IDx, a small company based in Coralville, Iowa, made headlines when it became the first company to receive Food and Drug Administration clearance for an artificial intelligence system that does not require a physician to interpret results.
The device, called IDx-DR, detects diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that places 30 million Americans at high risk of vision loss. IDx-DR is the first AI system that enables a specialist diagnosis to be made in a primary care setting, since the device, not a doctor, makes the diagnosis, said IDx's founder and CEO Michael Abramoff, M.D., a retinal specialist.
Since gaining FDA approval, the AI system has been introduced into clinical care at University of Iowa Health Care. In addition to seeing real-world adoption, IDx has also secured more than $50 million in funding that includes strategic investors like Optum Ventures, the venture arm of UnitedHealth. The company says it expects to announce the implementation of IDx-DR at several additional large healthcare systems in the coming months.
It’s a David versus Goliath story. What makes all of these accomplishments even more remarkable is that a company as small as IDx, with fewer resources than the tech giants, was able to become the first to bring this breakthrough technology to market.
The big idea: Transforming healthcare through autonomous AI
Headquarters: Coralville, Iowa
CEO: Michael Abramoff, M.D.
Funders/Funding raised: $54.7 million / 8VC, Optum Ventures, Alpha Edison, Heritage Provider Network and private angel investors
Revenue: Declined to disclose
Fierce insights from Michael Abramoff, M.D., founder and CEO
FierceHealthcare: What is your best piece of advice for launching a healthcare company that challenges the status quo?
Michael Abramoff: My ophthalmology colleagues gave me the nickname the Retinator, which shows what happens when you start to challenge the status quo. Now, those same colleagues are enthusiastic about the improvements that AI is bringing, but we had to earn their trust ... Only where this trust exists does the immensely complex healthcare system allow large, bold innovations, such as autonomous AI.
FH: What is the failure you’ve learned the best lesson from?
MA: I learned that transforming healthcare by using AI has to be done incrementally. It took me too long to realize that publishing scientific research wasn’t enough to bring autonomous AI to patients, but that it also needs to be developed into a product and tested in patient care.
FH: What is one change you predict in healthcare that people wouldn’t expect?
MA: That peoples’ genetics will constrain what healthcare can improve. It can improve a lot, but not everything.