North Shore venture runs digital race
Every day in thousands of medical centers around the world, tissue samples are fixed to glass slides, stained and examined under a microscope — a procedure for diagnosing cancer and other diseases that has remained virtually unchanged for decades.
Even as digital imaging has revolutionized X-rays, MRIs and other areas of medicine, pathology continues to be labor-intensive and analog.
That is about to change. And a Pittsburgh company is among those racing to introduce technology on a wide scale in the United States that could make cancer diagnosis more efficient and effective.
“We're in an exciting juncture in our history,” said Jim LaFrance, interim CEO of Omnyx LLC, a five-year-old North Shore company developing digital pathology systems.
The 50-50 joint venture between UPMC and General Electric's Healthcare division this year landed its first sale, shipping a system to a Swiss customer.
“We've been in dress rehearsal; now we're out in front of the audience,” said LaFrance, a GE executive who is filling in as Omnyx's CEO until an ongoing search for a permanent CEO is completed in coming months.
Digitizing pathology work will make it more time-efficient for pathologists to view images in multiple locations, said Dr. George Michalopoulos, chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine. It will enable sharing of images among multiple pathologists easier, increasing the speed of second opinions.
And with digital images comes computer-aided diagnosis, which Michalopoulos said can help pathologists use their time more effectively by letting a computer analyze slides first and flag images that look suspicious for further review by a doctor.
“All of these things are tasks done today (by people) that are time consuming that digital pathology can help,” he said.
LaFrance and his team were careful about making claims about Omnyx's technology and capabilities during a recent interview in their offices on Isabella Street — the company has started the several-year process of gaining Food and Drug Administration approval for its system for use in primary diagnoses of cancer.
No company has won U.S. approval yet, and several companies along with Omnyx are hoping to be the first into a market that could be worth $1 billion to $2 billion a year by 2030.
“Definitely, it's a race,” LaFrance said.
The market for digital pathology systems has been slow to develop relative to other medical imaging because of the large file sizes needed, Michalopoulos said. Each image can be multiple gigabytes, requiring huge amounts of storage and computer processing power to handle.
“That's why pathology has not evolved quite as rapidly,” Michalopoulos said. “Even one square inch has more pixels” than a single MRI image.
But advances in computer technology means, “over the next two to three years we'll be seeing more digital pathology coming in, and it'll become the standard pathology tool.”
The digital imaging technology — essentially the hardware in a digital pathology system — is far enough along to capture the high-resolution images needed for analysis, Michalopoulos said. The key is perfecting the analysis software.
Omnyx is transitioning from its early focus on hardware to spending more time developing the software of its system, LaFrance said.
“The scanners are basically done,” he said.
It is hiring more software engineers and looking at moving offices in Pittsburgh to have more space for new employees, he said. The company has 100 employees.
Michael Montalto, Omnyx senior vice president of clinical and regulatory affairs, said it's unique in GE's history to form a joint venture with an academic medical institution like UPMC.
But, the largest health system in Western Pennsylvania is a leading center for cancer treatment and research and employs some of the “original pioneers” in digital pathology research, he said.
“It was a natural fit,” he said.
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Alex Nixon to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Signs of steady U.S. economy: Pay, home sales up, unemployment applications down
- Smartphones expected to overtake desktops for holiday shopping
- Nutritional supplement makers, led by GNC, want to create voluntary safety standards
- Many Black Friday deals not worth the hassle
- Stocks finish flat before Thanksgiving holiday; energy firms give back some gains
- Take steps to make it harder for holiday hackers
- Covestro leader MacCleary finds stability amid change
- German financial giant Allianz SE slashes coal investments
- Union leaders warn Post-Gazette newsroom of possible layoffs
- QVC blazes trail as mobile retail giant
- Holiday festivities help merchants in Western Pennsylvania