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Timor Kadir, CTO of lung health technology company Optellum, was one of the first industry partners to join the NCIMI network.

Portrait of Timor Kadir


Former CTO of Mirada Medical and long-term collaborator with University of Oxford, he was part of the initial team to pitch to Innovate UK for funding to form NCIMI.

Timor explains how imaging and AI can speed up diagnosis and treatment for lung cancer patients, and how lung-health physicians are the new super heroes in our hospitals.

What is your role within Optellum? What does it involve?

I am Chief Technology Officer at Optellum.

Optellum is a lung health company. We support doctors managing patients who have had findings or signs of possible lung cancer and how to manage those.

We have developed a software product that helps physicians classify pulmonary nodules – GPs refer to these as spots or shadows on the CT or X-ray of the lungs.

More than 95% of the time, pulmonary lung nodules are benign. Our software, using AI and machine learning, analyses such nodules to understand if they have signs that indicate cancer. This monitoring process can take place over a number of years and it is important to ensure that cases don't fall through the gaps and this is also something that our software does.

For those patients who have cancer, they can be sent for biopsy and treatment more quickly. Our belief is that human plus machine is better than human alone.

It also enables physicians to rule out patients who don't have cancer earlier.

What technologies are Optellum leading on in the AI and healthcare space?

The product currently launched includes management features and it's going live in a couple of centres in the US. One is Wake Forest Baptist Health, which is also one our collaborators, and it's right at the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem.

We are also running some more clinical trials with our software, which we hope to complete this year.

Why is it important for Optellum to be part of NCIMI?

We were involved with NCIMI from the beginning. I was part of the pitch to Innovate UK and some of the structuring of the bid.

I encouraged key features of the programme, such as a diverse pipeline of projects from early stage to late stage of development.

NCIMI was inspired by previous projects between Optellum and Fergus Gleeson (NCIMI's Chief Medical Officer). Fergus is a long-term friend and collaborator of mine.

I was CTO of Mirada Medical for seven years – another of NCIMI's industry partners where we were part of a previous Innovate UK funded project in 2013 around lung nodule research.

We collected data from about 1000 patients at Oxford University Hospitals – this showed that using machine learning to predict whether something was malignant or benign was possible. This led to two further grants to scale up this research across the UK and further afield, including hospitals in Germany and the Netherlands followed by Nottingham and Leeds.

NCIMI is about demonstrating our extensive work in researching AI and imaging, and taking the research beyond just lung cancer to other industries and conditions.

What makes NCIMI different to other networks or partnerships?

At Optellum we only deal with certain types of pulmonary nodule and patients. NCIMI brings together other partners who can broaden our research into areas we don't reach.

Also, NCIMI isn't just about Oxford. It provides a mechanism for us to get data from 13 other NHS trusts. That's what makes it interesting for us.

Through our previous projects, we have a lot of experience in collecting data, and we've got better at processing our data sets and we have a protocol to use. We've made every mistake that others shouldn't repeat.

That's another reason for us to be involved – we can advise others on what not to do!

What are you looking forward to developing within the NCIMI network?

We're looking forward to executing our existing pipeline of projects.

At Optellum, we've also got newer projects in the pipeline, collecting different types of data, maybe changing the way data is collected – so we see NCIMI as an important part of that work.

Having major partners such as GE as part of our network is fantastic for smaller companies such as Optellum – they know we are credible and serious, and we're creating strong connections.

We're also continuing to bid for additional grant money from Innovate UK for lung health projects, using the NCIMI network. We're waiting for announcements about these.

What challenges are your organisation facing in the area of AI and healthcare, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Everyone is adapting fairly well to working remotely during Covid crisis – we were cloud-based anyway. We do have a prospective trial that is paused at the moment.

Overall – it's not been disastrous for our business but we think it may slow the uptake of our software. Commercially, there aren't many hospitals out there buying software. We are looking further down the line at how this may affect hospital buying cycles.

In the medium to long-term – people working hard on the frontline of Covid-19 are pulmonologists.

Pulmonologists are our customers. They are the superheroes in hospitals right now – they will carry a lot of weight and our technology makes their lives easier.

We're a lung health company which is part of the zeitgeist right now.