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Data-driven cancer diagnostics transforming healthcare

Stratipath has made the list of Sweden's best technology start-ups for several years. In just four years, their research-based AI product has been adopted by Swedish healthcare regions. It all started when MedTechLabs researchers Mattias Rantalainen and Johan Hartman were paired with entrepreneur Fredrik Wetterhall by KI Innovation.

Bild av kvinna som känner efter förändringar i sitt ena bröst.

Hi Fredrik! For those who are not familiar with Stratipath, who are you?

– Stratipath develops AI-based precision diagnostics that help doctors in the healthcare sector to choose which treatment a cancer patient should receive. There are many challenges in healthcare, we work in the field of cancer and there are many good screening programmes, for example for breast cancer. But many patients end up in categories where it is not possible to assess how aggressive the cancer is. The analyses that can answer this question are expensive and time-consuming, so not all patients have access to them. This leads to inequalities in healthcare, as your treatment and diagnosis may vary depending on where you live or which healthcare provider you see. So, in situations where it’s clear that you have cancer, but you can’t judge how aggressive it is, that’s where we come in with a diagnostic solution based on advanced artificial intelligence and deep learning. Our method is simple, cost-effective, and fast.  Compared to current methods, which can take up to several weeks, our analysis takes less than 30 minutes. Right now, we have a customer who is starting up with our solution and their current analysis takes an average of 20 days. In the meantime, as a patient, you are waiting for your judgement. This time is extremely stressful for patients. And for the relatives, it can be added. It also affects the work of the health service, which is keen to get treatment started. Having to reschedule patients and pick up the case again, where it is necessary to read up on the patient’s illness once more, creates a lot of extra work.

Do the people you meet understand what you do?

– When we meet our healthcare customers, I find that they immediately understand what we do and the value of our solutions. Others may find it a little more difficult to understand as the diagnostic and oncological workflow is complex and not something you see unless you work in it. What many people encounter and perhaps most commonly associate cancer diagnostics with is screening/mammography, which aims to detect suspected cancer. It is the first and only one of many steps before diagnosis and treatment. We come in when the cancer is detected, and the basic diagnostics are done and the important decision of what treatment to give the patient is made.

Fredrik Wetterhall, CEO and co-founder of Stratipath.

Where do you stand now and what has brought you there?

– We are currently in the situation where three Swedish regions are using our solution in their diagnostics, and we will most likely get more healthcare providers during the spring. Then we are looking at starting up sales in other parts of Europe, mainly northern Europe. We started in 2019 and we entered clinical operations in April last year, so we have been around for four and a half years. There were three of us who started the company, and the first employee came in 2020. Now we are 16 people working here at Nanna Svartz väg in Solna. During these years, we have learnt more about our product, made updates, validation studies and started to develop more applications outside the breast cancer area. The big challenge we face now is to roll out internationally.

It sounds like things have gone pretty quickly, for being a life science company?

– It is always necessary to have a regulatory approved solution, it was and is a large and extensive work to be able to quality assure a product. We were fortunate that when we started the company, a lot was already in place. I, Johan Hartman, pathologist at KS and professor at KI, and Mattias Rantalainen, associate professor at KI, met through KI innovation. Johan and Mattias and their research groups had been collaborating for many years already, so at that time they already had promising results, so we didn’t start with a blank white paper and that’s why we were able to get a product out relatively quickly.

Where will Stratipath be in five years?

– We will be a well-established company and present in the main markets, in Europe and North America. But we are already receiving enquiries outside these regions, so we will certainly have established ourselves in other markets too. In five years, we will have a broader product portfolio, both in breast, but also in other major solid cancer diagnoses such as prostate, colorectal and others. We focus on the major cancer diagnoses as our technology requires access to large amounts of data, whereas our technology is not as well suited for more rare cancers. At that point, we offer both prognostic but also treatment-predictive solutions. An important part of our roll-out is collaborations with larger companies, such as Sectra and the US-based Prosia and Paige. There are also other corporate partnerships that are in the pipeline but which I cannot mention now. This is an important part of our ability to have a global impact; these partnerships allow us to reach more patients. In five years, we will be over 100 people and need to increase the team both in R&D and the commercial side. Today, most of the cost base is in R&D. We will not fit in these premises either. Our ambition is to remain in Hagastaden, but we will probably also have sites outside Sweden. So that we are close to our customers and to reach expertise in other parts of the world. Because it is not possible to recruit only here in Sweden if we are to have the sharpest expertise.

What does Stratipath mean in a larger perspective for Swedish medtech?

– I can probably start with the healthcare sector. We can contribute to more equal and sustainable healthcare. Because it is unequal today. There are different treatments and there are many under development, many of which are good ones. But not all treatments can be given to all patients, there are costs and side effects that prevent it. We can contribute to a more cost-effective healthcare system, and we can help healthcare providers to give their patients the right treatments faster. Hopefully, our journey can create interest for other researchers and clinicians to take their research all the way to the patient, inspiring them to commercialise their results. Also, there is no doubt that we have built a great competence here in Stratipath’s team that I believe will benefit other medtech companies.

Delar av Stratipaths teamet på kontoret i Hagastaden.

What is needed for you and similar companies to develop faster than today?

– Access to capital – the investment climate in the US and in Europe is so different from here. Companies there raise five to ten times more capital than we can in Sweden, which means they can develop faster. This has become an even greater challenge because of the wars and unrest in the world, which has reduced the risk appetite of investors even more, and many investors are also afraid of the healthcare sector because they know that it is difficult and takes time to introduce new technology.  Then we need expertise. In our field, we see that there is good expertise in Sweden, but there are other countries that are investing even more. So, we are competing for talent with Asia, Europe and the USA. If we as a country want to continue to be a world leader in our sector, for example, we need to ensure that we have world-leading research and education, and that it is attractive for talents to stay in, or move to, Sweden. One thing that we in the business community need to take responsibility for is that we really understand healthcare and the problems and challenges that exist and really need to be solved. Here I think there is potential for improvement, and I think the key is that companies should be started around the problem they want to solve and not around a technology they want to find a use for. I also believe that Sweden must ensure that the healthcare sector has better opportunities to embrace new technology. But this is tricky because their focus should be on taking care of the patients, and I think many in the healthcare sector are tired of various IT projects that never make it past the pilot stage. For us, it is important that our solutions are tested and evaluated in a real environment and not in some side business, only then can we get real feedback. Here we have been successful, but I know many who have not. The next challenge is to scale up use, which usually requires changes to guidelines and reimbursement systems. Changes to these are often quite long processes that take many years, requiring resources and a stamina that not many smaller companies have. This means that many healthcare providers are stuck with old technology when there are both better and cheaper alternatives. This is not good for healthcare, patients, nor companies. Here it would be desirable to be able to make faster changes, which would benefit everyone. Of course, we should not compromise patient safety or set requirements for clinical evidence, but I believe that everyone in society would benefit from faster introduction of new technology in healthcare. In Germany, DiGA has been introduced to speed up the introduction of certain types of new digital solutions. This is far from solving all problems, but perhaps it could be something for Sweden to follow?

What is your background and what made you decide to invest in building Stratipath?

– I once started at Siemens Elema, developing intensive care ventilators. What made me stay in the healthcare sector was that I need a clear and good purpose for what I do. I’ve had a hard time finding that in any field other than the health sector. I started with software development in the 90s and for the past 25 years I have been involved in commercialisation and implementation in healthcare, both on the supplier and provider side. I find it very stimulating to develop new products in healthcare and see how it creates radical improvements for both individual patients and the healthcare system. During my career, I have started several companies based on research from KI. It was Mats Ferm at KI innovation who matched me with Johan and Mattias, and together we started thinking about how we could find a model so that the results of their research can create value for healthcare and patients. At first, we thought that this could be done through a larger established company, but we realised that we could achieve greater impact by starting our own. We took a liking to each other, where we saw that we had a good competence together, commercially, clinically, and technically, and that’s the way it went. I am impressed by Johan and Mattias as clinicians and researchers who dare to invest in entrepreneurship in this way. Because this is a new world for them, to take the step from research and healthcare and put time and energy into building a company. Because it should be recognised that it is not always easy. Their driving force is that their research should benefit patients.

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

– Getting out more widely and reaching more patients with our solutions. Learning more about how our product is used in healthcare, in Sweden and internationally. Seeing the impact that the product can make. That’s the most rewarding thing for you, to see it being used and making a difference. There are so many companies, projects and products that fail. It is also very stimulating to work in this area, with the rapid development that is taking place. When it comes to the team, it’s an honour to spend time with driven, highly competent people. I am particularly proud that we have an even gender balance, many nationalities, ages, and backgrounds. I think everyone who works with us is doing it for a higher purpose. It simplifies recruitment, and it makes it easier to get out of bed with a smile and go to the office even when it’s dark and snowing outside. Passion is central and important for everyone to be able to cope. We are not running a short race, we know that we will have to fight for many years.

Facts about the company:
Stratipath is a Swedish company that develops AI-based precision diagnostics with the aim of radically improving cancer diagnostics and the conditions for everyone affected by cancer. Stratipath’s AI solutions analyse tissue samples from tumours and enable more precise treatment decisions through improved and faster patient stratification in healthcare, clinical trials, and drug development. This means that more patients can have access to precision diagnostics, which contributes to more equal and sustainable cancer care. Stratipath was founded in 2019 and is based on world-leading academic research at Karolinska Institutet. www.stratipath.com