One out of two women diagnosed with breast cancer dies within five years in India. In the US, the fatality is less than one out of five, and in China, one out of four – according to WHO (World Health Organization). Early detection is one of the main reasons for the fall in mortality rates in developed countries.
Shortages of facilities and radiographers coupled with the cost of regular screening, which most people find unaffordable in India, make this a massive problem. Breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer as the leading cause of death from cancer among women in India.
Bangalore-based #startup Niramai is using a combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based screening to tackle the problem of access and cost of breast cancer screening. Last week on Tech in Asia, we had a brief description of Niramai in a list of 20 startups in the summer batch of Axilor, an accelerator in Bangalore. Today, Niramai announced seed funding led by Pi Ventures, with participation from Axilor Ventures, 500 Startups, Ankur Capital, and Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal.
Niramai is an acronym for Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine-learning and Artificial Intelligence. It uses a low-cost device that takes high-resolution thermal images which require no radiation. Artificial intelligence is applied to the images on the cloud to detect breast cancer. This provides an alternative to traditional mammography, which requires expensive equipment and experienced radiographers. The startup claims that its patented Thermalytix technology using thermography can detect tumors five years earlier than mammography or clinical exams.
Niramai was founded last year by two women – its CEO Geetha Manjunath holds a PhD in data mining and the semantic web from the premier Indian Institute of Science and earlier worked with Xerox Research Lab. Her co-founder, Nidhi Mathur, is an MBA from IIM Bangalore who worked at Hewlett-Packard and Xerox.
“This investment will help us strengthen our IP portfolio, expand operations, and ensure our cancer screening tool is readily available for commercial use,” says Geetha.
The lead investor in the seed round, Pi Ventures, founded last year, has a special interest in healthcare and AI startups. A couple of months ago, it participated in the US$5.8 million series A funding of Bangalore-based SigTuple, which is out to disrupt pathology tests with the use of AI.
“Early detection is key to saving lives (of women diagnosed with breast cancer) and is enabled very well with the disruptive AI-based solution from Niramai,” says Manish Singhal, founding partner of Pi Ventures.
Researchers in Houston, USA, recently developed artificial intelligence software for faster and more accurate analysis of mammograms to detect breast cancer. AI is also preventing unnecessary biopsies from false positives of traditional clinical screening. Niramai’s thermal imagery and cloud-based analytics have the potential to extend the reach of AI for breast cancer screening around the world, not just in India.