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Last month a partnership was formed between stroke AI specialist, Viz.ai, and point-of-care MRI start-up, Hyperfine. The move aims to give clinicians access to MRI capability at a patient’s bedside, arming them with more diagnostic information for assessing and managing stroke care. This, the vendors hope, will ultimately allow patients suffering from a suspected stroke, a highly time-sensitive condition, to be treated more quickly.
The partnership will see Viz.ai’s care coordination platform utilised alongside Hyperfine’s Swoop portable MRI system, serving as a new commercial opportunity.
The Signify View
Viz.ai has been among the most successful medical imaging AI vendors over recent years. It was, for instance, among the earliest vendors to secure reimbursement for the use of its solution via the New Technology Add-on Payment (NTAP), it has been highly successful in funding rounds, laying claim to more than $250m, and has enjoyed a healthy succession of regulatory approvals. In meeting these milestones, Viz.ai has now found itself facing an ongoing difficulty; how best to get its solution into hospitals.
To this end, the vendor has adopted several initiatives. As well as making direct sales to providers, it has also looked to enhance its offering by partnering with other vendors. It has, for example, sealed a deal with Avicenna.ai in order to bring better care coordination for patients suffering from pulmonary embolism and aortic disease. Elsewhere, Viz.ai has also partnered with Medtronic in a bid to accelerate the adoption of its solution across Europe.
The AI vendor’s partnership with Hyperfine continues this direction, representing another route to market for Viz.ai, and offering another route by which its care coordination platform can get in the hands of users.
This route will not be, for the time being at least, widely used. Hyperfine is, after all, a young vendor with a very small installed base. It does however offer significant clinical potential, allowing MRI imaging to be conducted bedside, and therefore enabling patients in emergency rooms and intensive care units to quickly be assessed for stroke without needing to be moved.
Further, embedding Viz.ai’s solution on Hyperfine’s hardware also ties into the AI vendor’s broader ambition of effectively ‘solving’ stroke care, and addressing and expediting every facet of diagnosing the illness. Viz already offers a solution that can support clinicians along almost every stage of the stroke care pathway. By embedding the solution on a device that will be used in emergency rooms, Viz is continuing to expound one of its core selling points. Even if it is rarely used, having the option to use Viz.ai’s solution in the emergency room further facilitates this end-to-end vision.
Solving Stroke Care
The agreement also makes sense for Hyperfine. The young vendor has previously highlighted stroke care as one of the core use cases for its Swoop portable MRI system. Noting that, as with Viz.ai’s care coordination platform, its use should enable patients to receive treatment sooner, with symptomatic patients able to be imaged right away in emergency rooms or even in ambulances ensuring that they are placed on the correct care pathway and provided the right treatment as quickly as possible.
As such, Hyperfine had already been developing its own neurology imaging AI solution. BrainInsight, Hyperfine’s neurological AI solution, is centred around measurement and quantification, allowing biomarkers signifying neurological damage to be assessed, for example, midline shift following a suspected stroke. BrainInsight will complement Viz.ai’s capabilities and care coordination platform. Adding Viz’s solution to Hyperfine’s Swoop will make the system a more versatile offering, and a more valuable tool for doctors in fast-paced settings such as emergency medicine.
Partnering with Viz.ai also offers other benefits. Several other vendors have targeted the edge deployment route, including Exo and Butterfly Networks (point of care ultrasound), and established brands such as Fujifilm (portable X-ray), who offering image-analysis AI capabilities from Medo.ai, Ultromics and Annalise respectively. While Hyperfine does offer a native AI solution, this partnership will quickly add greater functionality to its scanner.
In addition, it also enables Hyperfine, which is primarily focused on hardware, to quickly scale up the availability and deployment of AI solutions for its modality. This is an important consideration given that in many cases, young challenger vendors offering mobile imaging solutions often sacrifice some image quality in the name of mobility. Such a compromise can, however, be mitigated with the use of AI, enabling these devices to be used for tasks that may otherwise have been beyond the hardware’s limits.
At present, partnerships are an effective way for both hardware and software companies to benefit from such collaborations. While in some cases, acquisitions, such as Exo’s acquisition of Medo.ai make sense, allowing the hardware vendor granular control over the AI vendor and enabling it to be specifically tailored, often partnership presents a better route.
This is true in the case of Hyperfine and Viz.ai, with Hyperfine a long way from being able to afford large acquisitions. Even without this financial hurdle, a partnership is likely preferable for both vendors, enabling them to easily enter into an agreement and capitalise on the other’s strengths without needing to commit for the long term if a better option becomes available. For Hyperfine it means it can offer Viz.ai’s solution, while Viz.ai can expand onto another potential growth platform for minimal cost.
Despite its recent valuation, Viz.ai is also unlikely to want to acquire Hyperfine. The fact it remains a nascent, yet innovative, technology, with a relatively modest installed base is reason enough to deter Viz.ai. More broadly, Viz.ai’s other recent partnerships also suggests Viz is not looking to acquire just yet.
Both vendors could also look to make more partnerships. Viz could look to secure more partnerships with other modality vendors, with a more established modality vendor with a sizable installed base a significant opportunity. Such a partnership may be difficult to come by, but it would give the vendor enhanced credibility and visibility among providers.
Hyperfine is also likely to look to embark on additional partnerships. While neurology is one of the vendor’s present priorities, the ability of AI solutions to improve the suitability of the Swoop for other clinical use cases and mitigate some of the limitations of the hardware for certain applications could bring opportunity, in prostate imaging, for example. By partnering with multiple AI vendors, Hyperfine can improve the value proposition of its Swoop, ensuring it is a more versatile system which can be utilised for many use cases by providers. Further, this ensures it can remain focused on developing and fine-tuning its hardware, rather than splitting its focus to develop AI solutions as well.
Such benefits will, however, take time to be realised. The partnership between the two vendors will not be transformative, particularly for Viz, with use on Hyperfine’s portable MRI systems offering limited potential, at least in the near term. It does however make sense, given the low cost of the partnership. The move, as with other hardware/AI partnerships before it, show the synergies that can be found and AI’s ability to maximise hardware’s capability. It may not ultimately lead to a dramatic increase in sales for either company, but other similar future partnerships might.
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This Insight is part of your subscription to Signify Premium Insights – Medical Imaging. This content is only available to individuals with an active account for this paid-for service and is the copyright of Signify Research. Content cannot be shared or distributed to non-subscribers or other third parties without express written consent from Signify Research. To view other recent Premium Insights that are part of the service please click here