Google Health strikes deal with iCAD to commercialize mammography AI

Google Health struck a deal with medical technology company iCAD to integrate its artificial intelligence technology into the company's breast imaging solutions.

It marks the first licensing and commercialization agreement for Google Health's mammography AI models and will integrate the technology into real-world clinical practice, according to the company. ICAD's tech is used in health systems and imaging centers across the U.S. and globally. 

Shares of iCAD jumped 25% after the medical technology company said it has struck a deal with Alphabet Inc.'s Google Health to integrate Google Health's artificial intelligence technology into iCAD's portfolio of breast-imaging solutions.

Under the definitive agreement, Google has licensed its AI technology for breast cancer and personalized risk assessment to iCAD. The medtech company will apply the licensed technology to further improve its 3D and 2D AI algorithms and will commercialize developed products. 

The companies aim to enhance iCAD’s breast cancer AI solutions for mammography and expand access to the technology to millions of women and providers worldwide, executives said. ICAD will also leverage Google Cloud’s infrastructure, accelerating the time to market for iCAD’s cloud-hosted offerings.

"[I]CAD will work toward validating and incorporating our mammography AI technology with its products for use in clinical practices with the goal of improving breast cancer detection and assessment of short-term personal cancer risk for the more than two million people globally diagnosed with breast cancer every year," Greg Corrado, Ph.D., head of health AI at Google Health, wrote in a blog post about the deal.

Breast cancer has now overtaken lung cancer as the world’s most commonly diagnosed cancer. More than 55,000 people in the U.K. are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop the disease in their lifetime. 

Digital mammography, or X-ray imaging of the breast, is the most common method to screen for breast cancer, with over 42 million exams performed each year in the U.S. and U.K. combined, according to Google. But despite the wide usage of digital mammography, spotting and diagnosing breast cancer early remains a challenge. 

A shortage of specialists around the world means screening systems are often overburdened, leading to long, anxiety-filled delays for people awaiting results. In screening programs today, there are challenges related to access, accuracy, patient experience and clinician workload, Corrado wrote.

Leveraging Google’s AI and cloud technology will enhance iCAD's breast AI technologies and may also accelerate adoption and expand access on a global scale, according to Stacey Stevens, president and CEO of iCAD.

"By combining the power of our technologies and teams, we strengthen our fight against breast cancer and positively impact the lives of women and their loved ones across the globe," Stevens said in a statement.

Google Health began working with clinical research partners in the U.K. and U.S. back in 2018 to test AI models to improve breast cancer detection. The company shared its initial findings in 2020 through a retrospective study published in Nature that showed its AI technology performed better than radiologists at identifying signs of breast cancer and could have reduced rates of false positives and false negatives.

The company also partnered with Northwestern Medicine to research how AI technology can help prioritize high-risk cases and shorten the time to diagnosis for screened individuals. 

Although 3D mammography is growing in adoption around the world, in many countries, 2D mammography remains widely prevalent for breast cancer screening, according to Axel Gräwingholt, M.D., a radiologist at the Radiologie Am Theater in Paderborn, Germany. Many European countries require double-reading for mammography, yet the global shortage of mammography professionals makes this particularly challenging in many cases, Gräwingholt said.

By using Google's cloud technology, iCAD will be able to expand cloud-hosted solutions into new regions. This will help the company scale access to AI-based tools in underserved regions where infrastructure challenges may constrain their ability to offer breast cancer screenings, company executives said.