Startup Elucid hopes AI can help cardiologists prevent heart attacks

Elucid’s origins date back to 2008, when the company was founded under a different name by Andrew Buckler, an engineer and computer scientist with experience in imaging technology at Philips, Hewlett-Packard and Eastman Kodak.

During his years with those companies, Buckler noticed that while medical imaging improved, cardiac scans were still a subjective undertaking, left to an expert’s interpretation. He thought there was room for improvement, so he started his own company to develop software that would help cardiologists better assess the risks of heart attacks and strokes.

Work was slow at first, and much of the company’s first decade was supported by government grants and a consultancy. Elucid Finally Raised $8 Million Series A fund last year to develop the software. It is designed to help cardiologists obtain more information from: a CT angiography, a heart scan that doctors sometimes recommend if a patient complains of chest pain.

“We’re going beyond what’s visually striking, and really complementing a physician’s visual intelligence,” Buckler said. The goal isn’t to replace doctors, but to arm them with a tool that highlights things they can’t see with the naked eye.

Richards said the company’s software can determine blood flow through coronary arteries and predict which patients are good candidates for a stent. Another company, HeartFlow in Mountain View, California, sells similar software. But Elucid’s product can also assess a plaque’s stability and predict how likely it is to break away from the artery wall, Richard said.

“No other company can do that right now,” said Dr. Robert Pelberg, a cardiac imaging specialist and clinical cardiologist at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also one of dozens of physicians and researchers on Elucid’s large scientific advisory board.

“Plaque characterization is the holy grail of imaging and Elucid has solved that problem,” Pelberg said.

The software was based on dissected coronary arteries from patients that were analyzed by pathologists. Those lab studies were used to train the software to assess the arteries and plaques of noninvasive heart scans, “as if a pathologist had it under a microscope,” Richards said.

Pelberg believes that Elucid’s ability to characterize plaques in the arteries of a beating heart could provide a new way for drug developers to test plaque-breaking and cholesterol-lowering drugs. In fact, Richards said his company already has contracts with some pharmaceutical companies to use the software.

Although statins are widely prescribed, they are not necessarily the best medicine for everyone. Alternative drugs are not used as often because they are more expensive, have more side effects and there is no good test to predict who will benefit the most. Elucid is working on improving its software to predict which class of cholesterol-lowering drugs might best help a patient.

“It’s not a pie in the sky,” Pelberg said. “It has very real potential, but it’s a very long road to reality.”

While some academic medical centers are already using Elucid’s software, the startup’s new funding will help it expand its commercial team to get the software into more hospitals, who would likely pay for it on a per-use basis.

Crucially, the company said its software explains its diagnoses and recommendations. “Everything we do is interpretable by the physician,” Richards said. “We are not a black box where the information that comes out is inexplicable.”

Based on the company’s competition, Buckler expects Elucid to be reimbursed in excess of $1,000 per patient.

“We think that in the future every CT angiography should undergo an analysis like ours,” Richards said.

Elucid has approximately 40 employees and Richard expects the workforce to increase, but he would not make specific forecasts about the company’s growth or potential sales.

Ryan Cross can be reached at: [email protected]† Follow him on Twitter @RLCscienceboss

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