In November 2009, two new University of Chicago MBA students attended an Ideation Workshop sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and UChicagoTech. One of the presenters—Maryellen Giger, professor of radiology at the University—spoke about how computer-aided diagnosis (CADx) could help radiologists detect breast cancer earlier, thus potentially reducing breast cancer deaths.
"We didn't understand the science, but we were intrigued due to our backgrounds in both software and healthcare," says Brian Luerssen, one of the students. "As serial entrepreneurs, we thought the technology Dr. Giger presented had serious commercial potential."
After learning more about Giger's CADx platform for characterizing and diagnosing cancer, the students asked Giger if they could use her technology as the basis for their entry in the upcoming New Venture Challenge, a student competition run by the Polsky Center.
"I was glad to work with them because I wanted to see this newly developed computer workstation put to use in diagnostic breast imaging practices throughout the country," Giger says.
Luerssen and his colleague, James Krocak, created a new company called Quantitative Insights, which received a University of Chicago Innovation Fund award, became a Finalist in the 2010 New Venture Challenge and won the Best New Healthcare Company award. The company went on to win the Chicago Biomedical Consortium's Business Plan Completion in 2010 and the Rice Business Plan Competition's Best Business Plan award in 2011.
Subsequently, the company received a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation.
Quantitative Insights has been able to engage a number of resources that the University makes available to budding entrepreneurs interested in commercializing research conducted around campus, says Eric Ginsburg, senior project manager at UChicagoTech. "In fact, this is the University's first start-up to participate in three of the most important such resources: the New Venture Challenge, the Chicago Innovation Mentors program, and the Innovation Fund."
The technology and software, now called QuantX, is the first CADx workstation that integrates imaging data from x-ray, MRI and ultrasound images into a single platform. This makes the quantitative image analysis technology especially powerful since it incorporates the best, most revealing features of each modality.
In addition, Quantitative Insights plans to offer a neural network that compares the characteristics of these multi-modality images with known outcomes from a database compiled from cancer cases treated at the University of Chicago. The goal of the workstation is to help radiologists review, characterize and assess lesions leading to fewer missed and misdiagnosed cancers. It will also improve efficiency and cut costs.
With the help of UChicagoTech, Quantitative Insights licensed from the University the intellectual property behind the CADx platform and neural network, as well as the database of cases. "UChicagoTech has been great, working through the licensing agreement, providing us with resources and connecting us with potential investors," says Luerssen, now Quantitative Insights' COO. "Especially helpful has been the Chicago Innovation Mentors, a team of experts from all aspects of the business, including law, marketing, grants and the FDA approval process, who have been advising us and keeping us on task."
Those tasks are to finish writing the software and building the workstation; conduct retrospective studies needed to obtain Food and Drug Administration approval; and raise additional funds.
Quantitative Insights is pursuing its next round of funding and has had significant interest from angel investors.
"This nascent company is a good example of how tech-transfer works at the University," says Giger, who is a co-founder of and scientific advisor to the company. "If it's ultimately successful, it will show how resources at the University can be brought together to translate research in to a product that benefits society."
By Greg Borzo
University of Chicago MBA student and entrepreneur Brian Luerssen co-founded Quantitative Insights based on Professor Maryellen Giger's computer-aided breast cancer diagnosis technology.
Photo by Lloyd DeGrane
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