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Cyclica: Passion, Innovation, and Culture  

By Naheed Kurji, CEO At Cyclica

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Naheed Kurji, President and CEO
Cyclica

Passion, Innovation, And Culture

A born fighter may not realize the power in him until he is sent to the battlefield. So was the case of Naheed Kurji when he was asked to take the reigns as President and CEO of Cyclica—an AI-driven biotechnology and drug discovery company. “Many early prospective investors made it clear that they were looking for someone with a PhD to lead Cyclica without really getting to know me or how the company was set up. Fortunately, my team and many others believed in me, our vision, and the broader team, and have supported us for a long time – I am truly grateful to them.” When he was asked to move from CFO and take the role of CEO in April 2016, he quickly embraced the leader in him and began to take charge. His passion for AI and life sciences served as a transformative success factor for Cyclica. Exploring the “deep how” of his success, Kurji credits his team for investing their time and knowledge in him, and for continuing to believe in his leadership. He explained that an unwavering commitment, persistence, and tenacity to acquire new knowledge helped him, overcame his self-induced “imposter syndrome”.

With sound and dedicated scientific and operational expertise at the leadership level, today Kurji spends the majority of his time fostering Cyclica’s organizational culture, defining the company’s strategies to elevate its brand globally, meeting with pharma and biotech leaders on partnership opportunities, and exploring opportunities for continued innovation.

Driving Scientific Rigor 

As a passionate healthcare technologist, Kurji believes all stakeholders in healthcare and drug discovery have a moral obligation to progress the advancement of human health, and have to go about it the right way. “The discovery of medicines is highly non-trivial, and there has to be a deep empathy and understanding of the complexities behind biology and chemistry, as well as the opportunities and limitations with new computational methods.” Kurji explains that “while we are building the most robust and impactful platform to accelerate the discovery of better medicines, we are continuously striving to uphold a level of scientific rigor and integrity that we believe is necessary to contribute to a healthy community.”

When it comes to the application of AI, Kurji explains that AI is an important tool and undeniably is playing an important role in the life sciences. When applied appropriately to specific problems and questions, AI helps in diagnosing diseases earlier, managing patient care and workflow, discovering and developing better medicines for individual patients or populations, detecting safety signals in clinical trials or in the market, prescribing those medicines more effectively, and monitoring patient adherence to prescription. While encouraging, Kurji also stresses that AI is not the silver bullet in drug discovery as “the biggest limitation of AI is the availability of balanced model quality data where the underlying bias has been managed. This is a growing problem that needs to be thoughtfully addressed.” Where sufficient, balanced, and model quality data does not exist, platforms that are wholly based on machine learning or deep learning will struggle to provide predictive value. As Kurji says, “it starts with recognizing our own bias, communicating the limitations of our data, and collaborating with appropriate partners to resolve inconsistencies by gaining access to better data.” Furthermore, Kurji believes there is a need to hold companies in this space to a higher standard, and this includes scientific and technical validation of methods and models.  Managing expectations is critically important when it comes to digitizing drug discovery, “we need to be visionary in our outlook, but patient in our approach. We can’t expect to click a button and cure a disease, not today.”

The “Go To” Platform

“In drug discovery, we believe that AI is best when it is combined with more first principles biophysics approaches. We also believe that pharma is looking for a holistic, integrated, and end-to-end enabling set of technologies that leverage AI to drive value at various stages of drug discovery (i.e. they are not looking for single point solutions for one problem),” says Kurji. Cyclica’s underlying philosophy is to design drugs for patients, not just for protein targets, which contrasts the approach of classical computational methods. In response to this, Cyclica has developed and validated a patented set of complementary technologies that combine the principles of biophysics, AI, and systems biology, to enhance how pharmaceutical companies navigate critical phases of the drug discovery pipeline. Taking a unique polypharmacological perspective to drug discovery, their Ligand Express and Ligand Design platform augments how scientists design better drugs that minimize off-target side effects, and gain insights into downstream systems biology and structural pharmacogenomics, a key step to personalized drug discovery.

For Kurji, he credits Cyclica’s position as one of the leading AI in drug discovery companies to creating a culture that sponsors an openness and understanding of views, transparency, and inclusivity, and at the same time, offering people an environment where they are free to be innovative solutions to some of the hardest problems in healthcare.

Naheed Kurji, President and CEO

Company: Cyclica

Website: www.cyclicarx.com

Management: Naheed Kurji, President and CEO

Founded Year: 2013

Headquarters: Toronto, Ontario

Description: Cyclica is a globally recognized biotechnology company that leverages artificial intelligence and computational biophysics to reshape the drug discovery process.

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AI to help kids struggling with ADHD, PDD-NOS and other ASD’s  

By Stephane Bourles, CIO at Brain Balance

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AI to help kids struggling with ADHD, Autism, Asperger Syndrome , PDD-NOS and other ASD’s

Left Brain or Right Brain?

In a properly functioning brain, both hemispheres communicate equally and at lightning speed, millions of times per minute. In a poorly functioning brain, the left and right sides of the brain only impart partial information, causing frequent miscommunication. This is called Functional Disconnection and is the root of many types of learning, behavioral and social problems found in children. The Brain Balance program puts the left and right brains back in sync using sensory motor exercises, academic skill building, and nutrition guidelines.

How does the Assessment Work?

The assessment consists of sensory, motor, and academic testing of more than 900 functions. The outcome of this assessment is a highly customized report providing parents with a complete understanding of their child’s behavioral, social, and academic skill levels.

We use AI to determine which brain hemisphere we believe to be stronger or weaker. The Machine Learning algorithm used for the assessment is not always accurate, which we know based on the feedback from our staff—yes we let them disagree with the system, which is intended as a tool to help them support their own assessment, but not to necessarily force them into a decision they don’t agree with.
But as valuable as an individual observation based on years of experience is, it still remains just the view of one individual. That is why we look at Artificial Intelligence as a new solution combining neural network architectures with massive computing power to enable our solution to learn a pattern from large datasets and make statistical predictions based on test results and feedback we already have for tens of thousands of students.

What is next?

Thanks to many product releases with different Machine Learning models we tested, we were able to improve our assessment accuracy and achieve precision, recall and F1 scores over 0.95. The limitation of this AI model is it is not 100% accurate and you don’t know for sure the source of truth. Since AI is a “black box” which can’t explain its prediction for most models, you have to trust your staff first.

Similar to clinical decision support systems helping healthcare practitioners, we believe this fast growing dataset about children, combined with new Artificial Intelligence models such as Explainable AI, will help our staff improve a child’s initial assessment, which will then improve our overall program’s results.

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The importance of information to empower health-app users  

By Liz Ashall-Payne, CEO, ORCHA

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Shining a light between the rock and the hard place: The importance of information to empower health-app users

Apps, and their use for the promotion of health and wellbeing, are the subject of increasing interest and enquiry; particularly in light of the NHS’ Long Term Plan, and ever-increasing pressures on scarce NHS resources. But finding and downloading effective, engaging, and most importantly, safe health-apps, is a significant challenge. While many have suggested that health-apps could be a ‘silver-bullet’, aimed at quashing the woes that stem from decreasing funding and increasing demand for incumbent NHS services, it is important to tread with caution.

Unlike pharmaceuticals, over the counter remedies, talking therapies, physiotherapy or surgery, health-apps can not only be sought, but readily obtained in absence of gatekeeping and safeguarding. The result is that you or I can download upwards of 200,000 health-apps today, with as little as a click of a button on the app-store. While this can be argued as the unique value-proposition of app-based health technologies, a lack of guarantees regarding the quality and content of such apps, means that this open-access feature of apps also represents the chief concern; and is likely limiting the enthusiasm with which healthcare professionals engage and promote their use.

The number of apps labelled as ‘pranks’ or for ‘illustration purposes only’ has been subject to year-on-year growth. But for those looking for convenient, easily accessible, and often cost-free support; or for those who are either vulnerable or impressionable; such technologies can pose significant health risks, beyond those that are apparent and conveyed (if at all) in the short description within the app store. An app that misleadingly claims to monitor blood pressure or blood sugar for example, may result in either (1) misleading information, (2) modifications to disease management not representative of true disease status (including the use of insulin or warfarin), or (3) serious adverse events including hypoglycaemia or stroke. One such app for monitoring blood pressure has been downloaded upwards of 1,000,000 times on the Android Google Play app store, while boasting a review rating of 4.3/5.

This raises questions regarding the utility of both the subjective user review score (which is inherently limited in only capturing both very positive or very negative views) and the number of prior downloads of an app, as potential surrogates for app quality. Recent research into apps targeted at chronic insomnia disorder conducted by the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications (ORCHA) confirmed this. In this analysis, which is now available in the journal BMJ: Evidence-Based Mental Health, it was demonstrated that both user review scores, and the number of prior downloads of a health-app, were not only unreliable as proxies for quality, but in fact were inversely related; and as these metrics increased, the objectively measured quality of apps decreased (as assessed by presence of clinical evidence, data privacy policies etc.) This has left a considerable void regarding where reliable indicators of the safety and quality of app-based health technologies can be found, something which at least in part, has been tackled by the National Health Service (NHS).

Courtesy of the NHS’s digital assessment questionnaire (DAQ), and the NHS apps library (beta version), the number of ‘accredited’ and NHS-approved health-apps is increasing, albeit at a leisurely pace, with approximately 50 apps accredited so far. While a step in the right direction, the rigour with which such reviews are conducted comes at the expense of speed, and an estimated review time of 6-8 weeks, limits the possibility of such initiatives being conducted at scale. As such, the difference between the total number of health-apps available (~300,000), and those which have been quality-tested and approved by regulators or accreditation bodies (~50); is if anything, increasing; leaving little or no information regarding the validity, efficacy, and most importantly the safety, of 99.99% of health-apps available today; which to date have been downloaded by potential users upwards of 50million times.

This is where the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications (ORCHA) aim to transform the process of health-app research and information provision. Positioned as an open-access, free of charge and publicly facing repository regarding the user experience, clinical efficacy, and data privacy of thousands of health-apps, ORCHA’s aim is simple; to empower and inform potential users of health-apps regarding potential risks and benefits, prior to committing to use. Through a structured, objective and peer-reviewed assessment, consisting of 160 question areas, answered on a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ basis, ORCHA provides information to the 99% of users of health-apps, which are yet to be formally assessed by health technology assessment bodies, and in doing so, ORCHA removes the information asymmetry that is currently clouding the health-app market in, distrust, disbelief, and uncertainty. Publishing a new review of a health-app every 30minutes on average, ORCHA pull in information for all 300,000+ apps available on both iOS and Android Google Play, organise these into medically approved sub-categories (including diabetes, mental health and diet and exercise), and then order these apps from the most to the least downloaded.

In doing so, ORCHA believe that focusing attention on providing information about the risks and benefits of apps currently used the most, and those which others are most likely to download, is likely to have the largest overall impact on the safety and effectiveness with which such apps are used. By providing a short, sharp summary of each app, prior to download, highlighting concerns including the lack of a data privacy policy, a lack of evidence to support claims of effectiveness, or a lack of accessibility options for those who are hard of sight or hearing for example; ORCHA is providing information regarding the ‘many’ health apps currently in use, and eliminating the information uncertainty that not only limits the allure of health-apps, but also puts users at risk when unknowingly using health-apps which do not look after your data, and may cause physical harm if used in the belief that they are approved medical technologies.

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Barbara Howard, MD to Receive the 2019 C. Anderson Aldrich Award  

By Karen Gauthier Sales & Marketing Coordinator, Total Child Health

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August 20, 2019

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics announced that Barbara Howard, MD will receive the 2019 C. Anderson Aldrich Award.

The C. Anderson Aldrich Award is bestowed by the Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics of the American Academy of Pediatrics to honor professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of child development. Its earlier recipients include some of the world’s most famous pediatricians, such as Benjamin Spock and T. Berry Brazelton; child psychiatrists, such as Anna Freud, and Sir Michael Llewellyn Rutter and child psychologists, such as Erik Erickson.

Howard is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician who trained with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton at Harvard University.  Dr. Howard is probably the most popular and beloved teacher and recognized care innovator of developmental and behavioral aspects of pediatrics in the United States.  She has been a frequently invited national speaker over the past several decades and at one point was noted by the AAP as the highest-rated speaker of any specialty in pediatrics.

Pediatricians also have had access to her wisdom about practical approaches to developmental and behavioral aspects of pediatrics through a regular column in the free Pediatric News over the past two decades.  Many pediatricians have attended the free monthly case conferences through a federal grant she has had continuously for thirty years, first in person and in recent years as a national webcast.  Pediatric residents at Hopkins, Duke, Sinai, and U Mass have benefited and she also co-directed a fellowship program to train developmental and behavioral pediatricians as a faculty member at Johns Hopkins, where she continues a faculty role.

In recent years, Barbara has used an innovative online “clinical process support system”, called CHADIS to provide “moment of care” education to pediatricians specifically related to their own patients via pre-visit questionnaires, reaching 3,000 pediatricians for over 2 million of their patients.

Dr. Howard was past President of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. She was a contributing author for Bright Futures™, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Primary Care (DSM-PC) and Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health and has served on national committees of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Dr. Howard has also made contributions by leading thirteen NIH and CDC funded research programs in areas such as autism, ADHD, asthma, infant mental health and current grants for Social Determinants of Health, teen depression and substance use prevention.  These research programs have made contributions to the literature and also evidence to support modules in CHADIS that continue to teach and guide pediatricians family medicine doctors and now branching out to mental health providers and adult medicine.

Howard will receive the award during the 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans, LA on Saturday, October 26, 2019.

The mission of Total Child Health, Inc. is to provide products and services that improve mental and physical health. In particular, the company focuses on the development and distribution of CHADIS (CHADIS.com).

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