NI’s Sonrai Analytics wins government funding to deliver AI cancer screenings across the NHS

Belfast-based company Sonrai Analytics will lead an Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award to deliver novel cancer screenings across the NHS.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 5:00 pm

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) screening method will mean more accurate testing and faster results for patients and could potentially save millions for the NHS each year.

Sonrai Analytics will partner with the Precision Medicine Centre (PMC) at Queen’s University Belfast, in a programme to deliver a transformational tool in cancer diagnostics.

The news was recently announced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock.

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Dr Darragh McArt, CEO, Sonrai Analytics and Prof. Manuel Salto-Tellez, Co-Director of the PMC and Chair of Molecular Pathologyat Queen's University Belfast

Sonrai Analytics is the only lead representative from Northern Ireland to secure part of the UK-wide grant, subject to contract.

The AI Award is making £140 million available over four years to accelerate the testing and evaluation of artificial intelligence technologies which meet the aims set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Seven new specialised roles at Sonrai Analytics will be created in the coming months and the news will also secure positions.

The expert team will develop and train new AI algorithms on a cloud platform where pathologists can upload biopsy images and ‘run’ them against the algorithms for faster and more accurate results.

CEO and Co-Founder of Sonrai Analytics and a Reader in Bioinformatics at Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Darragh McArt has worked in brain tumour research leading a team of 12 and is presently collaborating on several ongoing clinical trials.

He has built and published extensively on platforms and AI methods in healthcare data analytics and has driven the development of Sonrai Analytics leading primary product InDRA from a prototype to a product now being used by several international clients.

He said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this prestigious grant from NIHR which is testament to both Sonrai’s strengths and experience within AI cancer diagnostics and the close links we have developed with the PMC at Queen’s.

“We are excited by the opportunity to translate our research into real clinical benefits for patients across the UK.”

Tests carried out by pathologists on cancer biopsy tissue help determine the best treatment options for patients.

Annually in the UK there are 43,000 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 36,000 patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. Rapid and accurate testing is critical, but testing is expensive, and results can be slow, and inaccuracies may occur.

Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez, Co-Director of the PMC and Chair of Molecular Pathology at Queen’s University Belfast, explained: “Artificial Intelligence needs to fulfil its medical promise.

“The partnership between the Precision Medicine Centre at Queen’s University Belfast and Sonrai Analytics will deliver a framework for AI tissue-based diagnostics across the NHS, providing more timely, accurate and affordable laboratory results.”

Today cancer biopsies are processed and analysed by pathologists who manually identify cancer subtypes based on their knowledge and experience.

The new approach will mean that the AI will analyse images of the slides and assist pathologists to diagnose and help determine treatment options more accurately and consistently. The use of cloud-based technologies will allow both the images and data to be stored and shared securely and will accelerate the diagnostic workflows within pathology labs.

The project will open the way to NHS adoption of this technique for colorectal, lung and other cancers.

Through the active involvement of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum, the project will also work to enhance public understanding of the benefits of AI in cancer diagnostics.

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