Treating Cancer from a Public Health Perspective

When Onward Assist took on the challenge to help pathologists assess and use data for better outcomes of patients with cancer, they weren’t thinking of oncology as a public health issue – but looking at it from that perspective has enabled them to not only grow their business but reach more hospitals, clinicians, and patients than they ever thought possible.

Based in India, Onward Assist was founded by Dinesh Koka and Vikas Ramachandra to help solve the problem of accurate and timely cancer diagnosis by providing pathologists and radiologists automated analytic tools for faster and better data reporting – leading to better patient outcomes.

After finding out that India had more than 1.7 million cancer patients and only roughly 500 trained cancer pathologists, Koka said his “eyes were opened” and he wanted to help. The Onward Assist team worked with cancer institutes in India and the U.S. to craft artificial intelligence tools to accurately quantify and report on cancer biomarker tests. Onward Assist provides a digital pathology reporting software combined with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) based tools which assist a cancer pathologist in reading primary biopsy results. The tools help oncologists interpret large quantities of data and provide the most accurate diagnosis. “Oncologists look at a lot of data when trying to find the right treatment for each patient, and we thought we could help get the data to them in a faster, more efficient manner,” said Koka.

Through the Yale Institute for Global Health Sustainable Health Initiative (SHI), Onward Assist received training and coaching to grow their business at a critical time including how to explain the value and impact of their service to improve cancer diagnostics and public health impact. SHI continues to support Onward Assist by networking with faculty at Yale to consult on specific features and explore collaborations to further tailor data analysis for clinical decision making and potentially prevent unnecessary surgeries and medical procedures in patients.

Koka said he was attracted to the SHI program because he felt it would help the company reach beyond regional cancer centers and hospitals and teach them how to get their product in front of oncologists around the world. And, that it was very important for Onward Assist to learn how to focus on challenges and solutions for emerging markets, but we needed assistance in this area.

SHI matched Onward Assist with Dr. Sajid Khan, M.D. associate professor of surgery, Yale School of Medicine, for their mentor. Khan provided their team with valuable input on how data is used by doctors and so they could better understand how oncologists use data in real life. “Our mentor’s input was critical to the accuracy of the tool and how fast it can be used – which helped us better understand what really works,” said Koka. “SHI definitely helped our journey as a business. Being aligned with Yale not only brings us a lot of credibility but also helps us know what truly is relevant in the working world.”

Onward Assist is in the process create more pathology-focused AI algorithms for newer prognostic biomarkers out of its research collaborations and is focused on expanding their footprint in markets outside of India.


Written by Rosalind D’Eugenio for the Yale Institute for Global Health