Health Canada expedites approval of 1QBit chest radiography AI tool to help fight COVID-19


Health Canada has expedited the approval of an artificial intelligence-powered chest radiography tool, developed by Vancouver-based quantum software startup 1QBit.

The approval from the federal agency was completed one week after trials, and the province of Saskatchewan has already announced plans to deploy the tool to fight COVID-19.

xrAI aims to improve the accuracy and timeliness of diagnosing lung abnormalities like COVID-19.

1QBit xrAI is the company’s first healthcare product and aims to improve the accuracy and timeliness of diagnosing lung abnormalities. The speedy approval from Health Canada comes a month after the agency instituted an interim order for faster reviews of medical devices that can diagnose, treat, mitigate, or prevent COVID-19, at no cost. This is aimed to meet the federal government’s urgent need for rapid COVID-19 testing.

1QBit said within days of receiving approval from Health Canada, the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced plans to go live with the new tool to help identify more COVID-19 cases. Deepak Kaura, chief medical officer at 1QBit, said the company has been working on this AI product for two years, and that the launch comes at a time of high demand from Canadian health agencies.

“In my experience building health services domestically and internationally, I am inspired by the Canadians who have accelerated the clinical trials, overseen stringent regulatory processes, and who are now willing to implement xrAI such that it impacts patients so quickly,” said Kaura.

xrAI can be used on classical processors to help clinicians better identify patients with respiratory complications including SARS, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other abnormalities. In evaluating publicly available data of COVID-19 pneumonia, 1QBit said xrAI accurately identified 100 percent of cases with pulmonary abnormalities.

“Unlike other image recognition software solutions that are created by technology companies first and then sold to medical professionals, xrAI has been researched and developed by clinicians,” added Kaura.

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Although the product was not originally developed to fight COVID-19, the company’s team used the tool in February to examine x-ray images of COVID-19 patients. The company said the algorithm recognized abnormalities in these patients’ that radiologists might have missed. Subsequent clinical trials took place in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Kevin Wasko, a practicing emergency physician and the physician executive of rural health for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the agency prioritized 1QBit’s clinical trial because it understood that solid science was necessary in order to obtain Health Canada clearance, and indeed, for the province to deploy clinically.

“[xrAI] will directly impact the management of COVID-19 patients at the frontline by improving the confidence and accuracy of chest X-ray interpretations, allowing us to better triage and monitor these case,” said Wasko.

1QBit builds hardware-agnostic quantum software, and partners with companies taking on computationally exhaustive problems in advanced materials, life sciences, energy, and finance industries. The company assesses each partner’s problem and develops an API that will yield the best available results, while continually improving based on new software and hardware architectures once they become available.

The startup was founded in 2012 and is a member of IBM’s Q Network, which is IBM’s commercial quantum computing program.

Image source 1QBit

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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