis. At the heart of its innovation is its use of breakthrough and novel artificial intelligence (AI) tools to automate and enhance analysis of brain imaging endpoints and biomarkers. Its early work in deep learning paid off, with IXICO now at the forefront of a technology which, fuelled by increasing computer power and datasets, is revolutionising every part of neuroimaging data analytics.

Building on its record of translating cutting-edge technologies into CNS clinical trial applications, last year IXICO developed a new brain segmentation engine powered by deep learning. Using the adaptive segmentation platform, trial sponsors can measure the volume of even the most complex brain structures with unparalleled accuracy.

The platform enables training of a brain segmentation algorithm for a specific clinical question with highly curated datasets. Together with an increasing volume of study datasets and IXICO’s specialist neuroscience domain knowledge, it enables development of more accurate imaging biomarkers and measurements in CNS drug development.

In a recent project collaboration between IXICO and University College London, which segmented brain structures known to be affected by Huntington’s disease, the AI platform displayed segmentation accuracy previously unseen in automated approaches.

“We can now quantify and measure things at a speed that was unthinkable,” says Wolz. “Some of these things took hours, if not days, in the past and now we’re talking about seconds. The way we have worked from day one is to always be closely engaged with scientific developments, academic research and technology developments, and then try to translate those technical abilities into our applications as they emerge.”

Despite the challenging circumstances of 2020, IXICO continued to climb at a similar rate to preceding years, reporting 26 per cent growth as well as doubling its profits, investing significantly in new areas and increasing its workforce by 25 per cent. This success was partly facilitated by a remote model it has championed for years, based on centralised analysis and virtual engagement with the various clinical sites it works with.

The innovation never slows down and while IXICO’s five-year strategy involves further penetration of its core neuroimaging market, it is also eyeing growth opportunities in other areas, including post-marketing applications. For example, a couple of years ago the company launched Assessa, a clinical decision support tool for patient selection and post-marketing surveillance. The secure digital platform enables the remote transfer of clinical and imaging data to provide central expert and automated review and analysis.

“That’s a highly important aspect of drugs like the monoclonal antibodies we now see validated in Alzheimer’s,” says Wolz. “We’re all excited about the potential with Aducanumab, Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug currently under review in America by the Food and Drug Administration. If the drug is approved for clinical use, safety monitoring is very important and some of those safety events are linked to brain imaging. We see that platform extending into other therapeutic areas, while we also further explore the potential new market opportunities in the digital biomarkers space.

“We started to work in measurements from wearables around five years ago. We run a couple of commercial trials in different indications, collecting data from wrist-worn devices in areas like sleep and activity. That’s a big topic with huge expectation in the industry. It’s not an easy space because of a lot of regulatory limitations, but we see huge potential and it’s an area we are very familiar with because it’s facing similar questions the imaging market went through 15 to 20 years ago. We’re well placed to move further into these areas due to the strong similarities with the market we currently operate in.”

For more information and to see the full list of winners of Dun & Bradstreet’s inaugural Accelerate50, please visit the awards hub