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February 24, 2019
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Two former Qualcomm engineers are using AI to fix China’s healthcare problem

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Artificial intelligence is widely heralded as something that could disrupt the jobs market across the board — potentially eating into careers as varied as accountants, advertising agents, reporters and more — but there are some industries in dire need of assistance where AI could make a wholly positive impact, a core one being healthcare.

Despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China is still coping with a serious shortage of medical resources. In 2015, the country had 1.8 physicians per 1,000 citizens, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That figure puts China behind the U.S. at 2.6 and was well below the OECD average of 3.4.

The undersupply means a nation of overworked doctors who constantly struggle to finish screening patient scans. Misdiagnoses inevitably follow. Spotting the demand, forward-thinking engineers and healthcare professionals move to get deep learning into analyzing medical images. Research firm IDC estimates that the market for AI-aided medical diagnosis and treatment in China crossed 183 million yuan ($27 million) in 2017 and is expected to reach 5.88 billion yuan ($870 million) by 2022.

One up-and-comer in the sector is 12 Sigma, a San Diego-based startup founded by two former Qualcomm engineers with research teams in China. The company is competing against Yitu, Infervision and a handful of other well-funded Chinese startups that help doctors detect cancerous cells from medical scans. Between January and May last year alone, more than 10 Chinese companies with such a focus scored fundings of over 10 million yuan ($1.48 million), according to startup data provider Iyiou. 12 Sigma itself racked up a 200 million yuan Series B round at the end of 2017 and is mulling a new funding round as it looks to ramp up its sales team and develop new products, the company told TechCrunch.

“2015 to artificial intelligence is like 1995 to the Internet. It was the dawn of a revolution,” recalled Zhong Xin, who quit his management role at Qualcomm and went on to launch 12 Sigma in 2015. At the time, AI was cereping into virtually all facets of life, from public security, autonomous driving, agriculture, education to finance. Zhong took a bet on health care.

“For most industries, the AI technology might be available, but there isn’t really a pressing problem to solve. You are creating new demand there. But with healthcare, there is a clear problem, that is, how to more efficiently spot diseases from a single image,” the chief executive added.

An engineer named Gao Dashan who had worked closely with Zhong at Qualcomm’s U.S. office on computer vision and deep learning soon joined as the startup’s technology head. The pair both attended China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, another experience that boosted their sense of camaraderie.

Aside from the potential financial rewards, the founders also felt an urge to start something on their own as they entered their 40s. “We were too young to join the Internet boom. If we don’t create something now for the AI era, it will be too late for us to be entrepreneurs,” admitted Zhong who, with age, also started to recognize the vulnerability of life. “We see friends and relatives with cancers get diagnosed too late and end up  The more I see this happen, the more strongly I feel about getting involved in healthcare to give back to society.”

A three-tier playbook

12 Sigma and its peers may be powering ahead with their advanced imaging algorithms, but the real challenge is how to get China’s tangled mix of healthcare facilities to pay for novel technologies. Infervision, which TechCrunch wrote about earlier, stations programmers and sales teams at hospitals to mingle with doctors and learn their needs. 12 Sigma deploys the same on-the-ground strategy to crack the intricate network.

Zhong Xin, Co-founder and CEO of 12 Sigma / Photo source: 12 Sigma

“Social dynamics vary from region to region. We have to build trust with local doctors. That’s why we recruit sales persons locally. That’s the foundation. Then we begin by tackling the tertiary hospitals. If we manage to enter these hospitals,” said Zhong, referring to the top public hospitals in China’s three-tier medical system. “Those partnerships will boost our brand and give us greater bargaining power to go after the smaller ones.”

For that reason, the tertiary hospitals are crowded with earnest startups like 12 Sigma as well as tech giants like Tencent, which has a dedicated medical imaging unit called Miying. None of these providers is charging the top boys for using their image processors because “they could easily switch over to another brand,” suggested Gao.

Instead, 12 Sigma has its eyes on the second-tier hospitals. As of last April, China had about 30,000 hospitals, out of which 2,427 were rated tertiary, according to a survey done by the National Health and Family Planning Commission. The second tier, serving a wider base in medium-sized cities, had a network of 8,529 hospitals. 12 Sigma believes these facilities are where it could achieve most of its sales by selling device kits and charging maintenance fees in the future.

The bottom tier had 10,135 primary hospitals, which tend to concentrate in small towns and lack the financial capacity to pay the one-off device fees. As such, 12 Sigma plans to monetize these regions with a pay-per-use model.

So far, the medical imaging startup has about 200 hospitals across China testing its devices — for free. It’s sold only 10 machines, generating several millions of yuan in revenue, while very few of its rivals have achieved any sales at all according to Gao. At this stage, the key is to glean enough data so the startup’s algorithms get good enough to convince hospital administrators the machines are worth the investment. The company is targeting 100 million yuan ($14.8 million) in sales for 2019 and aims to break even by 2020.

China’s relatively lax data protection policy means entrepreneurs have easier access to patient scans compared to their peers in the west. Working with American hospitals has proven “very difficult” due to the country’s privacy protection policies, said Gao. They also come with a different motive. While China seeks help from AI to solve its doctor shortage, American hospitals place a larger focus on AI’s economic returns.

“The healthcare system in the U.S. is much more market-driven. Though doctors could be more conservative about applying AI than those in China, as soon as we prove that our devices can boost profitability, reduce misdiagnoses and lower insurance expenditures, health companies are keen to give it a try,” said Gao.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple plans major US expansion including a new $1 billion campus in Austin

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Apple has announced a major expansion that will see it open a new campus in North Austin and open new offices in Seattle, San Diego and Los Angeles as it bids to increase its workforce in the U.S. The firm said it intends also to significantly expand its presence in Pittsburgh, New York and Boulder, Colorado over the next three years.

The Austin campus alone will cost the company $1 billion, but Apple said that the 133-acre space will generate an initial 5,000 jobs across a broad range of roles with the potential to add 10,000 more. The company claims to have 6,200 employees in Austin — its largest enclave outside of Cupertino — and it said that the addition of these new roles will make it the largest private employer in the city.

Beyond a lot of new faces, the new campus will include more than 50 acres of open space and — as is standard with Apple’s operations these days — it will run entirely on renewable energy.

Apple already has 6,200 employees in Austin, but its new campus could add up to 15,000 more

The investment was lauded by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

“Their decision to expand operations in our state is a testament to the high-quality workforce and unmatched economic environment that Texas offers. I thank Apple for this tremendous investment in Texas, and I look forward to building upon our strong partnership to create an even brighter future for the Lone Star State,” he said in a statement shared by Apple.

But Austin isn’t the only focal point for Apple growth in the U.S.

Outside of the Austin development, the iPhone-maker plans to expand to over 1,000 staff Seattle, San Diego and LA over the next three years, while adding “hundreds” of staff in Pittsburgh, New York, Boulder, Boston and Portland, Oregon.

More broadly, Apple said it added 6,000 jobs to its U.S. workforce this year to take its total in the country to 90,000. It said it remains on track to create 20,000 new jobs in the U.S. by 2023.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Justice Department indicts two Iranians over SamSam ransomware attacks

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An example of the SamSam ransom note. (Image: SecureWorks)

U.S. federal prosecutors have indicted two Iranian nationals for creating and deploying the notorious SamSam ransomware.

Faramarz Shahi Savandi, 34, and Mohammad Mehdi Shah, 27, were indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on Monday on several counts of computer hacking and fraud charges. The case was unsealed Wednesday, shortly before a press conference announcing the charges by U.S. deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

“The Iranian defendants allegedly used hacking and malware to cause more than $30 million in losses to more than 200 victims,” said Rosenstein. “According to the indictment, the hackers infiltrated computer systems in ten states and Canada and then demanded payment. The criminal activity harmed state agencies, city governments, hospitals, and countless innocent victims.”

Among those victims included the City of Atlanta, which was knocked offline earlier this year, and projected to spent at least $2.6 million in recovery following a SamSam infection. It was later discovered that the city’s computers had long been vulnerable to leaked exploits developed by the National Security Agency — later stolen and leaked online for anyone to use.

Other victims included clinical lab testing giant LabCorp, the City of Newark, New Jersey, and the Port of San Diego, attacked in late-September — which prosecutors said was the most recent attack.

Several city municipalities, hospitals and medical centers were also hit by the ransomware.

In total, SamSam has generated some $6 million in proceeds to date — or 1,430 bitcoin at today’s value.

Prosecutors said that nearly every U.S. state had at least one victim — some, including most of the eastern seaboard, had more than six victims.

According to the indictment, Savandi and Mansouri created SamSam in late-2015 and refined it over the following two years. The two allegedly conducted reconnaissance to try to determine potential victims, and launched attacks outside business hours to maximize the damage by preventing mitigations.

Justice Dept. prosecutors say that the SamSam infections caused $30 million in losses and damages.

As Iranian nationals and residents, it’s unlikely that the two will ever face justice in the U.S., but the indictments serve as a “name and shame” effort employed by the Justice Dept. in recent years.

The indictments likely won’t result in extraditions or convictions, but does make it difficult for the alleged ransomware authors to travel freely — running the risk of being detained in a country that has an extradition policy with the U.S.

Savandi and Mansouri remain wanted by the FBI.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The top 10 cities for $100M VC rounds in 2018 so far

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Crunchbase News recently profiled a selection of U.S. companies’ largest VC raised in 2018, and no surprise here: the 10 largest rounds all topped out well north of $100 million.

A major driver of global venture dollar growth is the relatively recent phenomenon of companies raising $100 million or more in a single venture round. We’ve called these nine and 10-figure deals, which shine brightly in the media and are hefty enough to bend the curve of VC fund sizes upwards, “supergiants” after their stellar counterparts.

And like stars, venture-backed companies tend to originate and co-exist in clusters, while the physical space between these groups is largely empty.

We noticed that many of the companies behind these supergiant rounds are headquartered in just a few metro areas around the United States. In this case, it’s mostly just the SF Bay Area, plus others scattered between Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego and one (Magic Leap) in the unfortunately named Plantation, Florida.

The San Francisco Bay Area is perhaps one of the best-known tech and startup hubs in the world. Places like Boston, NYC and Los Angeles, among others, are perhaps just as well-known. But how do these cities stack up as clusters for companies raising supergiant rounds?

Superclusters

That question got us wondering how these locales rank against other major metropolitan areas throughout the world. In the chart below, we’ve plotted the count of supergiant venture rounds1 topping out at $100 million or more through November 5. These numbers are based off of reported data in Crunchbase, exclude private equity rounds and do not account for deals that may have already been closed but haven’t been publicly announced yet.

Although U.S.-based companies have raised more supergiant rounds (168 year to date) than their Chinese counterparts (160 year to date), Chinese companies raise much bigger rounds, even at this supergiant size class.

How much more? U.S. companies have raised $38.4 billion, year to date, in nine and 10-figure venture rounds alone. Chinese companies have raised $69 billion across their 160 supergiant deals, which includes the largest-ever VC deal: a $14 billion Series C round raised by Ant Financial.

2018 in perspective

2018 is already a record year for venture funding worldwide. With more than $275 billion in projected total venture dollar volume so far, 2018’s year-to-date numbers have already eclipsed 2017’s full-year figures (a projected $220 billion, roughly) by more than $55 billion.2

And there’s still about eight weeks left to go before it’s New Year’s Eve.

  1. We use the same classification rules for what is and is not a “venture” round as we’ve used in our quarterly reports. Check out the methodology section of our most recent global VC report, from Q3 2018, to learn more about how Crunchbase News categorizes rounds.
  2. We’re referring to the same type of projected data we use in the quarterly reports. Check out the methodology section of our most recent global VC report, from Q3 2018, to learn more about how Crunchbase News uses projected and reported data.

News Source = techcrunch.com

How smartphone apps could help keep health records accurate

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Suppose that the next time you go to a new doctor’s office, you wouldn’t have to balance a clipboard on your knee, write down your whole medical history, remember the five-syllable name of every medication you’re taking, and list all your allergies. Suppose that your smartphone could simply tap into the office’s computer system, where you could upload your entire medical history safely, securely, and accurately.

Such an app could ease the frustration patients feel when they fill out the forms for a new doctor. More importantly, it could help solve a serious but lesser-known problem that plagues hospitals and clinics: While the increased use of electronic health records has helped streamline record-keeping, providers aren’t always able to reliably pull together records for the same patient that are held in different hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices.

That was the scene in Boston in 2015, when emergency room doctors were struggling to treat a patient named Maureen Kelly—only to discover five different electronic records for Maureen Kelly, each with the same birthday and ZIP code. They had no way of knowing which record matched the patient in front of them. Was she the Maureen Kelly with diabetes? The Maureen Kelly who had only one kidney? And if they were to decide to send her record to a specialist outside the hospital, how could they know which of the five to send?

Fortunately, Maureen Kelly recovered. But to make the best possible medical decisions in cases like hers, doctors need immediate access to accurate patient data—including those from records held in other facilities. Digital systems should be able to seamlessly match records from a pediatrician in Pittsburgh or a surgeon in San Diego each and every time. An inability to do so—which could mean physicians not having important details, such as a patient’s drug allergies, chronic illnesses, or past surgeries—can mean the difference between life and death.

Doctors using digital tablet together in hospital (Photo: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)

It’s hard enough keeping records straight within a single large hospital system; transferring them among different doctors’ offices and other hospitals is even more challenging. As digital health care systems have proliferated, they’ve used a variety of formats to record essential pieces of information, such as addresses and birthdates, that don’t easily transfer from one system to another. And, of course, patients’ identifying information isn’t static—birthdates don’t change but people move, change names through marriage or adoption, and more. Matches among different systems have also been stymied by data entry errors.

And while patient harm is the primary risk posed by inaccurate records, cost is no small consideration. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology reported that each instance of a misidentified record cost the Mayo Clinic roughly $1,200—and that’s just within the Mayo system. These administrative costs are magnified when data are exchanged on a nationwide scale.

No one solution can solve every patient-matching problem. But The Pew Charitable Trusts is investigating several ideas. Pew recently asked the nonprofit RAND Corporation to evaluate solutions that would let patients exercise more control over how their records are matched. RAND looked at a variety of options and concluded that the growing use of smartphones offers a particularly promising opportunity to improve record matching in two ways.

Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images

First, smartphones could allow patients to verify their phone numbers at the point of care, perhaps by responding to a text message—a strategy already used in banking, travel, retail, and other industries. Once a number was confirmed by the patient, the hospital’s computer could use it automatically to match other records against that number with a higher degree of certainty.

Second, patients could use an app to enter their information—such as an address or even a driver’s license number—and have that information sent directly to the hospital when they check in for their visit. This would let patients update their information and voluntarily provide more accurate data to facilitate a match. Smartphone apps could eventually aggregate and transfer even more information—such as medication lists or health histories—and replace the paper on clipboards used today.

The smartphone approach will not solve this problem by itself. There are potential limitations—patients would need to own phones and know how to use them, and the system might not work in emergency situations when a patient didn’t have or couldn’t operate a smartphone—but the Pew Research Center found earlier this year thatmore than three-quarters of Americans now use smartphones, including nearly half of people older than 65.

To address the larger problem of patient matching, stakeholders must pursue a variety of solutions, including smartphone apps. Technology developers would be wise to advance and start pilot projects now of smartphones and a variety of other solutions, and demonstrate how they could be used to save lives, improve care, and reduce health care costs.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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