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U of T startup Bridge7 using artificial intelligence to improve cancer treatment

Company selected by Google for Startups Accelerator Canada
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FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing many industries and the applications of AI are becoming more widespread each day. Launched via the U of T Early-Stage Technology program (UTEST), Bridge7 is a startup working to apply AI “to improve the quality, consistency, and efficiency of cancer treatments.”

On August 19, Bridge7 was announced as one of nine startups selected for the inaugural cohort of Canada’s Google for Startups Accelerator. The tech giant’s Global Accelerator Program was created to foster companies that focus on local issues, helping them address their specific markets and giving them access to Google’s resources.

Homegrown origins

The company was founded by Tom Purdie, an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Radiation Oncology, and Chris McIntosh, an assistant professor in U of T’s Department of Medical Biophysics.

“UTEST has been great providing the opportunity to work and interact with other startups and we have truly benefit from working in the UTEST environment,” Purdie wrote in an email to The Varsity.

“We also were part of [the Creative Destruction Lab] at University of Toronto and graduated from that accelerator in June 2018. That was also a great experience and we have made long lasting contacts there, gained valuable advice on fundraising and building our company.”

When asked how it felt to see one of UTEST’s incubated companies succeed so well, program co-director Kurtis Scissons claimed that it is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

“Bridge7 is a great example of a company that is led by a highly motivated and technical team which established its first, recurring revenue customer within a year after graduating from the UTEST program,” Scissons wrote in an email to The Varsity. “This is a prime example of success from a UTEST perspective.”

UTEST caters to research-based U of T startups, and offers access to domain expert mentors, investment opportunities, and workspaces. Bridge7 was part of the UTEST cohort in 2018. 

“We provided fundamental business education with our partner MaRS, mentorship and a physical location for the company at our ONRamp facility,” Scissons wrote. “Business introductions were facilitated by the UTEST team that has helped identify new customers and potential investors.” 

Heuristics for health care

Bridge7 uses AI to accelerate the triaging and treatment planning process of cancer patients. Digital protocols are machine learning models that use algorithms to acquire important features of a case. These attributes are used to shape and define the type of treatment given to patients.

The clinical team can confirm whether a patient’s treatment plan agrees with the clinical standards that the model was based on, and discover and correct any errors easily and quickly. Proper triage is crucial when there is a large number of patients with varying degrees of illness or who are in different stages of cancer.

As researchers with the University Health Network, Purdie and McIntosh were able to develop and deploy the technology in actual hospitals. Bridge7’s work is now recognized and used in hospitals around the world.

“We are also able to collaborate and engage with clinical and technical experts to further research and impact patient care,” Purdie wrote.

A promising future

Bridge7 is looking to focus on larger customers in the future, with the goal of further spreading its knowledge and making a difference for patient care. In the short term, it is already taking full advantage of its new incubator’s resources.

“We just started, this is week 2 but already we have been connecting with experts on both the technical and business side,” Purdie wrote about Google for Startups Accelerator Canada. “That program is a great fit for us in taking advantage of machine learning, cloud, [user interface and experience] expertise, and healthcare APIs and deployment strategies.”

Purdie advises entrepreneurs to “stay focused and don’t try and do too many different things.”

“If you have a strong, clear message, it is easier to attract investors and customers,” Purdie wrote. “Sometimes startups get very focused on their technology having to always be the best, but user experience and solving the right problem are essential to having a successful business.”