Biopsies are not pleasant for anyone: not only do they bring additional pain to an already stressed-out patient, they can also cause infections and, in the case of prostate cancer biopsies, add up to the side effects and cause the patient to develop urinary issues and erectile dysfunction.
But a new medical technology startup called Ezra wants to change all that and replace not only the painful biopsies but the blood tests too, with MRIs as the new standard, and the help of artificial intelligence.
“One of the biggest problems in cancer is that there’s no accurate, fast, painless way to scan for cancer anywhere in the body,” Ezra founder Emi Gal said in a press statement when the company initially debuted.
Emi Gal studied math and computer science in his home country Romania and thought about improving cancer screenings the first time when he worked with terminally ill cancer patients at the charity Hospices of Hope. So he went ahead and worked on the idea that eventually became Ezra as we know it today.
About half a year ago, Ezra launched the first version of its MRI prostate cancer screening subscription service in New York City – the patients pay $999 pet year for one MRI, medical staff access, educational guides and continuous support from a medical team if the test comes out as positive.
“We are developing innovative AI technologies that assist radiologists in detecting cancer earlier, faster, and more accurately than ever before. I cannot think of a better use of AI than to help people live longer and healthier lives,” said CTO and co-founder Diego Cantor, PhD.
Since then, Ezra raised $4 million for the project and the software can now be used to screen for 11 different types of cancer in men and 13 types in women.
The MRI sequences the Ezra AI uses are FDA-approved but the machine learning algorithms that help in the process of detection have yet to be cleared, even if the AI registered a 90% success rate in identifying them. But, for now, that still is something that human radiologists have to pick at.
While your usual full-body MRI scan costs from $5,000 to $10,000 in the U.S, Ezra’s will ‘only’ make your wallet $1,950 lighter. Considering insurance companies will not pay for Ezra’s MRIs, that leaves the customers with the only option of paying for it out of their own pocket.
However, the company is currently in talks with a few insurance companies and hopes they will be able to see some results on this issue in the first quarter of 2020, at the latest and eventually make the Ezra AI available to radiologists.