Women with dense breasts are at five times increased risk of developing breast cancer than women with fatty breasts because dense breast tissue obscures underlying cancers that grow in this tissue, creating a masking effect that can make the images difficult to read for radiologists. Densitas, located in Halifax, is working to eliminate the subjectivity of reading these images and improve mammographic quality and health outcomes with its flagship product, DM-Density. DM-Density is a software application that can integrate into the existing hospital IT infrastructure seamlessly and will provide radiologists with standardized and reproducible breast density assessments that they can use when establishing individualized follow-up screening protocols. Tailored follow-up breast screening protocols have the potential to reduce healthcare costs, decrease false positives and improve health outcomes for women.
The founder and CEO of Densitas, Mohamed Abdolell, says that the current state of breast health care is viewed as a “one approach fits all,” which he says doesn’t work for several reasons due to the increased costs to the healthcare system and risks to patients the framework entails.
“As the healthcare system is rationalizing its limited resources, population-level screening is being scrutinized for clinical and cost effectiveness,” explains Abdolell. “Comprehensive breast screening programs are effective. The discourse is now focused on whether we can more effectively identify those who are at higher risk, so that we can screen these women more frequently, while those who are at lower risk do not have to be screened as aggressively, ultimately improving outcomes while saving time and money. This is important to ensure sustainability and access to quality healthcare.”
Nova Scotia’s Unique Comprehensive Approach
Nova Scotia provides a rare opportunity to develop innovative technologies such as the technology Densitas has developed for the mammography enterprise. The Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program (NSBSP) has repeatedly innovated, with a focus on improving quality and service delivery. A pillar of its success has been a unique home grown breast information system that allows the program to evaluate clinical outcomes and develop evidence based strategies for breast health care. The health of Nova Scotians is better for it. The availability of this kind of data is unusual. It provides the opportunity for Densitas to establish collaborative research agreements with researchers to rapidly prototype and validate new technologies with the women of Nova Scotia directly benefiting from these innovations.
“We are very fortunate to be able to collaborate with the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program, the IWK and the Nova Scotia Health Authority,” says Abdolell. “The innovation agenda and the collaborative environment in Nova Scotia allows Densitas to develop and test technologies rapidly, accelerating our pathway to commercialization.”
The ability to link mammograms with clinical outcomes provides a unique opportunity for the application of big data analytics to tackle the big challenges in breast screening that relate to breast density, mammography quality and clinical workflow. This means that Densitas can develop unique technologies and validate them before going to market.
“In an environment that is moving from volume based to value based healthcare, it is important that new technologies can demonstrate improved health outcomes. This kind of health Developing Meaningful Data-Driven Healthcare Products Mohamed Abdolell, founder and CEO of Densitas technology assessment can only be done if the right data has been collected,” says Abdolell. “Historically, products have often been introduced into the market without such health technology assessment reviews. We are in an enviable position in Nova Scotia whereby we can validate our technologies first, which makes for improved health care outcomes as well as a more rapid path to market.”
The Support of an Innovative Ecosystem
Abdolell finds the company has also significantly benefited from the supportive funding ecosystem in Nova Scotia. He credits organizations such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the National Research Council (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program, Innovacorp, BioNova, NSBI, Learnsphere, the Canadian Trade Commission, and others, not only for their assistance and counsel, but for providing a supportive infrastructure that attracts interest from investors and big players in the healthcare industry internationally.
“We have attracted international interest in what we are doing, and that is partly due to the unique data holdings in Nova Scotia and partly as a function of this ecosystem here,” explains Abdolell. “You can’t underestimate the value of that. There aren’t many places that have this type of supportive infrastructure.”
The company has also received international recognition from programs in Silicon Valley, Chicago, and Toronto. In early 2016 the company was selected to participate in Dose of the Valley, an exclusive workshop for some of Canada’s most promising life sciences companies to engage with key US stakeholders. Densitas was also selected for a residency at Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s JLABS@Toronto, located at the MaRS Discovery District, which will allow them to participate in the medical technology innovation and commercialization network in Toronto. In February (2017) the company will head to Chicago to participate in the Canada-Chicago Mentoring Program (C2MP), which catalyzes technology commercialization opportunities in the Chicago area by matching experienced and supportive mentoring teams with early stage innovators who can help strategize entry into the US market.
“We just submitted our FDA 510K application, and we are looking forward to entering the US market, so our participation in C2MP is coming at a great time, and we are quite excited about that,” said Abdolell.
Abdolell and his team at Densitas are gearing up for a big year in 2017 with plans to enter the European and Canadian markets, and moving forward with US markets once it receives FDA clearance for its flagship product, DM-Density. Looking ahead, the team will continue to develop new technologies in their product pipeline.