Press release
January 19, 2022
5 mins

NHS trust and Owkin to develop AI tool to combat HER2 breast cancer

Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London are working with AI startup Owkin to develop an AI model to speed up the diagnosis of one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

The partnership is developing deep learning models to predict patients whose breast cancer tests positive for a gene called HER2, a signature that plays an important role in the progression of aggressive forms of breast cancer.

Up to a quarter of all breast cancer cases are HER2-positive, affecting up to 14,000 women in Britain every year. This type of cancer is more responsive to certain treatments. It is hoped that using AI will allow quick and accurate assessment of the presence of HER2, ensuring the thousands of women who are diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer every year receive targeted treatment as soon as possible.

The use of anti-HER2 therapies has dramatically improved survival rates for breast cancer patients. However, accurately quantifying HER2 levels remains a challenge for doctors. At present, human pathologists analyze tissue sample slides to detect the presence of HER2 proteins. The new AI models being built will use deep learning trained on hundreds of retrospective tissue samples to effectively detect the over-expression of HER2. The trust, which is one of the biggest in the country, plans to use this research to build an AI tool that could accurately pre-screen breast cancer patients for HER2, with the potential for it to be rolled out across the NHS.

Thomas Clozel, Co-Founder and CEO of Owkin and former clinical onco-hematologist, said:

While breast cancer treatment has been transformed in recent decades, the disease still takes three quarter of a million lives every year. By using AI to better spot some of the most aggressive forms of the cancer, it has the potential to radically improve outcomes for patients across the NHS and beyond.

Dr Sheeba Irshad, breast cancer medical oncologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ said:

Anti-HER2 therapies are a class of medicines used to treat all stages of HER2-positive breast cancer, from early-stage to metastatic. HER2 evaluation is a complex and evolving field. This is an exciting partnership between Owkin, King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ to help understand if artificial intelligence methods such as deep learning algorithms have the potential to facilitate clinical decision-making in the breast cancer patient pathway.

In November, Owkin became a ‘unicorn’ – a startup valued at more than $1 billion – through a new $180 million investment from French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi. It aims to supercharge cancer research through federated learning, a novel framework for building AI models that allows the masses of data stored in hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to be securely analyzed by AI models without the data leaving the source.

About Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust

Guy's and St Thomas' provides 2.9 million patient contacts in acute and specialist hospital services and community services every year. The Trust includes Guy’s Hospital, St Thomas’ Hospital, Evelina London Children’s Hospital, Royal Brompton Hospital, Harefield Hospital, and adult and children’s community services in Lambeth and Southwark.

As one of the biggest NHS trusts in the UK, with an annual turnover of £2.1 billion, we employ around 22,000 staff.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ is part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC), a collaboration between King’s College London, and Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts.

About King’s College London

King's College London is one of the top 35 UK universities in the world and one of the top 10 in Europe (QS World University Rankings, 2020/21) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 31,000 students (including more than 12,800 postgraduates) from some 150 countries worldwide, and some 8,500 staff.

King's has an outstanding reputation for world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), eighty-four per cent of research at King’s was deemed ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ (3* and 4*).

Since our foundation, King’s students and staff have dedicated themselves in the service of society. King’s will continue to focus on world-leading education, research and service, and will have an increasingly proactive role to play in a more interconnected, complex world. Visit our website to find out more about Vision 2029, King's strategic vision to take the university to the 200th anniversary of its founding.

About Owkin

Owkin is the first full-stack TechBio company on a mission to understand complex biology and derive new multimodal biomarkers through AI.

We identify precision therapeutics, de-risk and accelerate clinical trials and develop diagnostics using AI trained on world-class patient data through privacy-enhancing technologies. We merge wet lab experiments with advanced AI techniques to create a powerful feedback loop for accelerated discovery and innovation in oncology, cardiovascular, immunity and inflammation.

Owkin also founded MOSAIC, the world’s largest spatial multi-omics atlas for cancer research across seven cancer indications.

Owkin has raised over $300 million through investments from leading biopharma companies, including Sanofi and BMS, and venture funds like Fidelity, GV and Bpifrance, among others.