Germany startup Vara raises €6.5 million for AI-powered breast cancer screening software

Germany startup Vara raises €6.5 million for AI-powered breast cancer screening software

Published: 03-06-2020 10:26:00 | By: Pie Kamau | hits: 1747 | Tags:

Vara​, the Berlin-based company on a mission to save lives by making breast cancer screening accessible worldwide, has raised €6.5 million Series A funding round, led by ​OMERS Ventures​. German digital health pioneers Merantix, Think.Health, Soleria Capital, and Silicon Valley-based Plug and Play also participated in the round. Bryony Marshall, OMERS Ventures Associate Director will join the board.

Vara’s CE-certified machine learning software has already been implemented by leading screening providers across Europe, with the company using this funding to enable further European expansion and to leverage its vast data pools to improve financial and clinical outcomes for both screening providers and governments.

Vara helps radiologists focus on detecting cancers in mammograms by filtering out the healthy studies from their worklist, allowing them to focus on the complex cases that require urgent attention. More than just an algorithm, however, the Vara platform is an end-to-end workflow and reporting system, and can be used across multiple workstations.

The process of analysing mammograms is time-consuming and repetitive, with each study requiring manual assessment. By significantly reducing workload, Vara helps radiologists detect breast cancer at a much earlier stage, which is crucial for survival rates, and increases the number of studies that can be read, meaning more women are able to receive critical breast cancer screenings. Trained and tested on one of the world’s largest breast cancer datasets of 2.5 million images, Vara is a highly accurate algorithmic safety net that augments human capabilities.

After Vara has intelligently ruled out a normal mammogram it pre-writes a report which physicians can then double-check and easily sign off with a single click. Potentially suspicious mammograms can be viewed through Vara's highly optimised workflow software, which has been purposefully designed to cater to radiologists’ specific requirements and has enabled early customers to significantly speed up their reporting process. Vara was initially backed by the Berlin-based venture studio Merantix, which now joins this round with its brand-new incubation fund focused on artificial intelligence. To-date Vara has raised €9.5M.

Jonas Muff, Vara CEO and co-founder said: ''It is our mission to broaden access to breast cancer screening, with too many women around the world not able to receive critical examinations. In screening, 97% of mammograms are healthy, so the reality is that incredibly well-trained radiologists spend the majority of their time performing assembly-line work that is repetitive and time-consuming. Early detection of breast cancer is critical for survival rates, and by accurately ruling out normal mammograms we enable physicians to focus their attention on the women who need it the most. This results in fewer lives lost, and by streamlining the whole process, from detection to report-filing, even more women can get access to critical screenings.''

Bryony Marshall, OMERS Ventures Associate Director said: ''Vara has developed a truly pioneering platform that can significantly improve the outcome for breast cancer patients, and reinforces the value that AI can bring to the health sector. The company is addressing one of the biggest issues that radiologists face worldwide - the laborious processes that can prevent them from prioritising those screening mammograms that appear to show suspicious results. Vara has built a world-class team who put their customers’ needs at the very core of what they do.''

The AI company, which has a team of over 25 medical specialists, engineers and entrepreneurs, has already formed alliances with radiology groups and teleradiology providers to bring Vara to screening programmes across Europe, including Germany, Spain, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and is in advanced discussions to set up collaborations in the United Kingdom.

According to the World Health Organisation​, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, with 2.1 million women being diagnosed each year, while it also causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In 2018, it is estimated that 627,000 women died from breast cancer, with rates increasing in nearly every region globally. However, If breast cancer is detected during stage 1 almost all patients survive, but if it grows to stage 4 then survival chances drop to below 15%. Screening reduces the risk of dying of breast cancer by 41% within 10 years of diagnosis, according to a 2020 report in ​Cancer​.