U-M Spinout Imbio Uses Big Data to Improve COPD Diagnostics

Cynthia Maier, CEO of the University of Michigan spinout startup Imbio, is fond of saying her company bridges the gap between bench and bedside when it comes to biomarker imaging and how it can be used to map disease.

“In the healthcare space, you have all of these images coming off scanners, and a radiologist will diagnose the images,” Maier said. “The role we play is in between the clinical world and the academic research world. There’s a lot more information [in the scans] than a one-off subjective interpretation. We use modern computing to extract all the information we can.”

Imbio uses algorithms, cloud computing, and software to offer clinicians an IT-driven approach to diagnostics, and the company especially targets doctors who might not be able to afford their own big data infrastructure. Using imaging biomarkers, Imbio’s software can transform an MRI or CT scan into a dashboard full of statistical information, Maier said. The technology also allows doctors to offer their patients a more personalized treatment plan, Maier added, based on the patients’ unique signatures and what they reveal about disease progression and treatment response.

Imbio, which has offices in Minneapolis and Delafield, WI, got its start at U-M in 2012, where it developed a technique for diagnosing patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Researchers used a technique called parametric response mapping to analyze lung scans of COPD patients. Almost 10,000 patients in the study were tracked for years, Maier said, and researchers were able to evaluate CT images to “develop rules about therapy in the lungs.” According to Imbio, COPD is the nation’s third leading cause of death, affecting about 11 million Americans.

Late last year, the FDA gave Imbio a 510(k) clearance to sell its Lung Density Analysis software application which, when combined with Imbio’s IT platform, helps radiologists and pulmonologists better grasp the components of COPD to potentially improve planning and treatment.

Imbio, which has 15 employees, raised a $1.5 million Series A round led by Invenshure in 2013, plus additional funding in an undisclosed amount from angel investors. She said the company has also received $5 million in federal grants through the years. Imbio plans to raise a Series B round in 2015.

Imbio’s other future plans include building out its portfolio of applications by licensing them from other academic groups, Maier said. Last summer, the company announced it had acquired exclusive rights to commercialize the Mayo Clinic’s CANARY application—software designed to assess pulmonary nodules detected on CT scans of the lungs. Earlier this month, Imbio also signed a licensing agreement with Columbia University to acquire its semi-automated tumor segmentation algorithm, which can computationally identify the borders of brain tumors on MRI images.

In 2015, Imbio also hopes to bring more products to market. “We have to build up our research and development team and expand beyond the radiology space to incorporate blood and genetic testing,” Maier said. “We have competitors that play around the edges, but we’re positioning ourselves to be a partner with bigger equipment manufacturers. I don’t want to grow a large, global sales team—I want to leverage the distribution networks of large companies.”

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